I heard about the place 20 years ago and we bought a little cottage there as a ski hut – Mt. Ruapehu ski fields are 30 minutes away – and sold it again 13 years ago. Ever since I am ‘home sick’ for it.
Last weekend we went to the ‘Mountain’ for a break. The moment we left Te Kuiti and got onto the hills on that 70 kilometre stretch to Taumarunui, my heart did all sorts of jumps, from delight to joy to love to sadness and a deep-seated pull with a strong sense of ‘coming home’.
Now, let’s be clear, my ‘home’ is as far from Taumarunui as you can get. If you would go any farther, you would come closer. We are talking about the opposite end of the world. So what is going on?
Nobody understands my feelings about Taumarunui, including me. It’s a forgotten township that had its great days in the 50s till the 70s, when the rail way unlocked and shed light to hidden corners of New Zealand. Nowadays the train doesn’t even stop there anymore.
The railway station is empty, no conductor is calling people to quickly finish their pie and their drink and get back onto the train. No uniformed men are loading suitcases and cartons into the baggage wagon. No fearful parents shooing their kids away from the rails, no more steam escaping from the locomotives.
These times are long gone and with them precious jobs, all together resulting in an exodus of possibilities and people – all in the name of progress, of course.
Nowadays the main road is only busy when cars from up North hurry through town to get to the mountain or even farther South giving Hakiaha Street a fleeting sense of busyness. The long row of shop fronts threw its shadows comfortingly halfway down the road, giving shelter from the hot afternoon sun to the few people lingering in front of the cafe and the ATM machine.
Among colourful windows that promised quality goods costing next to nothing, empty shop windows glared accusingly at the passer-bye with big ‘For Lease’ signs asking them with a hint of resignation to stop, help to turn back time, or become the beginning of an economical upwards trend. But not much energy is left from the good old times. Embarrassed houses trying to hide the peeling paint work, the fading shutters, the broken window panes, and the wrecked doors that don’t shut anymore but hang in their hinges like old flags on a forgotten flag pole.
There is a difference between shabby old and antique. No, there were no fancy shops or trendy cafes in Taumarunui. If you want fancy or trendy you have to step on your gas pedal and go straight through to Taupo or Wellington.
And yet, Taumarunui is where I dreamed I would end up spending the sunset years of my life. On the top of a hill, surrounded by sheep or just pine trees, reflecting, thinking, writing to my heart’s content. Away from the rush, busyness, and pretence of a large city. Just resting. No phone calls. Just enjoying Taumarunui on the banks of the Whanganui river, a river steeped in the history of the land.
When you sit at Cherry Grove getting whiffs of pine trees mixed with the rotten smell of submerged foliage and icy mountain freshness, you can listen to the river as it dances with gurgling sounds over the rocks of the rapids, tearing lose some moss, catching some sun light here and there through the branches of age-old trees, creating a mystical, quickly passing impression of spirits touching down here and there, whispering of times of peace and times of war, loves lost and loves won, hardships and blessings, births and deaths, all in ever recurring cycles.
As we approach the end of our active, professional life, my kids want us to live close to them for comfort, company, and family, and in case we get ill they would be close at hand. I dream of Taumarunui in the middle of nowhere. I think what ever way the dices will fall, it will involve a missing and letting go of a dream.
And now I know my affinity to Taumarunui has to do with my life. The aging process, being all sought after and wanted when young, and then not so much anymore. The younger, the more modern are now steering the boat. Yet there is something that we offer, a connection to times long gone, a security, a wisdom born of a life lived fully, a resting point. So, maybe there is a second lease on life possible as long as we dare to take it. Even when our paint is peeling off slowly.