I was immediately transported back six years this morning as I chucked my bag down on the roadside and stuck out my thumb, en route to Golden Bay. I have many happy memories of Golden Bay, especially of discovering a small hidden camp in Takaka one summer and living there for a while, and I was excited to return.
Takaka is a small town full of hippies, second hand stores, organic food, and jewellery makers. Six years ago when I showed up there for the first time it was like accidentally stumbling across home. I looked like part of the furniture with my paisley shirts, jeans that were really more a jumble of patches than jeans themselves, and hair that couldn’t decide if it was dreadlocked or not, home to various shells and coloured wool.
Today, I arrived looking entirely different, but feeling much the same. After checking into a hostel, I wandered around town, reacquainting myself, and eventually found myself heading down the old gravel road to the river as if by habit. I reached the river, walked out onto the stones, turned left, and hopped my way round the bend. Campfire smoke came into view, drifting out of the tree line, and I knew the secret camp still existed.
As I got closer, I was overwhelmed to see structures built precariously in the shelter of the trees; semi-permanent structures, built out of supermarket pallets and tarps, driftwood and billboard canvases. The homes spread down the riverside for quite a way, and they were all up on stilts. After passing a handful of these small abodes I reached the old steps up onto the bank that used to lead to the campfire, the central meeting place of the old camp I knew. I fire ring was still there, but it contained rubbish and hadn’t been used in a while. The creepers that used to carpet the ground were mostly gone, and in their place, hard clay dotted with cigarette butts. The place was no longer a happy secret in the trees – it was a grubby and badly looked after homeless camp, and it made me sad. I left and walked back into town in the rain feeling gloomily nostalgic, but better by the time I got back to were I was staying. Sad as it was to see the place I associate with fond memories in such an exploited and disrespected state, it is always useful to be reminded that everything is temporary, and all we can do is be grateful for what we have, or have had.