My excitement unravels with a sigh of relief as we pull into the gravel-covered road. The large rocks send sharp, quick pains through my bare feet.
“Kaka-matua!” my sister splutters, laughing.
I roll my eyes, “Are you, like, five or something?”
“No, I’m three! Kaka! Isn’t it funny?” she chirps.
“Yeah, so funny,” I say, reaching into the boot for a water bottle.
“Whatever,” she says, walking over to the bush.
I sit in the boot and stare at the entrance of the car park. All I see is bush, bush and more bush.
“Dad,” I yell from the boot, tilting my head back slightly. “When will Jessie, Caitlin and Frog get here?”
“Any minute now,” he replies, looking up from his phone.
I wait in the boot and sip the cool water. It feels nice on such a hot summer’s day. When they arrive, I jump out and drop the bottle. My handprints are imprinted on the condensation.
“Dad! They’re here!”
I run over to Jessie and Caitlin. Jordan is still trying to get out of the car. When he finally gets out, he’s carrying five bags all piled up on top of one another.
“Caitlin, come on! We’re going to the beach, not on holiday!” he says, his voice muffled by the bags.
“Hi Frog. How you doing, Frog?” I tease, my hands clasped together in front of me.
“Really? Not even five minutes and I’m already ‘Frog’,” he says, dropping the bags. “I’m too old for Frog.” He spits the last word out.
“Then I’ll call you Toad,” I say over Caitlin and Jessie’s laughter.
He rolls his eyes. “Whatever.”
We gather our stuff and walk along the gravel track. We stop at a sign that reads: ‘PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE SEALS’. I get up on a large rock behind the sign and mock it.
“Please do not feed the seals as they bite. Please do not pat the seals as they are not dogs. Xanna,” I say, emphasising my sister’s name.
“Huh? Oh, uh, okay.” She lets out a small giggle.
The track takes us down to the large open beach. Everyone sighs in unison. We walk through the high grass and river, chasing small fish and grasshoppers, constantly falling over and laughing. We get to our designated area, where the tall beige grass clears and a fallen tree pokes out of the bank. Underneath the tree is a large hole where the sand has been carved out by our jumps.
“Come on,” I whisper to Caitlin and Jessie. “We’re going to the caves!”
We wade through waist-high water, looking down at bundles of seaweed floating along like tumbleweed. It tickles my toes. We reach a towering clay cliff where a large pōhutukawa tree clings, covering two small entrances. We go through the left entrance and travel through a dimly-lit hallway. A dome-shaped ceiling appears, with a small bird’s nest glued to the roof. I face Caitlin, put my finger to my lips and push Jessie into a pit.
“Oi!” she screams. She pulls me and Caitlin down with her.
“Jessie! Caitlin! Leva! Come back!” Jordan yells. We come out of the cave laughing. Jessie has a coughing fit.
We walk back along the track and we stop at the river where the charred, dead tree hangs over the water.
“Oh no. No. No. No,” I say. I’m fine with jumping but I don’t particularly like eels. Actually, I hate them. Jessie, Caitlin, Jordan, Xanna, Dad and my uncle all jump. Jessie falls off trying to climb higher. Even my dog jumps in and goes to sit on the edge, all muddy.
“Leva. Your turn to jump,” Dad says.
“Oh no. No! I’ll just sit here,” I say putting down the green bottle I was spinning and pointing to the ground.
“Get up there,” he says. “It’ll be fine.”
I climb up the fallen log slowly. I’m startled by a group of bubbles that float to the surface.
“It’s quite high up,” I say. My voice quivers. “And slippery. Very wet and slippery.”
Jordan sighs. “If you don’t jump, I’ll come up and throw you off,” he yells, cupping his hands around his mouth.
Thoughts race through my head. He won’t do it. Of course he will, he’s Jordan. I’ll be fine. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.
I stop thinking. I just jump. I look like a dying insect. Everyone except Jordan is laughing. He’s pumping his fists in the air and screaming, “Woohoo!”
I splutter out a few words as I grab a towel.
“I… touched… an eel!” I say, trying to keep my tears in.