Most New Zealanders feel closely connected with their heritage. Whether it’s tracing our whakapapa back to the first New Zealanders, or donning backpacks as we fly out to discover the origins of our grandparents from Britain. Unfortunately, I have no Polynesian ancestry to speak of, even though I like to channel my inner Moana with my love of the sea. What gives me the freckled complexion of a sunburnt redhead and a propensity to get emotional at the sound of bagpipes, is my connection to Scotland.
So the tale goes, my great grandparents met and fell in love in New Zealand before boarding a ship to enjoy married life and the birth of their three children in Scotland. My grandfather was born first, soon followed by a brother and a sister. He only spent the first ten years of his life in Scotland, before boarding a ship and setting sail for six weeks, sailing through the Panama Canal and passing Pit Cairn Island on route to New Zealand. But he continued to talk about Scotland until he drew his final breath.
My own obsession, coupled with Pete’s yearning to uncover every patch of the British coastline, is what’s led us to the Outer Hebrides.
We’ve commenced this journey in Tiree. A place famous for its sunshine hours and gusting winds in equal measure. Pete recalls it as the only place he’s ever been able to windsurf and watch his shadow trailing behind. It’s been a 21-year gap since he last came here, loaded up with windsurfing gear in his student days. Our three days on Tiree have been magic.
From the first landing I could recognise the uniqueness of this place. The limestone base protrudes from the sea, whitened by patches of lichen. Next you notice the covering rug of wildflowers and green. The isle is largely flat, with the exception of Ben Hynish to the south, and is comprised of around 30 crofts, happily occupied by free roaming cattle and black faced sheep. The buildings are made of stone. Most are whitewashed to a hue that reflects beautifully at dusk. Most thatched cottages have been modernised with a liquorice black seamless cladding, wrapped over the traditional curve of the roof.
Then there’s the beaches. They call this place the Caribbean in the cold. Now I can see why. The creamy sands and the twinkling turquoise of the scallop-shaped bays are magical to behold. The water is cool though. If it weren’t for Ruby’s desperation to get in the surf I’m not sure if I’d have got in on that first day. Given that the weather conditions swung from glorious sunshine to cyclone-like conditions and torrential gales, I’m relived I made the most of every moment on the beach.
Pete was hoping for a beach day with plenty of activity, along with a windsurfing session in his beloved Gott Bay. He got his wish. I wanted to eavesdrop on a local conversation, understand the essence of life on this isle. I got my wish as we sat sipping hot chocolates in a little café-come-gift-shop in the centre of the island, while a local woman hand sewed a dress for her daughter and gossiped with the Yorkshire-born girl behind the counter about local families and friends. Of course I was happy to hug the coastline too. I took a bikini-clad dip at teatime to prove I still had it in me to take on the elements.
Today we leave Tiree, headed for a new group of Isles called the Outer Hebrides. I’m listening for the melody of bagpipes and hoping to develop a penchant for whiskey. My inner roots here I come.