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Sport 38: Winter 2010

'Mermaid Fever' comes to the Kapiti Coast

'Mermaid Fever' comes to the Kapiti Coast

On the Kapiti Coast there is a saying, 'To dream of beaches and wake with sand in your bed.' Generally, it is used to caution those who are in danger of letting their imagination run away with them, mistaking wishes and dreams for the solid forms of reality.

Yet in the autumn of 1951 it seemed that everyone was dreaming of beaches and few thought to caution them. 'Mermaid Fever' had come to the coast and, as the hotels and guest-houses swelled with visitors all hoping for a sighting of the elusive creature, a sense of excitement, an almost electric energy, ran from one end of the coast to the other.

To entertain the visitors, the Waikanae Ladies' Choir were persuaded to give a special performance, while Olive Burling's paintings Keel I, II, III, IV and V could be viewed at the Raumati Scout Hall pending their transfer to the National Art Gallery. A menu from the Centennial Inn for 1951 shows that guests dined on Potage à l'Américaine, followed by a choice of Roast Saddle of Mutton or Pressed Ox Tongue, both served with potatoes and green peas; dessert was Fruit Salad and Cream, or Blanc Mange with Prunes. A photograph of popular Paraparaumu band, the Hinemoa Hotspots, suggests that those still eager for entertainment drove to the Coronation Hall where they danced to midnight to the Hotspots' favourite tune, 'Send me a Mermaid'. From there, they returned beneath the starlight to their borrowed beds, sleeping soundlessly until the early morning when the north-bound freight train rumbled through their dreams, dispelling other, more ineffable melodies.

A discordant note was introduced when a driver lost control of his car on the state highway, and crashed into rocks just south of Paekakariki. In its editorial for 19 July 1951, Wellington newspaper the Dominion queried whether the accident should be regarded as evidence of 'the dangerous fascination ascribed to the mermaid, who is traditionally said to lure the unwary to their doom on the rocks'.

The admonitory tone was continued in the Editorial, which read:

It appears that two sightings of the legendary amphibian, one apparently involving a foreign national, have been sufficient to lure unprecedented numbers of visitors to the beaches of the Kapiti Coast.

page 262

It must also be said that the coast is enjoying an unusually mild winter. However, should the elusive mermaid fail to appear, and the spell of good weather be broken, we question how long 'Mermaid Fever' will continue to hold the public in its grip.

A week after these prophetic words were printed, a cold front swept in from the sea. Rain and wind lashed the beaches, rattling the doors and windows of baches along the Parade and Esplanade. A veil of cloud descended over Kapiti Island, concealing it from view. As the visitors cut short their holiday or huddled around log fires, 'mermaid fever' subsided almost as quickly as it had arisen, and the beaches were left once more to gulls, fishermen, and solitary walkers.

from Iris Dorizac: A Centennial History of Kapiti and its surrounds (1997)