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Saturday 08 April 2017

Siesta time at Uretiti

Posted in: Community
By Jay Bennie - 29th December 2016

Under a pergola, beside a tent, on an inflatable mattress, sucking on a couple of beers are Blake Watkins and Sanjay Dayal.

Blake and Sanjay

They are right in glbti-central of the Uretiti beach camp, an area which attracts around a thousand campers each Christmas/New Year, about a third of whom are non-straight.

“We only arrived about an hour or so ago but we're pretty much settled in,” says Watkins. The Auckland couple have been to Uretiti “four or five times” now. “This is a very gay-friendly place,” says Dayal, “we have friends here we meet year after year.”

Some days they take a trip north to Whangarei, about 20 minutes north, but most of the time “we eat, drink, visit friends here in the camp and relax." There are walks through the dunes and a long and gently-sloping sandy beach that goes for miles north and south.

When the weather gets bad, and today there are misty, drizzly clouds rolling in over the Brynderwyns, “we play card games, visit around the camp and relax some more.”

Dominic and Geoffry

A couple of campsites along, beside neighbours dressed as a group in flouro pink wigs and shorts, Dominic and Geoffry are pitching their tent. This is their first time at Uretiti after being convinced by friends and an old flatmate of Dominic's to come up from Wellington.

Slightly further along, past one of several big rainbow flags and a cluster of LYC loungers and condom containers, two big mobile homes with everything including the outdoor kitchen sink installed frame a central pergola and a couple of big tables. Jeff Guy, two young nieces of a fellow-camper and a friend Moana (“don't mention I'm a lesbian please, I don't want women from all around the country throwing themselves at me,”) McDowell, a woman of wicked and almost unquotably subversive humour, are well-settled in. “The best part of being here is the sense of community and meeting up with people you don't see at home in Auckland, even ones who live just down the road!” they laugh.

Scott, Moana, a friend, Jeff and the girls
Scott Blackburn joins us and McDowell introduces him as the 'Prime Minister' of Uretiti. Blackburn, who's been holidaying at Uretiti for thirteen years, has done way more than most to ensure the campsite is a good place for the campers, glbti and straight alike.

This Department Of Conservation site underwent a dramatic and hideous change around six years ago. For years the campers had been tucked here and there throughout the rolling sand dunes amongst tall pine trees which provided shelter from the wind and the sun and, it has to be said, gave the place character. But DOC decided they had to go... too old and not native. In the pines' place they planted a few straggly little trees and left them to struggle and wither.

“There was no shelter at all, particularly for people in tents,” Blackburn says. He thought things could be way better. He asked DOC if he could plant and tend a few more trees and, although they resisted to the point of giving him an outright “no” at one point, eventually he wore them down and was allowed to plant four pohutukawas. “Once they saw those four doing ok they changed their minds and liked the idea,” he says, “so they allowed me to carry on.”

Over the past few years he has traveled up from Auckland every two or three weeks throughout each year, bringing in almost a thousand trees and shrubs, and masses of fertiliser, compost and mulch, all at his own expense. Asked how much money he has spent on the area he seems rather vague. “Maybe $20,000, maybe $25,000,” he says. The project has, he admits, become “a passion.”

He says he has an excellent relationship with Joe and Glenys, the camp hosts who look after the area for DOC. And from an initially very difficult relationship things have improved to a point where this year a DOC ranger will be joining the campers for a few days including New year's Eve.

Steve and Scott

Steve Farrow, a couple of sites further on, is originally from Auckland. He lives in his camper van at Uretiti “around” 80 per cent of the year. He had been holidaying here for fifteen years and loved it so much that after a period of ill-health and fighting leaky home issues he decided to relocate semi-permanently.

In front of his van he's set up a pink pergola and substantial combination table and leaner and it's all somewhat grandly branded as Daddy's Bar. “It started as a tongue in cheek thing because there was nowhere for beer drinkers to drink together,” he says. The first year he borrowed a leaner from a local pub and put up an umbrella. Other campers contributed a custom-made sign that lights up and changes colour at night and there are strings of battery-powered Christmas lights to provide night-time illumination and added gaiety.

As for the bar's name, 'Daddy' is a nickname greying Farrow picked up over the years, part of good-natured gentle mocking by some of the younger campers.

“It's a common area for people to come to,” he says. It's BYO only and open from 4pm. “On a quiet night 20 to 30 people gather but can be up to a couple of hundred. “He says there are never any serious noise issues or drunkenness or bad behaviour “but it's very quiet out here in the dunes and any sounds do travel so we gently close it down about 10.30pm.”

It's mid-afternoon, the camp is quiet with some folks down at the beach or on walking tracks, others are mid-siesta. Kids are making the most of Christmas toys and everyone is looking forward to New Year's eve when there will be much frolicking and, weather and fire restrictions permitting, a big bonfire on the beach.

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Jay Bennie - 29th December 2016