I’m not sure what the dream was about, but at one point I was standing around in someone’s backyard at a party, and the light was very bright, like the sun was ultraviolet and all the colours were saturated – the green of the grass very green, and the blue of the sky very blue – and I turned around and saw Matt. He was sitting in a lounger and I thought, “oh, this is a dream” and then I went back to listening to the people I was with.
It was raining on the morning that we left for our holiday in Auckland. As I made breakfast at the kitchen window it seemed to me that trees without their leaves make winter feel especially miserable; like watching a skinny-ribbed kid shivering at the side of the pool looking for their clothes. Although we were mostly packed, and well-rested, it seems to be impossible for us to leave for a family holiday without arguing about what is in whose bag (usually in mine, whatever it is), whether the cat is in or out (in, hiding under the spare bed), and why my character flaws and personality faults are so manifest (it’s complicated).
By the time we got to Waiouru we found that the Desert Road had re-opened, and that we would be able to go across the Central Plateau instead of the long way around the mountains. Cathy wanted me to ask at the petrol station about the road conditions so I did, but I think the days are long gone when people who work in petrol stations know about road conditions (or how a car works). The petrol station attendant told me – when I asked – that the road was open. There was a pause while I waited for her to expand on this information. She didn’t.
Out on the Central Plateau the snow was piled high, and soon – by a sign that said “No Stopping Next 25 kms” – cars were pulled into a makeshift car park and kids were being let out of the warm fug of their cars with crushed chips and sticky fingers to stomp around in the snow, or fling snowballs at each other, or pat misshapen snow-beings into life. Ruapehu was behind clouds. I reflected, for perhaps the tenth time, that the Central Plateau is my favourite place to look at giant electricity towers (I’m not sure that I have a second favourite place). They undoubtedly mar the landscape in one sense, but in another way they add to the desolation and alone-ness of the place. Ruining my reverie I noticed feathery snow beginning to fall again. We beat a retreat to car and hit the road.
The strangest thing about driving across the Desert Road was how the snow came flying at us in the car, but none stuck to the windscreen so I didn’t need the wipers. We stayed tucked in behind a truck and wound our way down and up and through, past the mounting drifts, and the men sitting in high-visibility vests in graders and grit trucks at the side of the road watching the snow fall back on to their road. When we came out the other end at Rangipo the weather was clearer, and soon we were driving down into the bright sunlight bouncing off Lake Taupo.
The Hilton Taupo. I’m afraid it sounds a little bit like a joke. Like The Four Season Taihape. But, no, it is real, and – thanks to a half price deal on a cheaper room – just about affordable. The girl at the reception was pleasant, but I couldn’t help but feel she was just a girl from Taupo who had done a hospitality course somewhere which kind of took the sheen off the well-oiled routine. The boy who took our bags was less smooth and more charming as a consequence. He took our bags to the far end of the hotel I should add, but even at the far end of the hotel in a room facing away from the lake the stay was very nice. Kids have an impact on hotel niceness of course. It only takes about five minutes for two small children to jump on all the beds, splash water over most of the surfaces in the bathroom, and kick over a cup of coffee.
Not to mention that it was only in the morning that Cathy discovered the Pillow Menu.
If only we had known earlier.
The Taupo Hilton is next to DeBrett’s Hot Pools; somewhere I hadn’t been for twenty years. We walked down the mostly dark driveway to the pools before dinner. There were little lights irregularly down the side, and groups of bathers panting up the hills, or kids bounding down. You could hear the bathers down the hills, and see steam rising up through the trees. It was that walk down that reminded me of the last time I had been here.
It was probably in 1993 when Matt came back from England for a holiday in Wellington, and then drove some friends up to Auckland. We went to DeBrett’s on the way. I remember walking down the same path at night. The same lights. The same sounds. It was mostly empty when we went in 1993, but very full in 2013. I remember the stars above, and Sean sitting under the concrete shute where hot water poured into the pool like a sheet of molten glass. We went to a private pool and fantasized about being writers. It was a nice dream. We called ourselves the Bathhouse Quartet.
This time Cathy and I puttered about the pools with our daughters. The stars were still there, and so was the shute where the hot water poured in. It wasn’t nostalgia that made me cry in the end; it was the entry price.