Hokianga stops being a best-kept secret
The daily comings and goings of a helicopter signals that change is afoot in the quiet countryside of the Hokianga.
The summer holidays mean that many remote areas like the one I live in become overrun with people looking for sun, beaches and fishing. In a matter of days we go from being a sleepy coastal village to a busy tourist attraction. Which is very much welcomed by the people who run businesses for tourists. For the locals, it can be quite another story.
I’ve only been here five years, so
I’m not a local by any means. I am, and always will be, an Aucklander because it is a hard reputation to get rid of. I was born in Auckland, it’s my turangawaewae – even if I’d rather claim the Hokianga as my marae.
But I’ve been here long enough to know that, come summer, “town” – which comprises a Four Square, a café, a fish and chip shop and a pub – is best avoided. They are all packed to capacity and there’s not a car park to be found. But that is okay, because why shouldn’t the rest of New Zealand and overseas tourists get to enjoy what is one of the most beautiful areas in the world? I’m more worried about people like me, who have a touch of Auckland in them.
Recently, my lazy Sunday reading a book on our deck was interrupted by a helicopter flying really close to our house, coming and going throughout the day. We never get helicopters up this way unless it’s a quick flyover by someone from the Bay of Islands keen to see how the other half lives over on the west coast.
The next day it was there again, and the next.
Twenty years ago I would have presumed it was the police scoping out some dope plants hidden in the bush somewhere, but the source of this helicopter was much less sinister. It was a person from down the road, who had recently refurbished their property, adding a tennis court, gardens and… a helicopter pad.
The guy who does my lawns told me. He looked pretty happy about it. “They’re coming, Wendyl,” he grinned. “They’re on their way.”
He was referring to rich people. Ones who can afford helicopters and like to build underground bunkers to save them from the apocalypse.
I recently interviewed the owner of an American bunker-building firm who told me there were at least 30 bunkers already built in New Zealand, some near where I live.
They have everything you need to live underground, undetected, for months. The most worrying aspect was that the guy also built holes in the bunker roof so that you could get a gun through and shoot anyone who might come near looking for help.
I’m trying not to get too worried about the influx of the rich, but recently I was caught up in a police chase that ended right where I needed to go, just out of Wellsford, to the north of Auckland.
I got out of my car and chatted to a few people who said the cops had no immediate plans to let us through – understandably, with a gunman on the loose – and suggested I head back across the Kaipara Flats to Warkworth. We all decided to follow each other, which was when a man I recognised came up to ask what was happening. He was the vet who had put my dog Shirl to sleep. He didn’t recognise me, which was fine because he’s a casual kind of guy, a laid-back surfie type who dresses in old jeans and hugs the dogs he treats. He, too, has a place up north and I always imagined him heading out in a beaten-up old ute with a couple of dogs on the back and a surfboard for some downtime at the beach. I suggested he follow me back to Warkworth, which he did, and as he hopped into his car I realised it was not a ute, but a Maserati!
It would seem they are indeed coming to the north, people who can afford helicopters, Maserati, underground bunkers and goodness knows what next.
Meanwhile, I’ll stick to my simple lifestyle of baking sourdough, gardening and keeping chickens, and when I pop into town for milk or come across people on the beach, I’ll do my best to be the eccentric local they expect to find in these parts. We could be a dying breed.
“They’re coming, Wendyl... They’re on their way.”