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Wifey wanders into the lounge, yawning, to split the curtains. The light shows a human’s on the couch. She shrieks. It’s only Stephie. She’s between places.
I tell Stephie she doesn’t have to wash her hair in the sink. Doesn’t have to scrub her sandpaper pits with moist towelettes.
Stephie curls up inside her dog, draped like a fox-fur. Snoozes through to noon. Watches TV til two.
Stephie comes from down south. Grew up with shotguns and quaddies and gummies and her arm buried in the backsides of Jersey cows. Stephie eats cigarettes and nibbled fingertips. Peels the label off her beer. Thousand yard stare.
Preceded by an eight cylinder Holden growl, some mulleted man with tank top and black tribal tats rocks up to sweep her up, cept Stephie’s got an ankle bracelet on. Curbed, curfew. She leads him to the laundry room with arms of chips and beer and locks the door.
She gushes, my wife, bout how Stephie’s the lowest cheating skank. But she’ll be gone soon, I insist. Watch her run through life with laces untied, trip and stumble.
Stephie’s in-between places. Recovering from recovery. The fidgeting, the puckered mouth, the bitterness at WINZ. She got offered this job, midnight massage, and could really use the dosh. Shirtless, let her practice her caress. Shoulders sense her breath. Fingers in ridges and valleys. Nails inside me.
Can’t say I haven’t stared like a dog, hungry, when she comes out of the bathroom steamed, her middle swathed in a towel, and winks at me.
Stephie’s off up north this month. Leaves bills and blister packs of pills in the cracks of the couch. She’s left her mutt. I take it for a trot. It eyes me up, pleading, needing chow.
It wasn’t really a thing, she tells me in texted powwow. You seemed sad that day. All I did’s caress some serotonin from your brain. Two adults, a couch, a touch.
Think of it as meds.
Go back to your wife and kids.
The grants, sponsored by Mark and Deborah D’Arcy, an expatriate Kiwi couple living in New York, were designed to encourage the writing of essays of 10,000-12,000 words on New Zealand life and culture.
Find out more about Renee Liang:
Blown away by the Chatham Islands
Northland writer Michael Botur spends 10 days in our most remote community.
The wind began even before I left Auckland.
Air Chathams flight 519 is a sixty year old Convair 580 with four chunky propeller blades on each engine which gave me the noisiest flight I’ve ever experienced. Everything about the Chatham Islands is extreme, actually: remote, isolated, and under-visited.
Pushed to the edge of most people’s minds, the Chathams are as far east as Tonga and as far south as Patagonia. They catch the wind, so expect bent-over trees, huge waves and windbreaker jackets on everyone.
45 minutes ahead on the clock, the Chathams resemble a country farm town plopped in the middle of the Pacific. They’re separated not only by 800km of ocean, but also by culture. Don’t expect paved roads, a high school, cellphone reception or a supermarket. Do expect small town charm, though – with just 600 residents, you’ll be treated with interest.
Hit up the locals in the pub at Waitangi for a conversation and you can expect the following: they refer to the mainland as “New Zealand,” they’ll laugh if you ask about swimming in the freezing, shark-infested ocean, and they’ll look hard into your face to see if you’re recognisable. Ask how to get down to the beach and you may be told you have to phone 5555 (the first three digits are a given – every number on the Chathams begins with 305.)
The centre of the community, geographically and socially, is the Hotel Chathams, containing your only reliable restaurant. Recently renovated, your hotel comes with heat pumps, double glazed windows, deep carpet and excellent water pressure while outside it’s gale force winds and pounding waves.
Floyd, Kaai, Francesca and the friendly faces running the place bring big city hospitality standards. Each person has a different story about going away and ending up back on the islands where life is straightforward.
The charming Toni Croon – whose sister is the mayor – manages the Hotel, has a side-business in honey and works with her whanau to guide tourists through the Admiral Gardens. Everyone on the islands jumps in to help with work where needed, so don’t be surprised if you see Toni doubling as your tour bus driver, motel cleaner, receptionist, and mucking in to help move a stuck 4WD out of a paddock near Cape Pattisson.
Every local you’ll meet comes with colour – fishermen swapping crayfish for cement; All Blacks fans dancing in the pub after every try. One man I met was sitting in his lounge in a wetsuit, miles from the ocean. Most of these people will drop everything to let you experience something new on their land, boat or patch of coast, and they’ll always give you a lift – this intimate community is a hitchhiker’s paradise.
Expect mud, wind and memories
Helen Bint, who resides in an unpowered Category 1 heritage-listed Stone Cottage with no neighbours for ten kays, will let you climb the towering stone mountain overlooking her home for fantastic northern coastal views.
At Blind Jim’s Point on the edge of the endless Te Whanga Lagoon, bus driver Matilda finds fossilised prehistoric shark teeth for every tourist.
Lois Croon, who can give you access to private walking tracks through the dunes and forests on her property, will tell you casually that her son has been attacked by great white sharks “once or twice” – but it’s okay. He knows now to punch them on the nose.
While gorse-covered farms prevail, wetland boardwalks around the lagoon have been built near Kaingaroa in the northeast, and there are forests of nikau palms and kopi (karaka) trees. Some of the bush walks are so wild you won’t see a single soul.
Tucked into the cliffs southwest of Waitangi, the Awatotara Track follows tannin-blackened waterfalls down a steep valley and arrives at a wild cove covered in washed-up buoys and crayfish pots. Another track, towards the towering southern cliffs of the Rangaika/Thomas Tuuta Scenic Reserve, takes you through what looks like desert (it’s native tarahinau peat bush) before entering a gnarly forest straight out of Hansel and Gretel. Expect pigs, black swans, horned sheep, feral goats, wild horses, weka, deep mud and a hot shower after every excursion. You’ll encounter dolphin bones, steer skulls and paua shells amongst the unmissable blue-flowered Chatham Islands forget-me-nots.
It’s southern Pitt Island that drops jaws, though. A Cessna flies the 50km over the water and arrives at Pitt’s Flowerpot Lodge after 25 breathtaking minutes. The Flowerpot is value-added accommodation, so expect your bill to cover skylights, plush décor, comfy armchairs, continental breakfasts and a guided tour of beaches with the bones of Moriori, sharks and whales.
A week in the Chathams – still a pipe dream on many people’s bucket list – is guaranteed to turn the conversation your way at your next dinner party.
Fancy? Nope. Memorable? One hundred percent.
Air Chathams flies from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch most days of the week.
Hotel Chathams room rates range between $100-$250, with luxury options.
Accommodation options include Te Henga Lodge, Traveller’s Rest and the brand-new Admiral Garden Cottage.
Its a little Mad Max here
Order has gone, while my washing is being tugged roughly by the wind – all sparkly bras and pink nightgowns
Pomegranate seeds and juices are sprayed around my feet, fallen to the bone dry ground, painting the dust like blood splatter from my efforts to tear it open
The wine? Its not cold anymore – hell; theres a mirage across these cracked lands from this heat
Lana del Ray croons; she sure suits this halcyon evening
There’s a satellite behind me, but it ain’t real
It’s the underside silver of beach umbrella – you know the candy striped ones?
It’s caught and blows, lazily swaying at first as if testing it’s own willingness for escape
Shuddering in a gloriously felt breeze, I watch without moving as it’s finally grabbed with one hard gust – to spin and land in trees near by
And I say, “ yes! Fly fucker fly!”
I was telling a friend earlier, about the times – more asking perhaps
Where they went
Remember I said – the beat poets, the jazz clubs?
Remember when colour existed?
When hedonism was almost a virtue, or at least it was well dressed.
Remember when character was presence of body, mind and soul – not hiding behind shit screens and fake personas.
Remember when your lips were stained red and I liked it
I tasted them slowly, like nectar.
I bit you
Do you remember yet?
VENUE Book Inn, 420 Kamo Road, Whangarei
DATE / TIME: Saturday 7 December, 1.30pm
Also launching at the event is Scoria, a collection of ‘Short prose from the Cinder Cone’ by Jac Jenkins and Kathy Derrick, published by the newly-formed Pavlova Press.
Readings will be delivered by Vaughan Rapatahana, Piet Nieuwland, Olivia Macassey, Jac Jenkins, Kathy Derrick, Alistar Tulett and more.
Getting paid to play your favourite role-playing game sounds like a fantasy – but could it become a reality? Metro intern (and journalist) Ayla Miller goes underground into the world of New Zealand’s professional Dungeons and Dragons players.
Pavlova Press will shortly be calling for submissions of poetry, short prose (fiction or non-fiction) and images for an anthology focussing on our nation’s relationship with pavlova. We will be giving you all summer to work your magic and submissions will close on 31 March 2020. We will provide more details as they come to hand – in the meantime start thinking up various pavlova scenarios.
Shifting Gears: Transforming your Stories from Good to Great.
Saturday 16 November 1.30pm-3.30pm
Three Mountains Brew Shop and Gallery
1137a State Highway 14 Maungatapere, Whangarei
$25pp (includes a copy of Scoria: Short Prose from the Cinder Cone)
Join Pavlova Press for an afternoon of story shaping to celebrate the production of their first volume, Scoria: Short Prose from the Cinder Cone. They will demonstrate various techniques they found useful during their final round of story revision. Writers of all levels (beginner or more experienced) who have stories in any form from raw draft to ready to submit will find value in the workshop. They will have examples for you to work on, but also feel free to bring some of your own work to experiment with. Registration is recommended since numbers are limited. For more details see pavlovapress.co.nz .
Keith Levy aka “The Roaming Rhymester” will be telling stories set to music in Whangarei Central Library on Tuesday 12 November at 10.30am. It’s for adults and it’s free so come along and enjoy!
The new book from novelist and voiceover impresario Ian King is due out mid-November: Blueprints to Building Your Own Voice–Over Studio: For under $500!
Whangarei and Northland are grouped under “Elsewhere in NZ” so please see https://cdn.nanowrimo.org/regions/new-zealand-elsewhere-in-new-zealand for all the information about how to connect with other Northland NaNoWriMo writers, several of who are keen to connect via Writers Up North on Facebook.