Despite hours of terror lost in the tangled bush of Karekare as a child, I’ve always returned to it | Charlotte Grimshaw

Okarekare is a wild, lovely space of the Waitakeres, west of Auckland. It’s the place I dreamed about after I lived in London, the panorama I yearned to return to. It was the location of my most intense experiences as a baby: worry, euphoria, exhilaration, pleasure.

Our dad and mom’ bach was constructed on a hillside with a view down the valley, surrounded by dense bush in all instructions. There was always the danger that if we went too far off a observe, even shut to the home, we’d rapidly get disorientated and lost. The bush was so thick you couldn’t get a clear view out of it, and the solely manner to escape was by standing nonetheless and shouting.

At the backside of Lone Kauri Highway was Karekare Seashore (the seashore in the film The Piano), a glittering expanse of black sand and dunes ending in traces of rolling surf that roared ceaselessly, the sound echoing in opposition to the cliffs.

On sizzling afternoons the air rippled with heatwaves that made mirages seem like puddles of mercury shimmering over the black sand. I used to be exhilarated by the arduous gentle, the sky and the huge surf. One yr after a summer season storm, when the sea was wild and whipped into large swells by the offshore wind, and it occurred to be useless low tide, the level when the surf is rolling over shallow water and, close to the shore, the waves are breaking on arduous sand, a wave picked up my father and dashed him down on his head, fracturing a vertebra in his neck. He was rescued by lifeguards and helicoptered to hospital, fortunate not to have been paralysed and drowned.


Karekare is a panorama always in wild movement: the boiling surf, the wind, the dancing glare off the dunes. The sand itself is a hazard in summer season; its blackness absorbs warmth, and should you get caught on a stretch of it with out sneakers you may endure critical burns.

The Waitakere ranges and Karekare beach.
The Waitakere ranges and Karekare seashore. {Photograph}: Robert Mora/Alamy

One vacation our dad and mom allowed me, my brother and a household buddy to tramp alone into the Pararaha Gorge. We entered a wilderness of dense bush, sign-posted as a day-long hike “for knowledgeable trampers solely”, with no correct observe, which ended in a distant coastal stroll round surf-lashed rocks that would solely be safely negotiated at low tide. My brother was ten, I used to be seven, the buddy was 5.

As soon as we’d bought a sure manner in, the observe disappeared, and we spent the subsequent hours attempting to discover it, following false trails and sheep tracks that petered out midway up cliffs. We realised we have been lost, and that by now we couldn’t return even when we wished to, as a result of the bluffs and waterfalls we’d climbed round have been too arduous, particularly for a five-year-old, to scale.

We had to cope with the harmful, fast-flowing white-water river, steep cliffs and tangled bush for the complete day till we have been discovered. It was solely after a lengthy interval of attempting to discover a observe and following trails that led us to harmful locations and useless ends that we understood we must always simply comply with the river itself. I keep in mind intense worry and despair, the hours of terrified crying as we tried to discover our manner, and the objectively right understanding that we may die. We bought caught on steep bluffs, we struggled with the five-year-old attempting to climb round waterfalls, we had to swim, climb and combat our manner by the stark, unforgiving panorama.

However I went on loving the wild, exhilaratingly lovely place, and I’ve always returned to it, regardless of the terror of that day.

  • Charlotte Grimshaw is an Auckland novelist. Her newest guide is a memoir, The Mirror Guide

  • What’s your favorite wild place? If you want to contribute to the collection inform us about it in 200 phrases and ship it to [email protected]

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