On the south western coast of New Zealand lies the sleepy village of Orepuki – once a bustling gold rush town, now a farming village with a pub, community hall and a (great) cafe.
A vast expanse of green ocean, imposing clay cliffs, a gemstone beach, macrocarpa trees so windswept that their tips almost touch the ground, where the Aurora Australis comes out to play in true dark sky fashion… It is wild, raw New Zealand beauty.
My heritage, on my mum’s side, is here – my grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents, and great-great-great grandparents are buried in the cemetery that looks out over Te Waewae Bay, on the road that is named after my family.
My great-grandparents used to trawl the beach for gemstones, with pretty great success – sapphires and garnets were some of the more precious stones they picked up over the years, and made jewellery with.
When I was a little girl my grandparents, who had the farm at the time, would take me down to the beach (where Monkey Island is, which is maybe the most famous landmark of the area) to play in the rock pools – I’d pull the cats eyes off the rocks to watch them flick back around inside their shell, we’d throw stones at the “ringing rock” (a rock that someone at some point discovered made a ringing sound), and they’d point out the rock that looked like an old man.
Sadly my grandparents were forced to sell their farm earlier than they would have liked when my grandfather got sick, and moved away to Te Anau for the last few years of his life, and minimal time was spent in Orepuki from then on. However, 2021 saw me seeing in 2022 back in Orepuki after my Mum bought a section on her family road – their plan is to build a house which overlooks Te Waewae bay, but in the meantime they have a cozy caravan onsite.
It was lovely to be able to introduce Jessie to some of the things that make up my childhood memories, and to see her enjoy them just as much with her grandparents.
If you ever find yourself passing through Orepuki on State Highway 99, take a moment to drive to the end of Frentz Road, where there is now a bench seat that looks out over the ocean.
*Te Waewae – the foot, or leg
*Orepuki – crumbling cliffs, or bright expanse
*Te Puka o Takitimu – the anchor stone of the waka Takitimu (also known as Monkey Island)