Memories: The Mole at Aramoana

A handful of shells, three dusty pebbles and the salty sigh of the ocean breeze are all that remain of my childhood days at the Aramoana Mole. A favourite pastime of my well-meaning parents was to take our family on ‘tiki-tours’, or random explorations of the surrounding countryside. Living in Dunedin, I suppose it was only a matter of time before we ventured out into the frozen expanse of the Aramoana Mole. Swaddled up in a hectic assortment of scarves, hand-knitted jumpers and the odd rugby jacket, we headed out into the chilly unknown.

Originally called Cargill’s Pier, the Mole at Aramoana is an artificial rock wall that was constructed to prevent silting in the harbour entrance. Flanked by the skeletal wooden fingers of an old railway line, the mole extends for 1200 metres from Aramoana, keeping the channel clear through directed tidal jets. Aramoana (Maori for ‘pathway to the sea’) is a small coastal town which gained notoriety as the site of the country’s worst massacre, when in November 1990, a crazed resident named David Gray murdered thirteen people. After driving through this chillingly quiet town, it is a relief to reach the Mole. Despite the bitter wind, there is a certain peace here; a calming quality echoed in the shriek of the gulls and the pounding rhythm of the waves. The bitter legacy of David Gray cannot taint this wild place.

Despite protesting vehemently, I actually enjoyed our little excursions to the Mole. If I could ignore the biting wind and the odd urge to push my brother in to the surf, the Mole was quite compelling. Defying the pommelling gale, I would race my siblings to the very end, keeping a keen eye out for wildlife on the way (twenty points for a penguin, fifty points for a seal). Nothing could beat the heady thrill of excitement one felt when spotting a seal, or the brisk slap of the sea spray. Regardless of our parent’s anxious protests, my brother and I would climb to the very outermost rock, revelling in the delirious sense of vertigo. Under the purple skies, we challenged the tempestuous nature of the ocean.

Returning from the summery Coromandel to the great city of Dunedin last year, I felt compelled to visit the Mole. To me, the Mole at Aramoana is a last bastion of normality; a reminder of my careless childhood. With the pressing weight of responsibilities that come with growing up, returning to the Mole is reassuring, even if just to skim stones and count the odd seal.

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