Memories of childhood summers are notoriously unreliable. Could the sun really have always shone?  The sea been so deep blue and welcoming? The rocks so full of kai moana?

When I was so-high, “The Coast” was a long dusty car ride from the farm in the Wairarapa.  We’d go when the tide was low at the right hour to allow for crayfish catching to be completed in time to get back for milking.

Ngawi was one of the favoured spots. Then, as now, a fishing village. Now, with more holiday houses – but fortunately not grand ones.   Over the last few years it has been cut off several times, as the storms have eaten into the road where it skirts the cliffs.


So we gathered again this April, three of the “then-children”, Carolyn, Dennis and Ali –  with partners – respectively Mani, Helen and Denis – and Ali’s son Kieran (such places must be handed to the next generation) – on a spontaneous “it’s such a lovely day, why don’t we….” impulse.

And the sky was blue, and the sea even bluer. Calm and perfectly clear among the rocks, though further out it was starting to toss the fishing boats homewards.

Ngawi looks out over the Tasman Sea – next stop Australia!  (Whoops – see correction to my geography in Comments.) The fishing village near here is famous for its superannuated tractors and bulldozers that manoeuvre the fishing boats into and out of the ocean.

 The water so clear….

“Way back then” our preferred kai moana was crayfish – a sackful was a good catch, from thigh-deep under rocks. A couple to be immediately boiled in a kerosine tin and eaten on the beach, the rest taken home to be cooked in the old laundry copper.  The kids’ job was marshalling the still-marching crays into lines on the concrete laundry floor. Largest in front to be first in to the boiling water, smallest at the rear, so they’d all finish cooking together when the fire burned out.

Nowadays the crays hide further out… but the paua – ah, they were plentiful, well-sized, fully up to the standards of memory.

Brother Dennis emerges with his paua bag.

Ali had stripped off her wet-suit to soak up the autumn sun.  “The other Denis” also triumphant.

Wetsuits were not part of the once-upon-a-time garb.

Mani, Ali, Denis and Dennis celebrating the catch. Kieran was stripping off his wetsuit when this was taken – so we spare his blushes.

I’d hoped my thumbs would have retained the knowledge my mind had forgotten, about how to shuck paua from their brilliant shells – but no, Mani had to resort to a knife once the molluscs were on the kitchen bench. A little later, I found a step-by-step photo guide to the thumb technique in Al Brown’s brilliant “Go Fish” book.  I’m perhaps a little biased in my admiration for this cookbook  –  his starting point in his love of seafood was also the Wairarapa Coast, and he is sort-of-related, as brother to sister-in-law Vicky. But most of all, he’s a great cook and food-writer.

So now, the shells are in our “under-reconstruction” front garden, and the paua flesh savoured and shared with friends.  And vitally, seeing that Mani and I are heading for Europe again soon, we have our reservoirs of sensations of the essential New Zealand fully topped up.  Yes, the sea can still be that blue, the sun that warm, and the rocks that full of bounty.