Land of the Long White Beach

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Land of the Long White Beach


So many new arrivals in awe of the beach. Working hard, but then taking their reward, family seaside outings, shore holidays and sandy walks. Some captured artful images, gladly engaged, celebrating adventures.

Stunning New Zealand seascapes and relaxations, cherished treasures. Pam Miedema (nee Clark)’s mother emigrated to New Zealand with her husband, with only one suitcase each. They lived by the ocean. Later other family also followed from England, to live in this beautiful country that Pam’s father had discovered as a merchant seaman.

Pam Miedema’s cheerful, explaining, “Carolyn and me outside our Harbour View Road house, Birkenhead, Auckland. We could see the Harbour Bridge from that street.” Pam’s mum made the same clothes for both girls, or used the same pattern but different coloured material, and made her own outfits as well. She also made wedding dresses for a while. “That was her pin money, but you know, it helped with the mortgage.”

The family went up north for holidays. “Running races… Not many went to the Bay of Islands for a holiday. A long way to travel and the roads weren’t good.” Few hotels, motels or camping grounds either. “Governor General Ferguson used to stay on the waterfront during January. Not many people took any notice. His young son Georgie, I think he was called, played with us on the beach.”

“Tenting at Cape Reinga. Mum and Dad travelled in the early years.“ They sought out historic places, like a whaling station, or where the first white person landed. “The deep history of New Zealand.” Sometimes tedious at the time tramping across farmland to look for a monument or plaque but Pam now truly thankful for the knowledge they imparted.

Her family enjoyed the beach like they were the first people to find it. Dressing well to swim or take the sun, came naturally. 

”Just about everyone wore a cap when swimming. I was lucky... mine with the most beautiful ‘flower’.” Pam’s so clear in this picture, summing up her father’s excellent photographs.

Some details stand out. “When going to Paihia for our holidays every January, all the bedding went on the roof rack, bundled up and tied in a professional way. (Dad was a first mate on the ships). Of course, the car was loaded with clothes, food, games, toys and books. My parents woke us up about 5am the following morning.” Breakfast on the way. “Pull down a side road and out would come the food. Lunch also on the way, arriving at Waitangi about 3pm.“ A long way too, exploring, discovering. 

Their bach was previously shearers’ quarters by the little beach just down from the Treaty House. Pam recalls their task “was to put up the flag in the morning and take it down at dusk. Dad taught us.”

Not always fun, but there was always time for swimming. “Matapouri again, I think. In the water playing.” An idyllic setting with hidden dangers. “One day people came along the beach shouting. Dad pulled us ashore while shouting at Mum to get out of the water. Mum thought she would step on the rock behind her, which happened to be a shark. Apparently it was quite common for them to bask in the warm shallow waters, but they’d never been known to hurt anyone.”

They went with friends and made new ones too. “Many picnics with the Wark family and friends. We went blackberry picking with lots of other families, then home to the Wark’s place to make blackberry jam, pies and cakes. A great day out.” Unofficially adopted families met up again and again, year after year in the summer.

“Beach time again. A hot cup of tea for the adults. Carolyn’s and my first task at the beach was to gather little sticks and twigs so Dad could start the fire under the thermette. An amazing invention!” 

On the sand with water boiling, instantly felt more at home. Thermette’s advertising boasts ”The more the wind blows the quicker the water boils.” It was invented in 1929 by New Zealander John Ashley Hart and still available today from

Starting a family someplace new, it feels good to celebrate what’s important. Belief in a fine future, where safety seemed possible, but sometimes things got rather hairy (as locals would say). “Mum and Dad bought a trailer sailer, with an outboard motor.” 

Pam laughs saying her mum learnt to sail after some bangs and crashes into wharves and other boats. “We wore life jackets, but the sea sometimes had a swell. Horrors now when I think of it!”

Back then we were so naïve about the sun. “We used to oil ourselves and then lie in the sun, long before we knew what it did to our skin. Note the brown backs from sunbathing.”

But can you blame us? “Cane folding chairs, really up-to-date then. Beautiful sparkling water. No wonder we loved the beach.”

Playing rounders or volleyball on the sand, discovering caves, clambering about cliffs, beachcombing – families invented their own fun. “We took the garden spade, built these fantastic sand castles. The whole family worked on them. Every castle had a moat. We didn’t have lots of money, so life revolved around the beach.” 

Other families created sand sculptures such as mermaids, or traditional piled cones decorated with shells. “We loved to go rock pooling and using our little nets would catch various fish, shells and hermit crabs.” Pam’s children and now grandchildren also love peering into rock pools.

Pam remembers being at Red Beach with Grandpa and Grandma. “Because Mum’s parents emigrated to New Zealand, and as Mum was the only child, we spent a lot of time with my grandparents. Note the old biscuit tin.” Some funny old things in photos mean a lot for some reason.

Pam Miedema still lives by the sea near her daughter and son-in-law. “We pined for the beach, for wide open spaces for the children to do things in. So we sold up and moved,” she says, laughing.


This is an excerpt from the book At the Beach: 100 years of summer fashion in New Zealand by NZ Fashion Museum. Photos from Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, photographer Ron Clar.k

At the Beach: 100 years of summer fashion in New Zealand can be purchased for $39.90 online from NZ Fashion Museum online shop or from the NZ Maritime Museum shop.

The book accompanies the exhibition At the Beach: 100 years of summer fashion in New Zealand at NZ Maritime Museum from 17 October 2015 to 8 February 2016.