Thursday, 3 June 2010


This was always where as children we would shout "Puuuuuukiiii!!!!" as the car swooped down from the top of the hill with its view of Te Waewae Bay and the Princess Mountains. It's the eastern approach into what was then our home-town, Orepuki; fondly known as 'Puki to its inhabitants, past and present.

For the past two or three nights I've struggled to get off to sleep straight away. Images of places I've visited this week keep floating in and out of my mind. It seems I have a lot to process from the last two days when I travelled to the frontier of the South Island's south-west,

to touch base again with my favourite part of the planet; the place I will always call home,

a place famous for its twisted, bent-over trees fashioned that way by freezing, sub-Antarctic winds blasting them with salt.
The Princess Mountains, western backdrop to the South Island's south coast and Te Waewae Bay.

A very old house and once an Orepuki landmark; my great-great-aunty Mary's house. A house known by everyone in my childhood simply as 'Aunty Mary's house'. Apparently she would sit on the verandah that used to run along the front of the house, and converse with anyone passing by.

My family's ancestors in this area, go back to Kati Mamoe (one of whom is great-great Aunty Mary) plus some of my European ancestors lived here five or six generations back. Both my parents were born and bred in Orepuki, once a thriving, pioneer town - a gold-mining settlement - after which it became a robust, rural community. Now it is a 'ghost-town' and home to only a handful of families. It was my hometown for the first ten years of my life only, back in the 1950s and early '60s, but its impact as place - heightened no doubt by all those ancestors from there - has for me proved deep and lifelong.

Every two years (that's about all I can last without reconnecting) I make the pilgrimage south to greet the land once more and look down roads I looked down as a child - feeling like a giant in comparison to when I walked down them then.

So much has changed. Every year more of the roads and former homes and structures have disappeared back into the earth.
The land hasn't always looked as smooth as this. My father helped with the clearing and the transforming of the land from scrub and gully to pasture, but never lived long enough to see it looking quite this fine.

Every year more has been cleared and swept-clean, emerald-green paddocks (breathtakingly beautiful the day I was there on a clear, still day; the last day of autumn) fold and roll towards Foveaux Strait from the bush-covered Longwoods; a range of hills that run from Riverton in the east, to Tuatapere in the west.
Lately, a resurgence in the dairy industry has meant more of a push to bring the land back to the dairying area it once was in the 1950s and 1960s, when 'Puki had a local dairy factory; one that even made cheese. I can remember as a young child tasting a cube of the cheese from there, offered to me from a 'tester' tube. It was the first and last time I've tasted cheese so creamy and delicious.

There is now no trace whatsoever of our house, or of the many streets, shops and houses that used to be here. No more railway station, post office, bank, plunket, library ... the school is now a fisherman's private residence, draped with fishing buoys and nets.

After paying my respects to relatives in the cemetery with its five-star views, I drove up to the foothills of the Longwoods, taking the road through where my grandparents' farm was.
Where the road dips down into a gully and over a small bridge, I heard again the primal, secretive rush of the tea-coloured Taunore Creek (famous for its deposit of gemstones on the beach at its oulet).
I silently thanked my late Uncle Bill (McKenzie) for having the foresight to leave a stand of native bush as a reserve at the top of the farm he'd worked all his life. I can certainly vouch for the crawlies (fresh-water crayfish) that this creek is home to; although I haven't tasted one for over forty years now.

I re-visit this spot many times in my imagination. It is here that as a child I first appreciated how beautiful land meeting ocean could be. I remember summer days here, my Uncle Jack's shearing-shed generator chugging away in the background, a skylark shrilling above and foxgloves in the gully. I remember being here when my father was ploughing; the smell of earth, bush and creek ... life couldn't be any more blissful - and never has been.

As the afternoon unfolded, the feeling I carry of being some sort of a guardian of this part of the country, was being confirmed. That sounds very high and mighty and I don't mean it to be at all. There is no presumption intended, it's more a quiet, strong connection to the place that can't be denied. This is farther affirmed by a sense of the ancestors at my back, supporting and strengthening this connection.
I felt I was a purveyor of blessing and goodwill towards this land that so many have their eyes on for the potential it holds for off-shore oil-fields. It has already survived such ravages as forest-clearing and gold and coal mining; now it has this new threat to face. I can only hope that the reputation this place has for foul weather and icy gales will prove to be some sort of barrier to any rewarding exploitation.

And then I had to leave, darkness would be approaching soon and I had to make the hour-and-a -half trip to Gore where I was staying with my aunt. It was time to say 'bye to the land and to the people who infuse it with their presence. Until next time. Arohanui Orepuki.


A said...

Oh Kay! So so so beautiful!

LentenStuffe said...

What raw material ... pure paradise.

Di said...

Oh god, you made me so homesick and my first thought, after the 'oh god' was, I would love to do a road trip with this woman one day.

6 years and I still haven't made it home. Not sure how to do it but I'll plod on here, trying to make money in a new land.

Beautiful beautiful images and words. Thanks Kay, I loved it, as always. I've been away too long, both from home and your blog.

Leonie said...

Lovely photos Kay. And I absolutely understand that feeling of being a guardian and the strong pull of a place. [some of] my first ancestors settled in golden bay and (though one of the places I grew up in has recently been bulldozed to make way for something new) it still feels like home

Kay Cooke said...

Agnes - Thank you - a bit of a contrast to where you are at the moment! Isn't out planet a fascinating place!

LentenStuffe - It can be ... and then when the southerlies roar in cold and bitter it can feel like the opposite - but wild and beautiful! all the same.

Di - I almost feel sorry to cause such homesickness - yet, the pull of 'home' can be felt at any distance away from it - whether that's fifty miles or five thousand! I guess we just learn to 'love the place you're with' (apologies to whoever wrote that particular song-line I've just corrupted).

Leonie - A deep connection to the land is often an intangible thing, yet very real for all that.

McDinzie said...

oh dear even I got time you will have to invite me to go...unless of course its a solo trip :-)

Becky Willis Motew said...

That brought tears to my eyes, Kay. I love the part about the ancestors at your back. It is such a good thing that you maintain that connection and loyalty. Stunning photos.

Avus said...

Lovely post, beautiful images. A feeling of being linked to and respecting that land, Kay.

Crafty Green Poet said...

what a lovely post and the light in the landscape photos is just perfect

Tim Jones said...

Orepuki is a place I passed through many times in my childhood - but I regret to say "passed through" is the operative word, as my Dad and I were usually on our way to Te Waewae Bay, where he checked for undersize paua catches in his job as a fisheries inspector, and I dammed streams flowing across the beach. I loved seeing these pictures and finding out what it was like to live there, and how you have maintained your connection with your land.

Kay Cooke said...

McD - You're more than welcome sis and Aunty Lorna as well.

Becky - Thanks so much. I am touched that you were so touched.

Avus - Thanks. I know you feel that connection to 'your place' in green England too!

CGP - Thank you - I love your photos and love of place too.

Tim - I know the exact creeks you would've damned too - they're still there. Thanks for your comments and I appreciate your strong connection to that part of the country too.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

What a very beautiful, rugged and yet graceful place. Breathtaking; all of it.

Filled with change... echoes of your past, and those of others. Still there, just evolving day after day, never staying still, and never going.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Clare Dudman said...

What a beautiful countryside! The more I see, and the more you describe it, the more I want to see it for myself. Just seeing those mountains, even in a small photograph like this one - it's quite awe-inspiring.

Kay Cooke said...

Wanderlust Scarlett - You have described it so aptly! Thanks.

Clare - I do hope that one day you will be able to visit.

. said...

I was utterly enchanted by this part of the country when I visited five years ago, it appealed to my melancholic nature! I remember me and my friend pondering on setting up our tent just below that lookout. I still have some amazing stones that I carried with me for months afterwards and eventually all the way back to England, and am looking at now in a glass jar filled with water, to always remind me of a country that in some ways feels more like home than the country I was born in.

I just wish that I'd been able to spend more time exploring; next time, for sure...

Anyway, here is a photograph I took of beautiful Te Waewae Bay.

Unknown said...

Wonderful blog.. just found you through Bibliophile. Loved your post Orepuki. Thank you. I'll be back for more...

Lydia said...

Arrived here via your tag at Di's blog. This is such a beautiful post of a type of landscape I've seen only in dreams. It was shocking to come to the part about potential oil exploration there and I hope it never is allowed in that pristine place.
I was especially touched by the shot of the land cleared by your father, and of this line: Every year more of the roads and former homes and structures have disappeared back into the earth. How amazing to come from a town that is giving itself back to the earth instead of coming from a place that has been developed beyond recognition. My hometown was Reno, Nevada, which is sprawling into the desert now. There are actual ghost towns in Nevada, however, and your post reminded me of those places once inhabited and loved.

Kay Cooke said...

Hemulun - Sorry it's taken me so long to reply to your kind comments - and so amazing to think you were there too ... I hope it's not too long until you can make a return trip.

Joan - Thanks so much ... you're welcome and I look forward to your other visits.

farsouthtogo said...

Hi there

Isn't it amazing how something you wrote a few years ago comes up in a search for "Orepuki". Thank you for your post. Lovely to read. Makes me even happier that we have bought a small property there and looking forward to making it home.

Kay Cooke said...

Congratulations on your new home-to-be. May you have many happy years down there in my old home-town. It's such a special place. I am due another visit down there; this spring hopefully.

Unknown said...

Lovely. I'm lucky in that both sides of my wife's family have deep roots in Orepuki so we try to get there every year from Dunedin. Absolutely adore this unique place of the world.

Andrew Skeggs said...

I feel fortunate that I got to know Orepuki well as a child, because my grandparents lived there. They lived down Cardigan Road, which had disappeared by the time of my last visit to the town. I remember two of the McAlister boys, and I can remember milk be dropped off at Grandpas house in a white enamel half gallon billy. My grandfather was greenkeeper at the bowling club, and I always got a biscuit there when he had a cup of tea. I remember the lady who ran the store, because most visits I got an ice cream there, whether I had money or not. I think it was owned by a Mrs Popham. Do you know, at the ripe old age of seven, my grandpa took me down to where the shale oil mine once was (but it was all gone by then). I took an interest in that and did some research on it before Wikipedia even existed. I have family buried there from both Dad & Mum's families. Do others realise that this town was very much a place where neighbors were very much good friends. I currently live in Australia and I plan to retire to Christchurch. But Orepuki, Pahia, Colac Bay and district, I am coming back to visit one day.

Kay Cooke said...

Andrew - A lovely surprise to read your comments about dear old 'Puki. I'm planning another trip down there soon - can't keep away from the place. It holds so many memories and sense of turangwaewae for me. Too many ancestors hail from there for me to ever let go of that strong connection I have with the place.

Unknown said...

Kent, I also love this area as I grew up in Wakapatu, Dudfeilds garage,and 2cent lolly bags from Mrs Pophams shop lol. No doubt the memories will flood back after reading the above.

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