Mount Vaea


The car rounds the last tree, and Kate’s parents swoon at their first glimpse of Robert Louis Stevenson’s house. It stands proud and colonial, a clean white building in the middle of a majestic green lawn.

“I started reading Treasure Island when I was at school,” says Chad from the backseat. “I never finished it. I must have been distracted by something else.”

“It was probably me.” Huhu smiles to herself in the passenger seat.

“No, it was earlier than that. It was Waverley Primary. I was ten. I got as far as the mutiny, then gave up.”

“Wasn’t there a parrot in it?” Huhu is an expert on native species. “A kea, I expect?”

“There was a pirate.” Chad is equally savvy with copyright. “Mean lean Henry, I think? Or tall claw-paw Tim? Something like that?”

“It was Long John Silver,” I say. “They defeat him in the end, but he jumps on another boat and gets away.”

“He couldn’t have lived in Whanganui then.” Huhu laughs. “He’d have had to meet his victims and face up to the consequences of his crimes.”

“I don’t think Robert Louis ever got as far as Whanganui, Mum.” Kate sits in the driver’s seat, her hands on the steering wheel.

“No, well, he’d have had a museum there too, if he had.”

RLS House.

To learn more about the life and times of RLS, Chad and Huhu embark on a guided tour of the house. Meanwhile Kate and I sit in the shade downstairs, grateful for the tranquillity of the gardens, their kaleidoscope of trees, plants and flowers.

“Pity we couldn’t have lived here for three months.” For a change, I can hear my own thoughts, rather than the buses, taxis and incessant music of town. It’s cooler too, up here in the hills, halfway up Mount Vaea.

“It’s a bit too far from town though.” Kate thinks more practically than me. She’s prepared to trade noise for convenience, heat for proximity. “There are not many shops up here. Nor cafes.  No market, no cinema, no Cent Save.”

“Right.” I think about the second Cent Save that has just opened next to our appartment. They have a big speaker outside their door. Soon no doubt, we will have even more noise.

As if to save us from ourselves, Chad and Huhu emerge from the exit, both of them smiling. They’ve seen where RLS used to write, sleep and eat. Now they know everything there is to know about him. His last four years in Samoa, the thirteen books he wrote during that time, and why he never moved to Whanganui.

Mount Vaea.

“You know this whole mountain, Mount Vaea, is an old volcano.” Chad beams at us.

“Vaea was an ancient warrior.” Huhu’s face shines too. “He married a girl from Fiji but she had to return to her island. He stood here on the shore watching out for her return. And as he waited, his legs, then his body, his head slowly turned to stone. He became this mountain.”

“Then Robert Louis Stevenson came along, bought this estate, built his house here, and is buried at the top.” Chad points into the trees.

“You’re not suggesting we go up there, are you?” Kate’s smile evaporates, turns into a frown. “Only you know it’s against my religion.”

“Not today.” Chad laughs. “We’ve had enough. Maybe tomorrow?”  He chuckles again.


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