The first word I ever uttered was the word ‘kaukau’, meaning to swim in Māori. My family used to take summer trips to Marokopa - a notoriously dangerous West Coast fishing beach. Mum loves to recount how I cried for a whole hour because she wouldn’t let her toddler (me) leap into the bubbling waves. “K-kaaukau” I blubbered, all the way home. Marokopa always felt like home, a familiar place where I could do whatever I want. I haven’t been there in years now, but I have a lot of memories there.
It wasn’t until three years ago that I discovered how much of a desirable holiday location my own hometown was. Until then, I had never really stayed home for the summer, preferring to spend it with my cousins elsewhere. But for once, I chose to stay, working at a small holiday park nearby. My first surprise was learning exactly how lovely it was to holiday in my own beautiful bay. The second surprise was learning that all of the families who came to the park have known this, and been visiting, for years.
Over Christmas and into January, a usually quiet stretch of grass turns into its own glorified shantytown. The campervans and loaded cars queue down the road while they wait to check in. They unpack - usually in the same camping spot they’ve had forever - and they know everyone around them. The kids set up stalls, selling their christmas presents, avocados, fidget spinners, eggs, and random things they found on the beach. One year I saw a guy walking around with his kid strapped on top of a fully motorised chilly bin.
I spent my summer working day in day out, serving coffees in this temporary town. Occasionally I had an awful customer or two, but most of them are faithful regulars for two or three, or even four weeks. I came back for another summer and still serve them the same coffee orders. They exclaim how good it is to be back, and we talk in critical detail about how the weather has been in the last few weeks. It’s a very kiwi thing, but we all have our own version of the holiday park.
Holiday time is like some annual shift change - all these people I knew nothing about, who feel entirely at home in my hometown, move in, while we clear out. They feel our home is theirs too, and they proudly wear their citizenship. I had a chat with one of the other workers at the park. He’s 17 and said it was his 18th summer spent at the park. He hoped one day to live here permanently. His grandmother had been coming for close to 50 years, which dates back before the holiday park even existed. Their family had 50 years of memories in my hometown, 50 years of feeling that this was a home for them. One of my other co-workers said that his family turned down a trip to Australia one year, just to return to their prestigious slot at the camp. Over Christmas and New Year, you have to book 6 months in advance to get a place here, and preference is given to those who are returning members.
When I looked at the campground, I thought about all the layers of belonging that were woven on that patch of grass. At the heart, the land belongs first to itself. A strip of paradise a million years old that sinks into the ocean and stretches out to sea. The land belongs to the iwi. It is they who treasure the land as their ancestor, and who hold many stories in their history along the shores of the holiday park. They are the mana whenua, and always will be.
The land belongs to the local council. They have vested interests in the lands, and ratepayers that live in the area. The land belongs to my boss, who raised a family on this land. For those children, the park is a year round home. The land belongs to the locals. We live here rain, hail or shine. We go to school here, we work here, we go about our daily lives. The land belongs to the tourist, who returns here in January every year.
My time at the holiday park has not been a holiday, but I’ve started to see home in a whole new light. After I finish my shift I run straight down to the water for a kaukau. Watching other people on holiday makes me more appreciative of my own backyard.
Holiday parks are familiar. They are a kind reminder of what cohabitation can look like, when Wellingtonians and Aucklanders park up next to each other, right next to travellers from further abroad. The tourists tell me how lucky I must feel to live in a place like this. I say the beaches aren’t as desirable in July, but still, I can’t help but agree with them.Support Villainesse