I don’t suppose we’d have come to Opunake if our friends didn’t have a holiday house, or bach, here. If we were surfers we might have made the five hour trek from Auckland, and stayed at the surfers’ lodge to take advantage of the spectacular waves, but we’re not, and there aren’t many other reasons for coming.
The region of Taranaki, dominated by it’s beautiful, almost perfect volcanic cone of a mountain is deeply rural. However much the tourism people try and brand it as a surfers’ paradise, there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s dairy farming that defines it.
Yes, you can buy surfboards and Ripcurl swimming trunks in the local sports shop. But you can also buy milk refrigeration units, blue milking aprons and tractor parts in one of at least five farming related shops on the little high street. As you go beyond the town limits, almost every driveway has a number on a blue board, that farm’s unique dairy number. Each evening the wide, peaceful streets, with their single storey wooden houses on quarter acre plots, rumble to the sound of huge milk tankers trundling through, one after another. And of course you can’t miss the cows. There are lots of cows.
So what’s the attraction for tourists like us? Apart from the home cooked Christmas lunch of course. If we wanted green fields and the Vicar of Dibley Christmas special, surely we could have just visited my aunt in Hampshire? Except, I’m not sure that places like this still exist in England. Places where farming is so deeply integrated into everyday life, where every small town has a tractor shop and the local butcher makes more money from ‘homekill’ than from his retail business.
Coming from London, it’s been really interesting to meet people so knowledgeable about the question of rotary vs herringbone milking sheds and the exporting of butter to China. It may not be as exotic as Thailand, or have the obvious attractions of Waikiki, but it’s offered us a small glimpse into another way of life. And that, I think, is what travel’s all about.