I watched Ramona clamber up the crumbly trunk of a Pohutukawa tree. She swung on to a branch, shaking off some of the red remnants of blossom, and jumped- bouncing onto the beach with a thud, her barefeet scattering sand.
She tumbled her body into the hole that someone had carved out of a massive bouy that now hung from a branch – a perfect swing. I could only see her feet now, hanging over the edge. It was a picture of lazy childhood bliss.
We have been travelling around the North Island of New Zealand for six weeks in our bus. We have been parking up in old friend’s gardens and on the shores of beautiful windy beaches, crashing waves lulling us to sleep. We have eaten a mountain of Fish and Chips, picked up about a billion beautiful shells and floated a billion bits of driftwood. We’ve visited probably every secondhand shop on this island and we have skulled back several pints of perfect coffee (do you know Kiwi’s created Flat Whites?) – it has been a caffeine fuelled riot of family capers.
There have been two epiphanies.
Firstly, Ramona is 100% kiwi. She is half kiwi by blood as my husband hails from Auckland but she is FULL kiwi in spirit. She turns up at the playground and finds a whole bunch of kids, their hair unbrushed, some wearing their P.J’s, some with left over icecream or ketchup smeared all over their face, every one of them barefoot and she is like “These are my PEOPLE!”
One evening we turned up to a playground pretty late, at about 8:30pm and all the kids had gone home. But strewn across the park were shoes- welly boots, flip flops. As if the kids had simply discarded these unnecessary fripperies in their mission to Play Hard.
Ramona has never wanted to wear shoes, even in winter she would yank them off at every opportunity. In London I had resorted to describing to her in great detail every possible item that could jab into her unsheathed foot on the streets like “4 day old fried chicken bones that had been gnawed on by an old dude with a beard and no toothbrush.”
The streets are slightly less grubby here, but even if they weren’t I am sure people would continue to forgo shoes. Even in the cold marble floored supermarkets Dads push their trollies barefoot. When the schools are organizing trips they have to send home letters saying “Shoes Mandatory.” They have only just started sending these letters – one of my friends did a 3 day hike with his school when he was 11, it didn’t even occur to him to bring shoes.
Shoe free. It is a statement. Feet unbound by rubber and leather; a nation uninhibited by etiquette and social class. New Zealand is so relaxed it is barely awake, its melatonin levels meaning it operates in some kind of imaginative, inventive dream state. My husband didn’t even own a tie until he moved to London aged 27.
Creativity unfettered and wildness celebrated.
Ramona is a Kiwi, no doubt about it.
(But, hey, perhaps all toddlers are Kiwis.)
The second epiphany has been about where to settle. New Zealand is a pretty big, spectacular place and with us having no jobs to go to yet and with friends plonked all over the North Island it has been hard deciding.
However, there is a little place called Thames an hour and a half out of Auckland, at the base of one of New Zealand’s most magnificent areas, the Coromandel Peninsula. If we live there we can visit my husband’s family in Auckland for a day trip, or if we drive the other way we can visit Hot Water Beach – where you dig a hole in the sand that fills up with perfectly hot mineral water for a free seaside spa- for another kind of day trip.
There is also a farm there with a couple of families, ten chickens, one cow and a massive orchard that have offered us the opportunity to stay in exchange for working on the farm. It is an incredible chance to learn the ropes of organic self sufficiency although I think it might be a bit tough.
In a laughable, melodramatic contrast to our little brick Victorian Terrace in South London, we will be living in a yurt.
We will be drinking milk from the cow whose udders we tweaked that morning.
Carrots straight from the soil.
Energy only from the sun.
Doing our business in an outdoor composting toilet.
It is life pared down to its very basics.
We are able to buy land right now, which we want to do eventually, but we are waiting for the right spot. It feels bizarre to be living such a simple life when we are (relatively) flush.
But we are searching for something money can’t buy.
Community, a tribe with home to raise our families.
Connection to the earth.
I worry that we are not going to be able to do it. That it will be too cold. There will be too many beatles in my bed. Too many creatures scurrying around while I am trying to do a poo. Too much nature up in our grills.
But then I think about all the other people throughout history who have changed the course of their lives in a big, scary way. Like those American pioneer families with their cool wagons. Only about a fifth of them died in the process of their adventure. *Googles* Oh, actually it was more like 1 in 4. So there is hope for three of us making it through.
We move into our yurt tomorrow. Wish us luck! And pray that I won’t be the first urbanite to die due to hearing a possum whilst pooing out in the cold.
Lucy writes a parenting and lifestyle blog over at Lulastic and the Hippyshake (lulastic.co.uk) and she just recently launched a thrifty blog, Wonderthrift, especially for stylish and eco minded folk who want to save money. Lucy, her husband, and her two daughters have just moved to New Zealand and you can follow their adventures in wilderness each month here on Loved By Parents.