It is more than eighty years since Zane Grey made Otehei Bay in Urupukukapuka Island his hide-away. It’s one of the islands in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. Here, over several seasons between 1927 and 1933, the US author spent weeks big-game fishing and writing cowboy stories.
Today the Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s top attractions – visited by tens of thousands of tourists a year who come there for the fishing, for the warmth, and for spectacles such as the ‘hole in the rock’, out on the edge of the bay.
Grey’s island hide-away is a nexus for water traffic. There is a a café just up from the shore, where She Who Must Be Obeyed and I ate a mildly over-priced lunch. A concert venue next door was being set up with various burps and beeps.
Later we walked down the beach under a bright sky, away from the people and the noises and the boats. Our feet crunched on shell sand. I tried to imagine the place without the tourists, without the intrusion of the new – pristine, isolated, as it would have been in the 1920s.
Later we found ourselves in the ‘Duke of Wellington’, one of New Zealand’s oldest hotels. It’s on the waterfront in the little town of Russell – known, when the hotel was set up – as Kororareka, the ‘hell hole of the Pacific’. Sailors, whalers – many of them from the US – convicts and beachcombers drank, and indulged in this town, a place where the lock-up was apparently a large crate – suitably ventilated – into which miscreants were flung.
In the cool darkness of the main bar I sipped beer and looked at a wall given over to pictures of Grey with his fishing boat and the marlin dangling, like trophies, from the winches. And I knew that he hadn’t actually come out here for the writing.
But I could, I thought. I could sit on his island and write, if it wasn’t for the tourists.
Could you write in a place like that?
Go to my Pinterest board http://pinterest.com/mjwrightnz/new-zealand-landscapes/ for some more Kiwi landscapes.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012