Rock Cakes and…Transport, Torch-Light and Going Topless

I had another holiday in the Marlborough Sounds when I was 14.  By then we were living in Australia and my parents gave me a trip to New Zealand as a Christmas present.  I stayed in Wellington for a while and then took the ferry across the Cook Strait (wonderful voyage this time) and then our family friends, who by now had their own speed boat, came and picked me up and took me back to their holiday house.

Marlborough Sounds. Photo by David Wall

My parents’ friends had three children.  A boy aged about 17, a girl my age and a younger daughter.  Close to their house were quite a few holiday houses dotted in the hills and as there were no beaches because the hills rose straight up from the sea, everyone had a deep (as in really deep) water frontage with their only means of transport (a boat) tied up at their jetty.  Being January the houses were all occupied and filled with teenagers and the older brother always seemed to have plenty of teenagers his age hanging around the house.  Sometimes he would let me and his younger sister join them.

Photo by David Wall

Some days we went water-skiing and other days we went swimming but mostly we just sun-bathed on the boats.  All the girls wore bikinis and the boys wore board shorts.  The girls just loved flirting with the teenage boys and my friend and I found this highly amusing.  It was the era of topless sunbathing and my friend complained to her mother that the girls were all taking their tops off and letting the boys see their bosoms and that was upsetting her because she was feeling left out as didn’t want to go topless, especially in front of her brother.  Her mother dismissed this saying, ‘ Don’t be so silly.  If the girls want to go topless that’s fine and how lovely to have nice brown breasts and no tan lines.’  (This was in the pre-skin cancer awareness days when the browner you were, the better and tan lines were the ultimate ‘no no’).

Her daughter said, ‘But mum, they only take their tops off when they’re going to dive off the boat and go swimming, when they get out of the water they put their tops back on.’

And her mother then changed her mind and agreed saying, ‘Well that’s just being silly.  If the girls aren’t going topless all the time they’re just showing off’.

And so my friend told her big brother that all the girls he was hanging around with were just show-offs and that started quite a fight with him defending his topless girlfriends.

Photo by David Wall

One night the brother wanted to go to a party.  We wanted to go with him.  His mother said none of us were going because we’d be taking the boat and that’s too dangerous at night because it doesn’t have lights so how would we be able to see where we’re going.  He said he’d take a torch.  She said it was too dangerous and we weren’t to go.  He screamed at her that she was just so unreasonable and non-trusting and that she treated him like he was still a little boy and, ‘I’m nearly an adult mum, when are you going to treat me like one’ and he went on and on and on until she caved in and next thing I knew we were all dressed up for a party and heading out on a boat with no lights and just a torch.

Photo by David Wall

We didn’t have any trouble getting there as it wasn’t yet dark.  My friend and I had a good time at the party observing all the flirty girls who were wearing tops but throwing themselves at the almost startled boys.  At about 11pm we went back down to the jetty and climbed into the boat.  It was now pitch-black and you couldn’t see where the hills and rocks jutted out of the water.  The water was dead calm creating not even a ripple so that made it harder to see the outline of the coastline as well.  And there was no moon, just the stars.  There were about five of us who climbed into the boat and the older brother, the ‘I’m nearly a man’, was driving the boat and he asked his sister to get up the front and shine her torch so he could see where he was going.  He asked her to shine it down in front of where the boat should be going and she was saying she should shine it further ahead and then he was screaming at her insisting she hold it down in front and I was up the back listening to them fight like they had been all their lives when suddenly we went over a freak wave and the torch light was thrown upwards and we saw a few metres in front of us a rocky out-crop with an enormous hill behind it.  We all screamed as a nasty death was imminent but he threw the boat into reverse.  We still hit the rocks but not at a speed where any of us or the boat were damaged.

Photo by David Wall

For the remainder of the journey he let his sister shine the torch further ahead, not immediately in front of the boat, but he screamed at her that she was not to tell their mother how we’d almost all been killed.  And she promised she wouldn’t say a thing.  But she told her mother first thing the next morning.

I learned a lot that holiday – topless sunbathing is only okay if you’re topless all the time and, if you’re going out on a boat at night, lights would be good.

Rock Cakes

I grew up on rock cakes.  They are something my mother made all the time.  The recipe I have used is from the Edmonds Cookery Book, which has sold over 3,000,000 copies and can be found in almost every New Zealand home.  I was unable to buy mixed peel so substituted glace cherries as I had a lot leftover from my Christmas baking.

Rock Cakes

Makes:  12

Degree of Difficulty:  1/5

Cost:  Minimal.  Rock Cakes are a great way to use up ingredients in your pantry like all those near empty packets of dried fruits sitting around since last Christmas.

  • 50g (2 oz) butter
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 50g (2 oz) sugar
  • 50g (2 oz) mixed dried fruit
  • 25g (1 oz) mixed peel
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • milk to mix (about 1 tbspn)

Rub butter into the flour, then add the other dry ingredients, the beaten egg, and sufficient milk to make a stiff dough.  Place in rocky shapes on greased oven tray, and bake at 200C for 10 to 12 mins.

All images of the Marlborough Sounds are by David Wall Photography.

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  1. I have no objection to girls showing off…

  2. Surprise, surprise. You put topless in your title, and then I’m here earlier than normal. Interesting story, and one that it seems that mom shouldn’t have given in regarding the boat. At least all worked out … and the Rock Cakes have caught my eye!

  3. I’ve been on the lake at the cottage in the pitch black of night, it’s terrifying. So glad your incident was not life altering.
    Are rock cakes biscuits? I like the fruit you used in them

  4. I absolutely love rock cakes and similar fruit bun products. But I like mine without peel…the stuff makes me squirm 🙂 And your title really grabbed me here, and held me right through the story…so very funny although I’m glad the torchless ride didn’t end in a worse state! Lucky it wasn’t combined with topless bathing or things could have gone very wrong indeed…

  5. Magnolia Verandah says:

    Its funny how things look different in the light – not so long ago (I am sad to say) we rode our bikes along the smooth firm sand at Port Douglas to go out for dinner not thinking that on the way home the tide would be in and it would be pitch black on the beach! Nice rock cakes!

  6. You have led such an interesting life! I have been on boats at night, but only on very safe lakes with no rocks. I’d rather have the rocks in cakes than in lakes.

  7. I’ve never had rock cakes before, but they sound like something we’d enjoy. I enjoyed all the pictures in this post and the story. I just love summer memories like that. 🙂

  8. I’m really intrigued by this cookbook that you speak of. Definitely adding it to my book wishlist. And this David Wall fella is such a talented photographer! I like how his photos go hand in hand with your story. LOVE IT

  9. Don’t you love how a recipe triggers a memory.. I bet you were eyeing this Rock Cakes recipe and went back in time.. Hilarious! I imagine the panic when he thought the girls might actually stop taking off their tops! What a treat for those boys!! I’m so glad you all lived to tell the tale!!

  10. It would have served that brother right to be tossed into the brink. What a scary situation, though, and I’m glad you were all OK.

    The scenery is beautiful, so different from Minnesota.

  11. What a fun story! It could have ended with a different outcome and we wouldn’t be laughing, but isn’t if fun to look back at our youthful invincibility! The photos are breathtaking, too! Love the recipe…I like anything with dried fruit and these look great for the Easter season. I’ve had a little trouble commenting on your posts…but when you don’t hear from me, I am reading 🙂 Debra

  12. What an easy and delicious recipe. The cakes look wonderful!!!

  13. I grew up on rock cakes too! This recipe looks so simple and the cakes so lovely it would be criminal not to have a go at making them!

  14. I remember the topless Era.. Thank god you and your friends are alright after all!
    Your rocks looks lovely, I make them savory like.. cheese rocks or something..

  15. I grew up on a marina on an island in Florida and could tell horror stories of boating accidents like the one you had. You were lucky indeed! How did any of us ever make it out of the teen years? Yikes! As for the topless part, I did have a laugh–especially when I tried to imagine my own mother telling me as a teenager that it would have been ok to go topless! I wish!

    I’ve never had rock cakes, though I have had a few cakes that were unintentionally so! These look fun and easy to make!

  16. You were really lucky with the boat!
    I have never heard of rock cakes, but they look so simple indeed and really appetising.

  17. Great lessons you learned hahaha

  18. Oh, my gosh, you crack me up. And i’m so glad to get your rock cake recipe! I love stuff like this. I don’t think I’d ever heard the phrase “Rock Cake” before reading Harry Potter! Must try. And yes…I do have leftover dried fruit.

  19. Great tale, I love the idea that topless all the time is ok but some of the time is showing off. We’ve all had those teenage moments of madness like your near miss in the boat. I’m glad I don’t hear about some of what the Glam Teens are up to. GG

  20. And I think you learned a valuable lesson lol. I loved the photos as well.. but those rock cakes just stole the show for me. Just look at how delicious they are.. love them

  21. Funny story and interesting ‘cakes’. Not a combination of ingredients that I would have thought of … kind of like a scone but not cut out.

  22. I love your angle: a fabulous topless yarn followed by rock cakes 😀 Great stuff.

  23. A friend of mine had a family holiday house there. It makes me smile to think she might have been one of those topless girls. But knowing her I cannot imagine it.

  24. I love how you tell a story. You do have a way with words.

    I thought it was adorable about the girls being phony for going topless out of the water but not in it. Youth is for the young.

    If you have a moment, would you link up the rocks to Bake with Bizzy. They look interesting and I like that you chose cherry.

  25. That was lucky, at least he was smart enough to react quickly. I was once on a rubber dingy that rammed into a large ship, lucky it was a rubber dingy.
    I never came across rock cakes when I lived in NZ, sounds almost like scones

  26. I delight in reading your posts Charlie. Growing up on the other side of the world seems so fancy, then you throw in stories that could have been any of us with our families growing up and I realize location doesn’t matter. Just the people who grew up with you. I bet that boy hears about it from his sister to this day.

  27. A recipe from a book that has sold 3000000 must be good!

  28. I’ve never gone topless….too scared of people seeing!

  29. Certainly glad things worked out they way they did. I think Debra said it best when she mentioned “youthful invincibility.” And the photos are beautiful. Such an alluring part of the World!

  30. Ah, the lessons we learn as kids. 😉
    Love how you can put just about anything you desire in these cookies. The ultimate versatile recipe.

  31. Rock cakes sounds like a version of kitchen sink “something”. Love this recipe and it’s versatility 😀

  32. Oh I’m glad that everyone was ok. You read about those boating tragedies all the time and think how easily it could happen in the dark!

  33. He he he what lessons to take away from your holiday 🙂 I guess you can never argue with a mother!

    I haven’t had a rock cake since high school…I used to love the ones they sold in the school canteen (pre sugar abolishment was introduced in to the canteen).

  34. Lucky escape indeed! From the crash and skin cancer I guess!
    Rock cakes are a staple of every country kitchen aren’t they? I like glace cherries better anyway 🙂

  35. What a dramatic story! It was quite a relief to get to the rock cakes. I shudder when I think of some of the dangerous things we did when we were young, and the narrow escapes we had. The photos are beautiful. It’s such a spectacular part of NZ.

  36. Aah yes, the all important lights on a boat at night thing.
    Rock cakes, well there is something I haven’t made in forever!
    🙂 Mandy

  37. lol, I love the look of that place – so beautiful… good thing you didn’t get strewn over the rocks though 😀

    I haven’t had rock cakes in years! I used to love them, my mother made them all the time. Thanks for the reminder Charlie 🙂

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Thanks Charles and yes, it is a most beautiful part of the world. I would love to go back for another visit – I would even brave another Cook Strait crossing! xx

  38. I’ve never heard of rock cakes, but they look delicious. And, I like that going topless is okay if you do it all the time. How forward thinking!

  39. Funny yet important lessons to learn in life Charlie. Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  40. I love rock cakes they ar something that could tempt me at any time at all. Those photos of Marlbourgh Sound are amazing

  41. What a story…I’m glad it had a happy ending. Even with a large search light (torch), I am never comfortable on a boat at night. I’ll take the rock cakes, they look very tasty.

  42. Great story lol i like how they wouldn’t let her daughter go top less 😛 and i’ve never had rock cakes are they kind of like scones? ~ Thanks for sharing the story and recipe!

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