Beware the vampires deep in the gorge

Switching places halfway means everyone gets a turn in the front. Photo / Getty Images

Dad had us eating out of the palm of his hand on the long holiday road trip up north to Grandma's.

By Lucy Lawless

I am sitting between my Dad and big brother on the wide leather bench seat of our big car. Mum is in the back holding the baby.

My Irish twin, Davey, complains that he wants to sit in the front. He is 11 months older than me but I am proud that everyone thinks he looks younger than me. Plus, he can't say "fish". He pronounces it "thish", which I also lord over him.

I bags my turn to pay the tolls at the Auckland Harbour Bridge. To me it is a lovely old brontosaurus and it is thrilling to come flying over its back and down the tail. My ears pop a bit. Terrifyingly, the oncoming cars are corralled by nothing more than a streak of white paint but I know my Dad will hold the mighty Falcon steady.

We are waylaid by an extra-long queue for the toll booths. It is an irritation for grown-ups but Davey and I still fight over who gets to throw the florin to the man. I win because I am a brat and soon we are on our way.

Finally we reach the Brynderwyns on our six-hour journey to see Grandma for the Christmas holidays. The Brynderwyn Hills are pretty unremarkable. I'm just a kid but frankly they hardly seem worthy of being given a name. No offence.

Anyway, the Brynderwyns are where I have to give up the prized spot in front. When the coast is clear, Dad gives us the okay to switch places en route. He slows to 60km/h to make the transition safer, though somehow Davey still manages to give me a kick in the armpit on the way through. Now he has to put on the seatbelt because he's in the front but no one bothers in the back, despite Mum's protestations. We are bulletproof. All the same, we slow to gawk at the spot where a busload of 15 souls plummeted to their deaths 10 years earlier.

In the back of the car I slump low and let the thrum of the engine own me. The power poles whiz by and the wires do barrel-rolls in mesmeric patterns. They roll one way, reverse, reverse then vanish altogether. I hold my breath willing them to resume. It's a battle of wills.

By and by they do and I doze off. The car slows. I instinctively sense we have arrived. I lurch up from deepest child slumber, with seat buckle imprinted on my sweaty cheek, and find myself eye to eye with a Hereford bobby calf. Dad's car swims like a salmon through a stream of bovine anguish. They seem to know they're headed for the abattoir at Moerewa.

As we get closer to the Mangamuka Gorge, Dad grows confident enough to make the ultimate offer, to tell a vampire story. The climax of any scary story has to occur in the gorge. It's dark and twisty and Dad makes helpless pleas to the sky that our car not break down for who knows what could happen in this inhospitable land?

Continued below.

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If he makes the offer too early, his voice may not last the distance. We are overjoyed to have the bejeezus scared out of us. There is always a priest, a good guy and a couple of ne'er-do-wells. Only one will live to tell the tale, which is exactly what Dracula wants. He knows that after a feast he can hibernate in his cellar till the next brood of treasure hunters comes a knockin'.

We learned some rules about life on a Dracula hunt.

No. 1: Never, ever go downstairs in a vampire's castle. The walls will reconfigure themselves behind you and eventually you will find yourselves in the dungeon and you will truly be sorry.

No. 2: Do not be called Lucy. There is always a Lucy or a Camilla in any vampire story. I'm not making that up. Check Hammer Horror for proof.

No. 3: Vampires have no reflection. A handheld mirror is a useful diagnostic tool.

No. 4: Don't trust the castle's housekeeper!

The story reaches a satisfying crescendo and Dad's voice gives out just as we pull into Kaitaia, past the stucco house famously festooned with seashells. When we arrive at Bonnett Rd, there are lots of hugs from Grandma.

Granddad is putting queen bees in little boxes to send to America which is awfully exciting and exotic. The whole garage smells like honeybees and outside the plum trees are dropping fruit to beat the band. Davey and I go hunting for the good ones in the vinegary squidge between our toes.

Tomorrow we will go to the beach. Dad is threatening to put out the Kontiki as usual but toheroas, sand-dune slides and an icecream at the Ahipara shop are a surer bet. And maybe a mince pie! Yes, maybe we'll even get a pie. Now that is something to think on!

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11:31 am Sunday 26 July 2015
What a sweet memory you have painted. I adore the 4 rules about life on a Dracula true. I think modern day vamps as from the Twilight series have been gifted reflections, so holstering the mirror can't help in a hunt anymore.

Being an American and a New Yorker, I am sadly not familiar with the places and such you mention in the story though they sound beautiful. I think we New York kids made up some similar rules about riding the subway at night.

No.1. Never get out of your seat or you may be attacked by some hideous monster and you will be sorry.

No.2. Do not tell anyone your name whether it be Lucy, Camilla or Roger or you may be attacked by some hideous monster and again you will be sorry.

No.3. A mirror is a great tool for checking to see if there is a hideous monster behind you. Use it or just as before you will be sorry.

No.4. Don't trust a housekeeper, a construction worker, an actor, or well basically trust no one....or as always you may be truly sorry.

Really, just some urban legend mixed with a bit of yankee humor.


- Howick
02:31 pm Friday 09 January 2015
Yep. Remember getting them and Pipi from Paekakariki / Paraparaumu Beach, then grabbing Cockles from Parramatta Beach on the way home. They were made into magic fritters. Interestingly, I believe Toheroa have never been available on the west coast. Stand to be corrected.

C Dawson

- Horowhenua
09:20 am Friday 09 January 2015
Great should be writing children's stories...please let me illustrate them...

JD Artie

- Netherlands
09:20 am Friday 09 January 2015
Lovely Memories!! Joy to read them.


- Australia
09:20 am Friday 09 January 2015
Beware the Goatman of the Mangamuka's!

Tiare Taporo III

- Malaysia
09:20 am Friday 09 January 2015
A wonderful story bringing back so many nostalgic memories.
The only thing I disagree with is the comment about the Brynderwyns. We always went to the Bay of Islands and the view from the top heading north was like entering Northland proper. They held significance for us.

Other highlights were the vehicular "barge" at Opua where Selwyn Deeming drove the Miss Doris lashed alongside the 2 car "barge". He guided us on over two planks which had to be adjusted outwards as we had a 1959 Pontiac Laurentian - "wide track"!!!

Other memories include early morning stops in Wellsford at Tommy Jones' bakery where we had a welcome cup of tea and stocked up on his delicious bread. Then there was Len Adams service station in Whangarei. We knew the Adams well and it was a social occasion when we stopped for fuel.

We travelled often with 2 dogs, 1 cat, a cage of budgies and my brother's pet lizards. No wonder we needed a big car. The dogs (Corgis called Sherry and Brandy) had to be kept separated on the front and back seats otherwise they fought and it's quite unnerving to be on the Waipu Flats at 60 mph with a dogfight going on!

Great days and almost no traffic cops!!!! And next to no traffic.

Peter Archer

- New Zealand
09:20 am Friday 09 January 2015
Toheroas! You really are showing your age! How long since there was a legal toheroa season??? The last time I can recall is in the 1970s. (Yes, I am showing my age also).


04:04 pm Thursday 08 January 2015
Brilliant. So totally Kiwi.
If we could only give all our children such a start in life. Fairy tales and all.
A Happy New Year to All.
Cheers, Alex.

John of Waitakere

- New Zealand
11:24 am Thursday 08 January 2015
Did you really have a seat belt at the time you were paying bridge tolls?


- Antarctica
11:24 am Thursday 08 January 2015
Lovely, brought back wonderful childhood memories.

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