The great Kiwi staggered vacation

by Fiona Rae / 10 February, 2012
Bill Ralston somehow fills up the long, empty holiday hours.

At last I got it right. The annual conundrum of deciding when to go on holiday so as to take maximum advantage of the good weather usually defeats me. I’ve sat in soggy tents with water around my ankles or stood for days staring out bach windows at blustery grey skies often enough.

This year I developed a new system: we would have a staggered holiday. You can usually guarantee the weather between Christmas and New Year is foul and, as most North Islanders can testify, it was. We determined the best thing to do was stick around the damp city while no one else was there cluttering up the place and then make a run up north to a friend’s beach house for four nights over New Year. Being New Year, if it rained, I would be mildly pussed and wouldn’t notice.

In fact, the yuletide deluge miraculously stopped, the clouds parted and we enjoyed brilliant sunny days before scarpering back to Auckland as the monsoon set in again. A couple of wet weeks later, we made a dash to Great Barrier for a fat weekend with friends. Again the Great Climate God favoured us and my near-translucent skin began to show a browner tinge.

As February loomed, we embarked on the final stage of the staggered vacation, setting out in driving rain for a rented bach in the dunes on a golden surf beach in Hawke’s Bay. By the time we reached Havelock North it had turned to drizzle and, as we crested the rise of the hills above the beach, blue sky broke out and I’ve been here soaking in the sun ever since.

By some miracle of the calendar, it seems I’ve managed to take a 10-day holiday and used up only four normal working days, thanks to Auckland’s Anniversary Day and Waitangi Day. Here at the bach, the principal concern is how much sun is too much and how deep your tan can get before you can lodge a Treaty claim. My wife has started scathingly calling me George Hamilton IV, which puzzled me until I googled a picture of the man – an ageing Hollywood star with silver hair and mahogany complexion. I was flattered.

I know the Cancer Society wisely issues “Slip! Slop! Slap!” warnings every summer but it’s always seemed a little odd to me that you’d put a coating on yourself to prevent you going brown when the whole point of a beach holiday is sitting in the sun. If you didn’t want to go brown, you’d holiday in winter and only when it was raining.

It’s remarkable how busy you can be doing nothing. The first hour of the morning is taken up with negotiations over what to have for dinner that night. The next hour consists of figuring out which direction to walk up or down the beach and then taking the actual stroll. Breakfast, or rather brunch, on the barbecue fills in the rest of the morning. The art of the sunlounger takes up much of the afternoon. I prefer toasting myself 30 minutes each side and then walking around with my arms in the air to try to get rid of the white stripes up my sides.

The trickiest part of the day is figuring out when the sun is over the yardarm and it’s okay to have a drink. It’s no use simply having one when you feel like it. I’d be having a vodka with my bacon and eggs. To avoid becoming a barely functioning alcoholic, I’ve figured out an improvised sundial system that means when the shade from the roof covers the outdoor table on the deck I can pour myself one. This seems to be around 5pm, which I consider to be very civilised.

Around that time the daily positioning argument begins. Do you have dinner on the deck overlooking the sea but pay the price of being buffeted by the onshore wind or retreat to the sheltered sunny lee of the house out back? That debate fills the time until the barbecue is fired up, a meal devoured, more drinks consumed, games played and, finally, bed. The next day the whole process begins again.

It occurs to me that if we can be so flat out doing nothing, how on earth can we cope with the other 48 weeks of the year when we are actually working? We must be absolutely exhausted but somehow never notice. It’s at this stage of every beach holiday that I seriously consider quitting work, selling the house and living a subsistence hunter-gatherer existence in a board-and-batten bach on the coast somewhere. Then I realise, if I did that, I’d never have a holiday.

Click here for more columns and stories by Bill Ralston.
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