Thirty years ago, we traveled to Disneyland, LA. It was dark when we landed and the first place we stopped was at our hotel which was situated directly across from my childhood dream and where would go the next day to see Walt Disney characters in “real life”.

The airline was Polynesian Airlines, and this was their pacific hop, Auckland to Los Angeles with three touch downs on various islands on the way. Fiji and Tahiti were two of the stops I think but I know the third was Honolulu.  At one airport, where security, arrivals and transit lounges mixed and mingled together we watch polystyrene boxes of KFC and sausages break open on the luggage carousel along with suitcases and stripy bags galore.

Every touch down received an applause by the passengers and leis of fresh flowers and lollies and hand luggage of surfboards and life size teddy bears filled the cabin on re-boarding. These days, direct to LA it is about a 12-hour flight as oppose to the 24-hour trip we remember with fond memories now. At the time though….

Back to Denny’s. We were starving. The only thing to drink in the airports was warm, flat coke in very small and expensive amount, so the yearn for food and drink was keen.

I had a huge desire to whip my shoes off and stand on American soil when I saw a patch of dirt outside the door to Denny’s (where some poor wee plant had tried to grow a long time ago)! I thought that was wonderful. The patch of soil was between two concrete drives and was the only dirt for miles. With my dirty feet and connected to the USA now, we ordered onion rings, as we had never had them before, and just had to try them out along with a fabulous American burger. I don’t think I have had onion rings ever since that night, but they were great at the time.

I felt part of America that night with both a physical and cultural connection having been made.

Kiwi dirt. Growing up in West Auckland, I only knew the culture of New Zealand through the area I lived in and the soil beneath my feet. Traveling around the country felt like just an extension of home to me. It was not until the vineyards and orchards with their wine tasting and fruit at the gate, that had dominated the landscape and the associated cultures, of Dalmatians / Yugoslavians, Dutch, and a fringe of people called Maori of where I grew up started to be pulled up did I start to feel unsettled.  Some of Marks family lived up in Warkworth and there was great planting of olives and grapevines starting to happen up there at the same time as West Auckland, my home turf, was being ripped up. We moved up north and settled in Kaipara Flats and planted our own orchard and grapes.

We were happy but a simpler and different life beckoned and we discovered the highly rich, raw and deep landscape and culture of Northland, and in particular the Bay of Islands. I feel connected to the area in a way I have never known. I know now the difference between the culture of Northland and the rest of New Zealand and why there are these differences and similarities. I am the most content here than anywhere else I have lived. There is an underlining sense of place and purpose that I feel here. I have found my Turangawaewae – the place where I am at home, grounded, and part of New Zealand. Like Denny’s onion rings and also Hundertwasser, the famous artist’s “Onion layer” art, there is much to peel back and understand and lots of ground to cover up here.

Happy days in kiwi dirt.