Last year, after I announced that I was moving to Wellington, a lady at work asked if I’d decided where I was going to live, suggesting that I should live in Eastbourne. “It’s meant to be quite nice,” she added.
And so that was always what I thought of when I thought of Eastbourne, like an unofficial town motto: “Eastbourne: It’s meant to be quite nice”. (Well, that’s better than “Hamilton: Where it’s happening” or “Foxton: New Zealand’s fox town”)
As it happened, I settled in sunny Te Aro (motto: “Sunny”) and hadn’t made it out to that curious little bit of Hutt City that curves around the coast. Whether or not it was quite nice, it just seemed a bit out of the way.
But the forces of nature presented me with a Saturday that wasn’t totally horrible and raining, and a morning where I felt like getting out of bed before noon. And I was getting worried that I was becoming dependant on the opiate-fuelled Coff-b-gone, so a day at the seaside seemed good. And so I caught the #81 bus from sunny Te Aro to quite nice Eastbourne.
To get to Eastbourne requires barrelling through Seaview, the industrial part of Petone. I like to think it was named Seaview to guide people into what they should be looking at. “Ignore the giant fuel tanks! Ignore the blank-walled warehouses! Look at the sea! Isn’t it pretty?!”
But once past Seaview, then the cute little bays start. Undulating along the coast, the li’l settlements seem to fill up as much of the flat-ish land between the coast and the steep hills as possible. And even then, the hills can be built upon Wellington-style.
I just rode the bus along the coast until the surrounds looked interesting enough to get off, and as it happened, interesting enough was the main Eastbourne settlement and shops.
The national anthem of Eastbourne is polar fleece. The national bird is a mosaic letterbox number, created at an evening craft course. Eastbourne is where you grew up, where you visited your grandparents, where your boyfriend lived, where you’re bringing up your family, and where your parents have retired, all rolled into one.
The local shops were a mix of cafes, and shops selling paintings of nikau palms and vases that looked like ceramic sex toys. You want corn fritters? They’re off the menu, but we’ll do you a eggs benedict and a flat white. We’ll also throw in a plaque with a motivational phrase printed on it. Dance like no one’s watching! But what’s the fun in that?
Eastbourne felt a bit empty. In fact, I almost saw more cats wandering around than people. I suppose generally people need more than cafes and gift shops and panoramic harbour views, so they jump in their cars (or catch the #83 bus) and head to Queensgate or the Hutt Briscoes, leaving the cats to look after things.
I get the feeling that Eastbourne is more quite nice in the middle of summer than on a cold July day. The hills probably feel less leering and the beach probably feels more like a pleasurable seaside than a gravel pit between the harbour and the land.
Or was it just coming off the Coff-b-gone? Without the warm, comfortable fuzz of the prescription-only cough medicine, the world felt a bit cold and sharp. Was this a bitter comedown or what life is normally like?
Eventually the #83 came and took me back to sweet Te Aro, via Queensgate mall. Outside the mall, a crazy lady was frantically sucking out mouthfuls of smoke from her cigarette and chewing off bits of a fried chicken drumstick before the bus left. And then I realised: compared to the cool inner city flavour of Te Aro, Eastbourne is quite nice and compared to the dullness of Queensgate, Eastbourne is also quite nice.