At eleven years old, Ali has two dreams. The first is to go to Alaska. The second is to live and work permanently at his favourite place in the world – Papaiti Station. To the unitiated it looks like your typical Kiwi sheep and beef farm but to everyone who has ever had the pleasure of spending time there, it is 5,000 acres of pure paradise. Before now, trips to Papaiti have been limited to 'the blokes' (that is Noel, Ali and their huntin' mad mates) but Liam and I were recently granted a three-day visit to what Ali calls 'his happy place'.
Papaiti Station is situated in a tiny place called Retaruke, deep in the heart of the King Country. Everything about the place is larger than life, from the mountains to the wildlife, which wander about happily in astounding numbers. Ali loves nothing better than roaming the hills with his dad in pursuit of wild goats, pigs and deer. The aim for the trip was to get some meat for the freezer but also to get a head start on 'No Screens Month'. Liam was hesitant about coming along, convinced it was going to be boring, but Ali reassured him that there was far too much to do there to worry about getting bored!
Not being much of a hunter, Liam was keen to give trout fishing a go, so no sooner had we got there than Noel had sat the three of us down, teaching us how to tie trout lures properly. Confident in our new-found abilities, the boys and I set off for the river, sans Noel. I couldn't stop smiling to myself as I followed the boys, both wielding their fishing rods and chatting happily. This was what it was all about, learning new skills and doing productive stuff, not sitting in front of the Playstation! It was only a short walk to the river but somehow we managed to take the longest route possible. Ali, leading the way, jumped over a bridge and into the tall grass, where he disappeared completely from view. Liam and I were falling about laughing and did our best to follow but in the end were forced to abandon our mission and find a different route.
By the time Noel reached us some time later, we were having heaps of fun but the fishing hadn't been very productive. Liam had caught two trees and two rocks and Ali had caught me – twice. First he managed to get his line tangled in my hair, which was bad enough but the second time he had managed to hook my bottom and the pair of us were immobile for a good ten minutes trying to prise the darn thing out. Not an easy thing to do when you don't have eyes in the back of your head. Thank goodness Noel came along when he did so he could free me!
Eventually we got the hang of this trout fishing lark and Liam and I picked it up quite quickly. In fact, Liam discovered he really enjoyed trout fishing and was very good at it. He will happily spend hours knee deep in the crystal clear river, trying his best to hook a fish. He doesn't even care if he doesn't catch anything, he just loves being out there doing it. I thoroughly enjoyed it too, although I had to chuckle to myself that my eleven-year-old son taught his mother how to cast. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for life, the saying goes. I learned in those three days that my little boy was more than capable of feeding himself, as well as everyone else!
Ali is completely comfortable in the bush and couldn't wait to take me for a walk to show off more of the place he loves. 'You're in real man's country now Mum!' he teased and walked on briskly ahead singing 'It's a Man's World'. He told me it must be called the King Country because of all the king size hills. I'm not sure about that but it's as good a reason as any! He chatted the whole way and I was blown away by his knowledge of wildlife and bush culture. His eyes were everywhere, scanning the countryside for goats, pigs and deer and pointing them out to me. I wasn't too enamoured with the idea of coming face to face with a wild boar but he assured me that they were more scared of me than I was of them.
Meanwhile, Liam was also being taken out of his comfort zone, riding his motorbike up a steep bush track with his dad. Unlike Ali, he is hugely lacking in confidence and was scared stiff but he did it and we were really proud of him. Getting Liam away from screens is hugely important to us. He still suffers from anxiety – not so much these days but always, without fail during school holidays. We put it down to spending too many hours inside playing video games and watching TV during the holidays. The best way we know to combat this is to get him outside and active as much as we possibly can. Sitting indoors staring at screens and being part of a virtual world does nothing for kids. It doesn't teach them anything, it simply whiles away the hours. In contrast, Liam's bush ride had given him confidence and it was great to see him happily riding around the station in the days that followed.
Several more trout fishing excursions followed and I caught my first wild trout! OK, it was about as big as my hand but it was a real, proper trout and it meant I was doing it right. Ali caught a very nice rainbow and Liam caught an enormous, fat brown trout but much to his utter dismay it managed to free itself of the hook at the crucial moment and flopped down the bank back into the river (even with Noel leaping into the water in a vain attempt to catch it with his bare hands, which was quite amusing!) Another thing I loved about going to the river was hunting for fossils, which certainly wasn't hard as there were millions of them, everywhere you looked. It was amazing and we often brought some of our favourite 'finds' home with us.
Our last night was an enjoyable one all round. Noel and Ali went hunting and brought home enough meat to keep the freezer well stocked for a good while. Meanwhile, Liam and I sat in a steaming hot spa pool in the rain for two and a half hours, talking and laughing. The spa pool at Papaiti has to be seen to be believed! I had heard so much about it from 'the blokes' that I have to admit it played a big part in getting me down there. The outdoor spa is huge and is actually fuelled by a log fire. A pot belly-type contraption sits in a little shed with a chimney next to the spa pool and you simply keep it stoked up when you want to enjoy a nice, hot, freshwater spa. Ingenious!
Liam and I talked about anything and everything and it was heaps of fun. We talked about No Screens Month and all the things we could do if we didn't watch TV. As a rule, our evenings go pretty much like this. After dinner, Noel goes into his office and works until around 10pm. Liam goes on the Playstation, Ali watches TV and I go on the computer. Four people, four separate rooms. We both agreed that no screens was a much better idea! It's amazing how often people keep the television on, even when they're watching things which are of absolutely no interest to them. Or simply channel hop until they find the best of a bad bunch. Well no more, not during No Screens Month!
So there you have it, our ultimate SS holiday at Papaiti Station. Apart from the petrol to get there, there were no costs whatsoever. We took all our food with us. No shops, no people, only peace. All the entertainment was free. Just the four of us in a cosy cabin in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We can't wait to go back!