Noun – A place of shelter or refuge, especially one protected from rough waters
Verb – To give a home or shelter to
I was restless. I had just split up with a guy I’d been seeing for a few months and somehow that relationship had spilled over and soured the close relationship I’d enjoyed with a couple of my girlfriends. There was unease with my kids and the fragmented custodial arrangements with their dad and I’d also been receiving some rather disturbing telephone calls from my sister in the UK.
I don’t tend to suffer from depression, at least not for extended periods of time, but there was no doubt about it, I was down. My back hurt, my neck was stiff, and I had a strange sensation in my throat – as though I had a lump stuck in it which was preventing me from swallowing properly. I felt old, lonely and lost. I find it surprising that at a time when I was feeling as if my world was collapsing around me, a series of events caused me to make spectacularly incisive actions that led to one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
I had no plans to buy a new house until the day the kids and I decided to take a drive to Lyttelton. About twelve kilometres from the centre of Christchurch, Lyttelton is a port town that is accessed either by travelling through the road tunnel or by driving from Cashmere over Dyers Pass down to Governors Bay then following the road round the shoreline through to Lyttelton. In the past I had dismissed Lyttelton as being a somewhat dreary place, full of dubious foreign men coming ashore off the boats to get drunk in one of the seedy drinking establishments that were plentiful in the harbour town. Yet almost immediately after emerging from the tunnel in the early afternoon of that stunning spring day in 2003, I realised it was time to change my opinion.
It was as though the tunnel had miraculously transported us hundreds of miles from the flat monotony of suburban Christchurch to this quaint, historic, seaside village surrounded by the rugged outcrops that form the picturesque Port Hills which encase the glistening blue-green basin that is Lyttelton Harbour. I found the town itself to be brimming with character, with its colourful cafes and quirky shops. The old historic pubs, some with an infamous history dating back to the mid 1800’s, were still there but I saw no drunken sailors on this particular afternoon. We walked along the main street, rubbing shoulders with an unconventional assortment of bohemian looking locals and as we made our way to the dairy to buy ourselves an ice-cream, I found myself casually picking up a real estate magazine.
We sat down and ate our ice-creams thumbing through the pages. We loved the bygone charm of the colonial timber cottages, some lovingly restored and maintained whilst others looked as though even the most skilled handyman would struggle to bring them anywhere near the “olde worlde charm” promised in the advertising blurb. There were some newer places too with views of the harbour and we daydreamed excitedly about the prospect of moving over here. Before long we were in the car manoeuvring our way up and down the impossibly steep and narrow streets attempting to get a feel of what was on offer in this vibrant little harbour town.
Although we saw the humorous side of it, we found that most of the quirkily, quaint houses were just a bit too much of a handyman’s dream to justify the prices that were being asked and the access to some of the properties would be a confronting task to tackle on a daily basis, particularly in winter. But there was something else that caused Lyttelton to lose its charm a little in our eyes. It was only early afternoon but it was already starting to get dark. Yet we could see a settlement directly across the harbour about a mile away that was still basking in brilliant sunshine. The houses appeared to be perched on top of bushy cliffs and the sun’s reflection at the entrance to the bay looked like thousands of sparking diamonds had been thrown across the water.
I wondered if it was Governors Bay, but I didn’t remember it being quite that far round. We drove to Governors Bay which although beautiful, turned out to be in just as much shade as Lyttelton was. There was still plenty of afternoon left so we continued our drive, passing through Allendale and Teddington and by the time we reached Charteris Bay we were once more in the sunshine. As we drove into the small township I realised that the place we had seen must have been Diamond Harbour.
That spring afternoon of October 2003 marked the beginning of my love affair with Diamond Harbour. Ever since I left Mount Tamborine I had dreamed of living in a small community situated in naturally beautiful surroundings, but I didn’t think that a place like this existed so close to Christchurch. And I had to stay reasonably close to Christchurch so that the kids could see their father. Marvelling at my own good fortune, I began to research properties for sale and checked out the local school. In the weeks that followed we looked at a number of places but the one that we had set our sights on was a two-storey solid timber home that had a fabulous view of the harbour looking across to Lyttelton. We put in an offer and although I knew it was going to be a stretch, I was over the moon when it was accepted. The kids were also very excited about the move but their Dad had his reservations. Although Diamond Harbour is only a forty-minute drive from the centre of Christchurch, one could be forgiven for thinking I was snatching the children from the comfortable safety of their homeland and relocating to Paraguay. Eventually he warmed to the idea – after all it was only a ten-minute ferry trip from Diamond Harbour to Lyttelton and he would be able to pick them up from there.
How we loved living in Diamond Harbour! The local school had a role of just over a hundred pupils and went through to Year Eight. Set at the foot of Banks Peninsula’s highest peak, Mount Herbert, the school’s rural backdrop of paddocks, open space, and hills meant that a good part of my daughter’s first day was spent gazing out the window at the cows and sheep as they happily grazed only metres away. My son was in his final year at Christchurch Boys High School when we moved to Diamond Harbour and I would either drop him off and collect him from school if I was going to be working in town or he would drive my car if I was working from home.
We had only been living in Diamond Harbour for a week when my neighbour, spotted me on my deck and called out from over the fence line. It was six o’clock on a Friday evening and I’d just poured myself a glass of wine and had taken it outside to watch a cruise ship as it left the harbour. We chatted over the fence for a short while and then she asked me if I’d like to come to party that night.
“Bring the kids too,” she said. “There’ll be other young people there.”
It was as simple as that. As a result of that night, I met quite a few of the locals in the community and I quickly made friends.
I was home. I had found my tribe.