It was a rainy Sunday in the small and somewhat isolated North Island town of Te Aroha. The gloomy main street was nestled at the base of a muscular mountain. Heavily forested slopes rose steeply above the settlement into a mist that seemed to muffle the hiss of the cars and trucks that passed occasionally. I was there with my girlfriend, happy to escape the city for a weekend and delighted to find a place so eerie and distant from the clatter of suburban Auckland.
The town attracts the odd stray from the main road on account of it’s wonderful hot-springs that well up from the base the imposing peak. But this considerable attraction was usurped by something quite unexpected, something magical and marvellous, something that transported us through time and space in a way we couldn’t have imagined.
As we walked arm in arm towards to centre of Te Aroha we thought we could hear music. It was horse and ephemeral. It had a dream-like quality. As we got closer to the main street the music became a little clearer but it’s source remained a mystery. The tunes were old, from the ’40s of ’50s. Big bands and basic rhythms, voices that crooned and warbled. With the turn-of-the-century wooden shop-fronts and the elderly population, comfortable in cloth caps and cardigans, we felt we’d walked into to a long forgotten episode of life in New Zealand, one that had originally aired when our parents were children. And then we saw the little speakers. Every forth or fifth shop-front had one. They were basic and unpainted. Each bolted to a bracket leaning over the footpath. A few of them had swallows nesting behind them. They were connected to the same wire that sneaked all the way down the main road. The music they played was piped from the local radio station to which they were all hard-wired.
The atmosphere this mono sound provided was powerful. We couldn’t identify any of the performers nor make out the lyrics but we simply floated down the road feeling as though we were staring in our very own period drama.
We soon ran out of main street so we turned around and slowly ambled back to our old hotel. Looking for somewhere to eat we smiled at Te Aroha’s Italian restaurant curiously named Berlusconi’s. The steep hill to the accommodation slowed us a little and the reedy sound from those little speakers slowly faded until we awoke from our time travelling trance with red cheeks and happy hearts.