A place is so much more than one person, but on my last visit to Karaka
Bay I was lucky enough to run into someone who represents this magical
place as well as anyone or anything – with the possible exception of
his terribly famous porcine pet, Piglet.
Had I not met Tony Watkins, I would have observed the 11 higgledy-piggledy letterboxes at the top of the track, zigzagged down to the beach and had a pleasant break away from just about everything and considered how lucky those 11 homeowners are to live here, and gone away happy enough. You can only get to Karaka Bay by walking down the zigzag or coming in by boat. That’s how special it is – no triple garages around here!
Anyway, back to Tony. I’d noticed the enormous pohutukawa that sprawls across the beach, its branches horizontal to and even touching the sand as if resting on its elbows, the free-range beach gardens of nasturtiums, pelargoniums, mint, lavender and fennel fenced off with bits of driftwood, the permanent deckchairs and picnic tables that sit on the sand, the kids’ climbing frames and rustic seats and sculptures that suggested a very well-loved and close community. Walking past the dozen or so houses, I saw a not-young guy with fairly wild hair emerge from behind what looked like an ancient live-in boat shed.
He came back a few minutes later as I was leaving. We got talking (he was racing north to catch the Rawene ferry) and he set me straight on a few things. Thing one: the plaque at the top of the zigzag states that local chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi in Karaka Bay on 4 March 1840. This is only partially true – in fact only 17 chiefs chose to sign the document on that day. Captain Hobson then got sick and waited four months before returning to the bay to secure a further six signatures, on 9 July.
People have lived in Karaka Bay for almost as long as Maori have been in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The bay provided a ringside seat when Rangitoto erupted around 600 years ago. Strategicly handy, Karaka Bay also marks the sacred meeting ot the Tamaki and Waitemata rivers.
They bay’s history, both ancient and modern, is fascinating and Tony’s website (www.tony-watkins.com) is crammed with facts and folklore – he has been living here for more than 30 years. His writing tells of warrior battles and birds of bad omen, jazz-playing architects and naked protest showers. It’s intriguing stuff, and you’re left in no doubt about Tony’s innate distrust of bureaucracy: the sort of people who, puffed up with pride over the Queen’s visit in 1953, erected a fountain commemorating the signing of the Treaty and then some years later cemented it over with pebbles.
Far from being a daytime dosser, Tony is one busy guy. On his website he is variously described as an urban designer, vernacular architect, maritime planner, owner-builder, servant of Piglet, educator, author, revolutionary, peacenik and tour guide. He claims to have given the first solar-powered lecture at the University of Auckland.
What makes it special: The feeling of peace, community and extraordinary isolation this place exudes.
Published in Undiscovered Auckland by Diana Balham
Karaka Bay, Peacock Street, Glendowie Location 46 p106
First published in 2008 by New Holland Publishers (NZ) Ltd
Auckland Sydney London Capetown
Text copyright Diana Balham
Illustrations copyright Pauline Wimp