Clarke Gayford: Sweet, Home

There’s no place like it, writes Clarke Gayford.

Growing up in Gisborne/Tairawhiti there are two land features that you become very familiar with — the Wharerata ranges and the Waioweka Gorge. Otherwise known as the only way in and out. It took me years to realise not everywhere in the country is such an onerous drive from everywhere else. Just.

Gisborne. For a long time I thought that this geographical burden was holding the little-city-that-wants-to back. “If only it wasn’t so tricky to get to, it could catch up to the rest of New Zealand.”

Now though, with the benefit of travel and a bit of life under my belt I realise this is actually one of the city’s greatest assets, and the rest of the country could do well to live more like Gisborne.

For a start, if it was any more laid back people would not only have their arms out of car windows, but their legs as well. How can you not find yourself instantly relaxed in a city known for residents shopping in their pyjamas? Chilled as bro.

Here the pace of life is so right that I still smile thinking about my dad driving up a side street to the main road (there is only one) and cursing his decision because it was 5pm and “traffic is terrible”. Four cars and 30 seconds later we had a gap large enough to drive a convoy through, while dad was busy exclaiming how right he was, and “what a mistake” his navigating across town at peak time had been.

So what is it that makes a whole city relax to the point where Scuffs are considered formal footwear? Is it because as a landlocked island it has been blessed with surf as though it’s on the west coast, sunshine as though it is in Nelson, beaches better than Ohope, fertile floodplains like Hawke’s Bay, wine equal to Marlborough, and fishing as if it sits in the Three Kings Islands?

All the best things in life, where nowhere is far from anywhere. Imagine finishing work and being home or at the beach in under five minutes. A place where you can indulge any hobby you want because of all the time you’ve been blessed with.

I grew up inland on a small farm, but even then I could bike to the beach and get a couple of hours surfing in before school each morning. Experiences like that shape who you become.

The town also has one of the best little tourist attractions in the country. Now that’s a big call, but I once had a job travelling the entire length of New Zealand, trailing each town’s main drawcard, so I feel confident in this claim. It’s a short drive down the coast, where Dean and Chris Savage run Dive Tatapouri — a sea-shack on the sea-shore that houses waders, poles and guides to take you out on to the reef at low tide. Here in knee-deep water they have tamed dozens of wild stingrays, which come in on each tide and take food out of visitor’s hands. Huge friendly stingrays mix with huge kingfish, who also swirl between legs snatching at snacks, while on shore little blue penguins have burrowed under the shack. If you listen quietly in the kitchen you can sometimes hear them under the floorboards.

This distinctly Kiwi experience is something that — in Dean’s words — is increasingly harder to have these days: “a direct connection to some raw nature”. Creating this experience makes it easier for people to understand and therefore care more about their environment. It’s a safe, fun activity for the whole family, so popular, it regularly books out over summer.

Every time I go back to Gisborne I see more evidence of a town slowly waking up to its potential, but doing it in its own way. As an impatient adolescent I couldn’t wait to get out; now as an impatient Auckland driver I spend idle time thinking about how I can get back in.

Fish Of The Day — in Gisborne tonight 5.30pm on Three.

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