Views from the window seat

Window Seat

News, views and musings from the window seat at Sunlover Retreat …

  • Shining Some Light on THE STAIRS Monday March 2018 by

    Tairua is known and loved for many things. Mt Paku – the knockout showstopper that catches everyone’s attention regardless of whether they’re a visitor or have lived here 30 years. Ocean
    Beach – the feisty stretch of sand with waves that can make a meal out of you in minutes. Pepe Bridge – that iconic piece of engineering that provokes the ire in many an impatient Aucklander
    while making laid-back locals chortle with amusement.

    There is also another iconic Tairua landmark. It’s a lesser known but significant place that I think deserves its moment of glory. It may not look as pretty as Paku on your Facebook feed. It’s certainly not as Insta-worthy as Ocean Beach. Yet it’s a piece of Tairua that many know and love. Or fear. It’s known as…THE STAIRS.

    Located on the western side of Main Road, just south of the Pepe Bridge, THE STAIRS are unceremoniously marked by a rather misleading sign saying “Gazebo Lookout”. They form a jagged artery between hillside houses, with garden landscaping bordering the right and a long steep driveway bordering the left. A steel handrail lines the side of the stairs – and for good reason.
    So who uses them and where do they go?

    Well, you’d be surprised. THE STAIRS should be known as Tairua’s pedestrian motorway. Rush-hour begins at 5:30am, with peak time around 6:30am before settling into a more steady stream of traffic throughout the day. As with motorways everywhere, traffic peaks again in the PM, with some cases of gridlock becoming apparent around 5:30pm when the fitness fanatics come out to play.

    Outside peak times, commuter traffic makes up the majority of stair-users. The commuters are people who need to get from the lower reaches of Tairua’s shopping village and Main Road to
    the upper echelon of Tairua Heights and Ridge Road. As I know very well thanks to Sunlover Retreat guests, commuters come from all over the world to ascend Tairua’s famous staircase. They come bearing cameras and arrive at the top gasping for their water bottles. It is somewhat of a steep climb and they love it.

    There are two phases to THE STAIRS. The first phase (from Main Road) is a short, steep climb of 87 steps. The steps are well-constructed and uniform in size and distance. They culminate in a flat concrete platform. A lightpost at the top casts a hallowed glow on your ruby red cheeks  and streaming rivulets of sweat. The view from here casts out over rooftops to offer a glimpse of Tairua estuary, with Mt Paku rising up from the water behind a mighty pohutukawa partially obscuring the view.

    The second phase (and there’s no escaping this if you are a commuter) is a little bit different. 111 steps, with differing depths, shapes, sizes and gradients; phase 2 of THE STAIRS will get your heart pumping and lungs expanding like they have never expanded before. Expect wayward branches, tangled leaves and overgrown daisies to tickle your calves on the upward journey. Jaunty angles and awkward corners will challenge your feet at every step of the way. On the 41st step, you’ll be greeted by the prominent signature of a certain “Viki”. This will provoke random thoughts about who Viki is and why she felt so compelled to write her name in the wet cement many years ago.

    If you’re still alive by the time you reach the top, you will most certainly be rewarded with unparalleled views encompassing Tairua and Pauanui townships, the harbour, the ocean, the mountains and beyond. It is here you will know it is worth it. The signposted “Lookout” is actually further up the road and down an unobtrusive grassy walkway to a rather lovely gazebo where you can sit and meditate, picnic, or do whatever takes your fancy while soaking up the surrounds. Though in my opinion, the top of the stairs is enough of a lookout and the perfect place to pause.

    THE STAIRS has its own community of users and is known and loved by a diverse tribe of locals. In addition to commuters and tourists, it is a playground, a gym, a challenge and a hurdle. The gentleman who lives beside the top of the first flight delights in walking down to collect his daily newspaper – and walking back up again to read it. It is his daily constitutional on an incline and he is very happy to live beside THE STAIRS. For some, it is the first tentative steps toward a healthier, more active lifestyle. There is fear in their eyes as they gaze up from the bottom for the first time. And yet a few visits later they’re tackling them with gusto; from a walk to a jog to a sprint. The stairs are their measure of progress.

    Our community heroes use the stairs as their training ground. For our fire brigade volunteers, our police and emergency service workers, it is a mental and physical challenge to prepare them for the demands they endure on a callout. There is a meditative quality to their ritualised running – their mental strength and physical prowess evident as they repeatedly stride the steps. For dog walkers, THE STAIRS is an opportunity to let the dog off the lead and watch in awe as they bound up eagerly with barely a pause at the top. What an advantage to have four legs instead of only two! For children it is a mountainous mission, for Ridge Road teenagers, a shortcut to the early morning school bus.

    The thing I love most about this secret society of stair-climbers is the camaraderie. You will NEVER go past someone on the Tairua stairs without a greeting, a wave, or a friendly acknowledgement. There is an intimacy to our shared pilgrimage and I think it is this: I step up to the battle of the stairs. You, too, step up to the battle of the stairs. Do join us sometime!

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