Wedged between the calm waters of Tasman Bay and the Southern Alps, it doesn’t get much more tranquil than Motueka.
Growing up in the town was an idyllic experience, and even though my parents now live in Nelson, I still refer to Motueka as home. Maybe it’s some form of rural pride - not that Nelson is a big city by any stretch, but when I was a kid it felt huge. It had traffic lights and a cinema. Motueka now has traffic lights and a cinema, but it has managed to retain a certain charm.
Life was defined by the seasons growing up, and it still is in the town. It’s a fruit-growing region, so the produce on offer would depend on the time of the year. It also meant that, depending on which school holiday you were in, a different job was on offer. Picking apples, pruning kiwifruit, picking berries - these were all things I tried my hand at. But my favourite thing grown in the area is hops. When I was young I didn’t know that they are a key ingredient in beer, but the smell always had me transfixed.
Hops were also key markers in my sister’s and my calendar. The hops would be starting to grow around my birthday in December, when the paddocks around our house would start to turn green as the hops twisted up the wires. By the time my sister's birthday rolled around in March, the hops would be harvested and taken to the kilns. We used to chase the tractors transporting the hops so we could pick up the ones that dropped on the road and throw them at each other for hours. Who needed snow when you had hops?
Luckily Motueka is still famous for its hops, so many of the paddocks that were there in my childhood are still around. The town is growing, but it still has a rural feel.
Alongside the produce, you can’t beat Motueka for beaches. Although the town isn’t directly on the beach, it isn’t far to Kaiteriteri. As a child I could never understand why the town wasn’t built on the golden sands and clear waters at Kaiteriteri, and to be honest it’s something that I still think about. But what’s a 15-minute drive when it transports you to paradise?
Even though it was so close to town, we used to go camping at Kaiteriteri during summer. Dad would leave for work each morning and Mum, my sister and me would spend the day at the beach – riding bikes, swimming, and building sandcastles. Then when it finally got dark we’d head up to the glow worm track to see all the bugs lighting up the hills. The campground still exists, and is as well-utilised as ever, with people, mainly from Christchurch, booking the campground out a year in advance.
From Kaiteriteri it's a short trip to the start of the Abel Tasman National Park, another area so prominent in my upbringing. I feel like I know the path from Marahau to Apple Tree Bay like the back of my hand. It was the route of many family hikes. These were not always hikes I wanted to be a part of, but I’m thankful that my parents put up with my tantrums and that I can still appreciate how lucky I was to be able to grow up surrounded by such pristine nature.
Things change in small towns, just as they do in the city. Maybe I’m looking at things with nostalgic, rose-tinted glasses. Motueka faces problems just like the rest of the country, and I can’t claim to go back all that often. But what I do know is that what made the town so great during my childhood is still there. The town is still full of the same names that filled the roll at St Peter Chanel Primary School, the produce is still grown, and the nature is still pristine.
Simon Wraight is a digital producer for RNZ's Morning Report.