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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My Father: Intrepid Voyager of the World

“Come on in, sit down,” my father smiles, as he turns his chair to face me. Sunlight streams in through the study window, causing his shiny, egg-like head to glow. I sit in the warm sunshine, watching dust motes dance as I listen to Dad’s fascinating stories of travelling the world.

Earnest, impassioned, even fanatical, Dad fully commits himself to everything he is involved in, from cheering on my brother’s rugby games to preaching every Sunday. With a maniacally enthusiastic gleam lighting his green eyes, he regales me with stories of his wild travels. Born in Glasgow, my father was no stranger to change, having left Scotland with his parents at the age of ten to sail to New Zealand. “I often say that it was the best five weeks of my life,” he says, emphatically waving his hands about. With childlike glee, Dad tells me how he “never missed a breakfast” on the Canberra, even passing through a monsoon in the Indian Ocean with “80-foot waves!” Leaning over the side of the liner as it sailed up the Suez Canal, Dad watched the graceful sway of native women as they walked, effortlessly balancing large jars on their heads.  With the heavy cinnamon heat rolling over him, my father felt a great spark of wanderlust within his breast.

Dad’s greatest travels occurred at the age of twenty nine; prompted by a desire to drink a pint of beer in every European country, he embarked on an adventure around Europe, armed with a hardy rucksack, a Euro-Rail pass and an ever-dwindling supply of cash. Wearing a thin pair of slippers, my father navigated the streets of Rome for hours, only to be turned away from the Vatican City because he was wearing shorts. Frustrated and soul-weary, Dad arrived extremely early the next morning, enjoying the exquisite beauty of Michelangelo’s Pieta in relative solitude.

Interviewing Dad, I am again reminded of his stubbornness, a trait I encountered numerous times over breakfast wars and literary debates, but particularly in this tale of a bottle of wine. After touring a Bordeaux vineyard, Dad bought a vintage bottle of Chateau de Champion 1975. The bottle was placed in his rucksack, where it spent the next few weeks being carted all around Europe while Dad searched for the perfect place to drink it, finally settling upon the Jardin Des Tuileries in Paris. En route however, a rather unfortunate accident occurred in Koblenz, Germany. Under the “lashing” rain, my father was crossing a railway line, when to his absolute horror, his rucksack split open. Sodden medication and dirty clothes were the least of his worries; his precious bottle of wine was smashed, its vintage sweetness soaking his bedding.

Although never having traveled overseas myself, my father’s sheer enjoyment when reminiscing about his travels has made me want to explore the world in its entirety, from the dusty pyramids of Egypt to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. I thank him for his time, but lost in his memories, he does not hear me.