It started well, the week-long family holiday I’d planned nearly a year ago. Pete piloted our packed-to-the-rafters minivan up the western side of the Coromandel Peninsula, along a wiggly coastal drive hugging shimmering blue vistas. I napped during the first 20 or so minutes, which Pete claims was most spectacular. “You missed the best part,” he said. What I did see was turquoise-blue water so close I could throw a stone into it, and mountains flanking the other side.
|Shelly Beach, Coromandel|
We stop at the (packed) Coromandel Mussel Kitchen about three hours into our trip. We wait 45 minutes for mussel chowder (Fiona) a side salad plus mussel pot spiced with fragrant green curry (me); corn dogs (Finley) and a burger, which, including the bun, is nearly the size of a human head (Pete). We (adults) each enjoy a mug of the Mussel Kitchen’s own Pilsner beer. I surrender a $100 note and get $7 change. For lunch.
Another ten minutes up the road, just past Coromandel Town, is the Shelly Beach Top Ten. I’d researched the holiday park on Trip Advisor and called the office three times before booking. I wanted a budget option that wouldn’t require our nonexistent tent. Our family believes anything with communal kitchens and bathrooms is camping.
Back in January, the manager (Kay) convinced me to take a lodge room at $115/night, rather than a kitchen cabin at $140. She said the lodge room would be bigger than the cabin. This sounded strange, but we’d stayed at other Top Ten parks in units, rooms and cabins and had never been disappointed.
We get a key for room 12. It contains a double bed and a twin bunk set into the wall. It has a closet where we can stash three bags of canned and dry food, towels and extra bedding. There’s just enough room for a chair beside the bed. I pay $650 cash for the balance of our stay (Pete just sold his car and we brought some proceeds). Our family of four has committed to seven nights in a small box. At least it has a view of the bay.
|View from the lodge at Shelly Beach Top Ten|
The kids run off to bounce on the jumping pillow, Pete naps and I wander to the shell-filled beach to ponder my poor planning. Memories of Ewa Beach (which must be one of the worst neighborhoods to stay on Oahu, Hawaii http://pickendawn.blogspot.co.nz/2013/06/pit-bull-paradise.html flood my head like high tide slamming the shore. Pete appears and says, “I don’t know why she told you the lodge had more room. That’s ridiculous. We can’t stay here seven nights.”
“I’m sorry. I really am. I don’t understand it, either.” My contrition is sincere. So are my doubts about whether my husband can survive semi-camping. At home, his head is bent over his phone whenever I enter a room. My beloved answers every ping, ding and whistle as if poised to perform an organ transplant. He’s either held captive by Apple or Netflix or something else on a screen. We’re too far from technology. Our family vacation is about to crash and burn.
“I didn’t bring you here to make you miserable,” I say. We have cell phone coverage, but the connection is slow. Maybe we’ll stay three nights and leave…
We sashay around the lodge kitchen, borrowing plates, pots and utensils from the shared stash. A European cyclist at the counter beside me paws knives and forks before returning them to the tray and selecting another set. Behind the sign instructing us not to prepare or consume meals in the lodge, a woman sits at a coffee table covered with lettuce and dumpling wrappers. She folds each one methodically before arranging it on a tray.
I join the kids at the jumping pillow, where a dozen children bounce. One of the youngest kids, a blondie of about three with crew cut, spits. Children shout, “He just spitted! Ewww!” I look up from the picnic table where I’m sitting and glare. “Do that again and I’ll tell your parents,” I growl.
Pete and I make pizza in a half-working oven, to-ing and fro-ing around other guests in various stages of cooking: filleting just-caught fish, prying sea urchins, grilling burgers, burning fries. Pete and I start eating while Fi and Finn play, washing down slices of pepperoni, mushroom and red pepper with full tumblers of white wine.
At the next picnic table, a large woman wearing a see-through beach cover over bikini top hums loudly. It reminds me of an opening scene in “Orange is the New Black,” where an inmate sings in the shower. Just then, a woman wearing bright orange sweat pants walks past. “You know, there is a kind of prison vibe here,” I say, as man with gray stubbled face and tattooed neck crosses the courtyard. Pete says, "Yeah, but there's more space in the jail cells." Another man wearing dark shades in the twilight stares at me. Not a ‘nice to meet you stare,’ but one that barks, ‘I don’t like you.’ Maybe I’m imagining things. The stare, though, is real.
Our lodge room is stiflingly hot. Pete says not to open a window until we’re ready for bed, because the light will attract bugs. We sit outside for fresh air. And the sound of heavy metal emanating from a car parked near a tent site. I recognize a Motley Crue song from my high school days. “They’re probably people from the West side of Auckland,” Pete later explains. “They’re called Westies, and they’re still 30 years back in time.”
The music is so frickin’ loud, I walk to the office to see if I can get the manager to tell them to turn it down. “I was just over there and didn’t hear any loud music,” she says. Nevertheless, she rounds the lodge, walks to the Westies and tells them to turn it down. Now I can hear them arguing. “Well, you fucking told me…” And then, “Fuck you, motha fucka…” Thankfully, the kids aren’t around to hear.
Around ten o’clock, Finley returns to the room. He’d been playing spotlight (flashlight tag) with other kids. Fiona and I brush our teeth together in the tidy communal bathroom while Pete and Finley do the same on the men’s side. Pete later tells me each stall ‘was disgusting.’ I don’t ask for details.
Finley shares news after we’re together in our lodge room. “There was a fight in the kitchen,” he says. “They were using bad language.”
We turn the lights off and open a window. It’s still hot. I read aloud two stories from my Kindle for the kids. I hear Pete breathing heavily, dozing, before the end of the second story. Sleep doesn’t last long. Between music on one side of our room, loud talking on the other side and lack of ventilation, Pete and I fail to convince the Sandman to stick around.
We plead our case at the office the next morning, saying there’s no way the four of us can sleep in that room another six nights. Despite the sign saying, “No refunds for early check-outs,” Kay is polite and sympathetic, returning all but $50 of our money.
We pack and leave in a hurry. I’m giddy, listening to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Getaway” en route to Whitianga, on the other side of the Coromandel Peninsula. Sometimes, you must get away from your getaway.