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Finding Christina Helene

There’s a house hidden in the lush, tropical mountains of New Zealand’s West Coast that has been in the care of a Kiwi since before the land became Punakaiki National Park. The man who owns the house shows as much character as his land. He is rugged and vibrant with life. He goes skiing every year (which is free for Kiwis at his ripe age.)

The old man now lives in a house toward the bottom of the hill. Unless you have a 4WD, you must leave your car on the side of the HWY 6 when visiting, and walk up the mountain to this house to visit. The small house was built by the old man himself many years ago. There was a big party for its christening with all those who helped him build it in attendance and more. The man’s bed hangs from the ceiling like a swing, and every night he looks out to the horizon of the Tasman Sea to see the green flash of sunset.

We were welcomed into his home and warmly invited to help him finish a banquet of breads, cheeses and avocados (really very generous as avos are over $5 each in NZ.) We chatted about nothing at all until it was pushing time to leave- at which point one of the group offered to go further up the mountain to get the old man more bottles of wine from the cellar of the original house he once build many many moons ago and raised is now grown children in.

I’ve seen many houses in various states of deterioration in new Zealand. The homes here are not built to last. They are built cheap and fast, with absolutely no insulation whatsoever. I was excited to hike twenty minutes up the mountain to see the original house that the old man built decades and decades ago.

When the land of the West Coast became a national park, the old man said one day there was a knock on the door by a government worker who was surprised to find his home in the national park. Being that the old man was there first, he got to keep his house and his land – protected and forever with only the trees and glowworms as neighbors.

Every Christmas, he says his children come over and make the trek up to the original house they grew up in to visit.

Although it’s creepy, the house has great foundations and feels very safe to climb the many stories. There was only one floor that was perilously soggy and must be stepped lightly.

The children’s rooms were left with abandon, as well as his wife’s craft studio still full of yarn. The kitchen still has bottles on the table and appliances on the walls.

It’s not like the house was left in a hurry from some impending doom. It feels too happy for that. It’s more like, we’re not going far, we can always come back for this when we need it. And there the deteriorating books and blankets still sit, forgotten, waiting for someone to come back and collect them.

 

These days, the only items from the house that seem to be regularly retrieved are bottled of aged wine from the basement.

We brought back with us six bottles from the basement cellar. “we’ll just open one then,” said the old man, choosing a 10 year old Riesling from Montana. “You can get this wine for $10 now in any supermarket – but it won’t taste like this.”

I learned that day so much about wine. Continue the story here.

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