Sandspit is an hour’s drive north of Auckland. There we headed for a family weekend, as the unexpectedly fine day began to gather clouds. There’s something soothing about estuaries, and watching the tide slip in and out, changing the beachscape as it goes.

Our cabin was right on the waterfront. This meant a long walk to the ablution block (for this is an old fashioned Holiday Camp), but for a view like this, was worth it. Boats and buoys bobbed peacefully in the sea as waders and gulls stalked the water’s edge, feeding themselves at leisure.

Visiting this Holiday Park is like stepping back into old New Zealand. The hazy smudge near the centre of this photo may look like a nostalgic soft focus, but in fact it shows where I touched my camera lens by mistake (now wiped clean).

Here is our beach front cabin, where we slept deeply, lulled by the lapping of the little waves against the rock wall.

Here’s the TV room, with its old ‘Moving Pictures’ signs. We spoke to a woman who has been coming here since her childhood and now visits regularly with her husband and little daughter. Lots of people are regulars. Everyone is friendly.
 We are here for the Play Centre annual camp, with many other families, lots of little children, and an atmosphere of co-operation. Everyone looks out for everyone’s children, as they run from one cabin or tent to the other, enjoying the fun of visiting Other People’s Places, which are always so much more fascinating than one’s own. I do my Tai Chi on the deck, and discover a cluster of little faces at the window next door, all watching with great interest.

Mira and I start making sand castles on the beach together. Have you ever placed a dollop of jam into the bottom of a steamed pudding basin? Well, somehow the memory prompted me to try placing an upside-down-shell in the bottom of the bucket, so when I turn it out the shell is embedded in the top. We make a little path to the first one. Then Mira’s friend arrives. We make more, and they have the idea of joining them up with shell paths.

Then the friend’s brother is here, and other children, all making paths, more shell-topped castles, and then a road. I sit back and watch it all unfold,

until a little village emerges, all linked with roads, everything connected, just the way these Play Centre children have learned that life works.
It’s a beautiful mirror of the way we are, I think, as we sit at a shared meal and barbecue in the evening. The newspapers are so full of bad stories about the treatment of children. I’ve cancelled my newspapers for a couple of months, to allow some breathing space while I finish my book. Being with the Play Centre community reaffirms my faith in the good values of so many of our parents. They love their children, show great patience, and talk to them kindly.
Little Mira, when I commented how kind she was to give me a special shiny shell, carefully selected, solemnly declared: ‘When I die and turn into different people, they will all be kind too.’
What a comforting thought, that kindness can go forth and multiply.

In the morning, it’s raining softly. The woman who’s been coming here since childhood, is out in a kayak, teaching her little daughter to fish.
Mira said, ‘the sea has covered the sandcastles and turned them into sand.’
And so we leave, our marks erased, but our hearts full with the knowledge that some old values are alive and well.