Tairua, New Zealand (2022)
Memories of this quaint beach town bring Jace and me nothing but warmth and gratitude. It was such a blind venture which ended up opening our eyes to who kiwis are and the kinds of communities they build outside of cities. We had no idea what to expect from our time there. Yet, we were blown away by the spirit of this small – yet mighty – town.
After spending two weeks in our run-down hostel in Auckland, we felt ready to expand our horizons. But, we didn’t have everything set up to buy our van and truly be on our own yet. First, we needed our car to sell back in Oregon and get the funds transferred to us, along with a few other bureaucratic tasks to go through New Zealand’s system.
So when I saw the opportunity to have a free place to stay in Tairua (in exchange for house-sitting and working in the garden), we jumped on it. The homeowner, Michelle, was a witty Scottish woman with a dry sense of humor and great taste. After a few chats, we took a shuttle a couple of hours south to the Coromandel Peninsula, where Tairua lies cozied up to the sea and little Mt. Paku.
While getting to work on cleaning up the garden, our host graciously connected us to friends and acquaintances in the community. We soon found ourselves going on day trips with people we’d never met, but there was no hesitation on their end. They immediately held out their hand to proudly show us the region and welcome us into their homes.
Like this day, for example. We were picked up by Anita and spent all day with her family and friends, hitting the infamous Hot Water Beach – where we got to dig in the sand to find pools of hot water from natural hot springs – and ending the day playing extreme disc golf on a sprawling oceanside property.
We were also welcomed in by a lovely lady, Caroline, who drove us around to small towns and beautiful beaches. After the drive, she had us over to meet her gorgeous Maine Coon cats. She told us about her life and her family, and kept an open invitation to drive us places again or connect us to more people.
I remember feeling so honored to receive this automatic trust from the people we kept meeting, who never held back their kindness or authenticity. Maybe that’s a special quality in small towns, or maybe it has something to do with kiwi culture as a whole. Perhaps it’s a combination of both, but it definitely kept me and Jace up talking, ruminating on this feeling that always felt like a rarity in Portland.
We even hitch-hiked to a neighboring town one day to finalize our bank accounts and get our tax numbers. Hitch-hiking is way more normalized here, and we had fun getting to know the few people who picked us up! I think we only waited like five minutes, tops.
It’s also amazing what a little online interaction can do. I posted a quick introduction on the Tairua Chit-Chat Facebook page, letting people know we’d love to tag along on adventures and that we’re open to working on properties and helping out with projects around town. After Jace did a quick fix on some yard tools for her, we quickly befriended Elise and her husband Chris. They took us to the incredible Cathedral Cove (where a scene in Narnia was filmed!) and an adorable garden cafe.
We met up with them again to explore their property and see if there was anything we could help out with. It was amazing to soak in all of their knowledge of plants and the work they’ve done building their house, planting trees, constructing greenhouses, and keeping bees.
Last but not least, we met Dina, who was interested in having us repaint their guest cabin. Once our three weeks at Michelle’s finished, we migrated over to Dina’s vacation home and not only got full use of the house, yard, and guest cabin, but one of their cars as well! We were blown away by the trust and generosity.
We stayed at Dina and Phil’s for another two weeks, working on the cabin, making fires on the outdoor porch, and taking in their amazing view of the cow pasture across the road. There were also sheep next door (duh). And during this time, our car money, tax numbers, and bank accounts were finalized, letting us carve out the next chapter.
It was a bit of a scramble to find the right van, buy it, and also find some seasonal work. But we pulled it off! Which told us it was time to say goodbye to Tairua (for a while). We’ll definitely be back ♡