Written December 1997
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year once again from New Zealand
1997 was another year of some local travel, normal work, and a few cultural events.
We kicked off the new year with a driving trip to the southern part of the North Island. We drove down the East coast to Tauranga and Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty, one of the areas first visited by Capt. Cook when he 'discovered' New Zealand. This is one of the major ports and vacation areas of the North Island. We drove around the east-most cape of NZ, but were unable to find any space at any of the inns since the remnant of the second of three cyclones was battering the mainland and all of the campers had moved into the few places on this desolate point of land. So on to Gisborne to spend the night in a delightful backpacker's lodge which had been a nunnery in a previous incarnation. This also happened to be New Year's Eve, so we joined the locals and tourist to bring in '97 in the town square of Gisborne under a shower of fireworks debris and good cheer. Gisborne is also the home to Nick's Head, named after Nick, the young seaman who first spotted New Zealand for Capt. Cook. We moved from the backpacker's lodge to a beach-front motel and enjoyed 2 more days in Gisborne, including an Iron-man triathlon before moving on to the South. Next stop was Napier. This cute town was devastated in the 1930's by an earthquake. A large harbor and bay became dry land to create new farmland and the town was rebuilt with Art Deco architecture and is one of the few cities we have seen in NZ to take good advantage of their waterfront. Nice homes, cute shops, a museum, seaquarium and beach make it very friendly and usable (as opposed to the normal waterfront of tank farms, warehouses and blocked views). A guided walk around town showed off many of the 1930's and 1940's Art Deco buildings and contributed to our education. A highlight of this part of the coast was a trip to Cape Kidnapper's. This point of land was given its name by Capt. Cook after one of his men was 'kidnapped' by the local Maori during a landing. It turned out to be a misunderstanding so all ended peacefully. However, our trip was exciting. The only way out to the cape is along the beach, and then only at low tide. We rode out in trailers pulled by tractors reminiscent of hayrides. The waves slashed up on us when large waves hit the beach, and occasionally one of the tractors would get stuck and everyone would have to get out to lighten the load. USA safety and liability laws would have put them out of business years ago, but it was lots of fun. On the cape are several of the few colonies of gannets established on the mainland. They were interesting, noisy and smelly.
Napier is in Hawke's Bay, one of the premier wine producing areas in NZ, so we stopped to enjoy this part of the culture. NZ has been winning awards all around the work for their fine wines, and we can attest to their high quality!
After a short stop at Te Mata Peak where the locals were soaring around on multi-colored hang gliders and parasailers, we set out South to the capital. Wellington is a well-established and sophisticated city compared to sprawling Auckland. An outstanding harbor with surrounding hills make it a very picturesque sight. We had mainly good weather while we were there, but it has reputation to rival Chicago, frequent windy and showery days as it sits at the throat of a wind tunnel between the North and South Islands. A trip to one of the local hilltops with a huge wind generator show how they are trying to harness the constant winds to generate electricity. While we were there it barely turned. The NZ Parliament meets in the 'Beehive', a modernistic dome-shaped building attached to a classical building which would fit comfortably in Washington, DC. We had a tour of the Parliament chambers, but without any action as they were on recess.
During our stay, the BT Challenge fleet was in town. This is a fleet of 68 foot sailboats that were on a round-the-world cruise where each boat has 14 people who pay about $25,000 for the privilege of getting wet and cold while sailing against the prevailing current and winds around Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope and South of Australia. One boat had lost their mast on the approach to New Zealand, but otherwise they were in pretty good shape. One ('Save the Children') permitted us aboard and it was interesting to talk with them. Judy returned 2 months later on business and took a harbor cruise when the boats set out on their next leg to Sydney.
After Wellington, we headed North towards Wanganui. This small town sits at the mouth of the river of the same name and we drove along the Wanganui River gorge which was absolutely gorgeous. We had made reservations to take a jet boat trip up a section of the river, and stay at a lodge that night. The jet boat ride was fun, fast, and noisy. The driver took us to a spot where we hiked to 'The Bridge to Nowhere.' This is an artifact of bureaucratic planning where a bridge was build across a gorge to handle settlers during the 1930's who came, saw and went away since the land was too hard to farm and too remote for living. That night we stayed at the Ramanui Lodge, a homestead on the river run by a delightful couple, Ken and Raewyn. They had raised sheep for many years, but recently had converted the house to a lodge with 4-star meals and 5-star hospitality and a great view of the river. The next day we drifted down the river on a slow jet boat, the Wakapai. Winston and Heather have been running the trip for year, and they showed us all of the sights on the river. After the Wanganui, a short day's drive got us to Lake Taupo, one of the nicest vacation areas within a day's of Auckland. During the summer it has water skiing, fishing, and all of the fresh-water sports one could want. It also has that NZ invention, bungee jumping, so we had to go - to watch, not jump (yet). It was a quiet day, so at about 20 minute intervals we would hear the screams of panic or excitement as people would put their trust in a large rubber band which would let them just reach the water before bouncing them back almost to where they started. No accidents our day, but the operators have had a couple over the last year or so.
Back to Auckland for a stretch of work. Judi has been a Telecom contractor all year, and remains one of their highly valued business analysts. Bob took on a consulting job with a small company developing computer telephony software. The goal was to teach the company staff modern development disciplines. Some success, but the primary technical guy in the company believes in the 'design in the head then code' methodology, so am afraid they will have no lasting processes as long as he is there.
Over Easter, we drove in the opposite direction and spent a couple of days in the Bay of Islands with our friends, Russell and Laonie. This is where we originally arrived in NZ back in '94 and is really pretty country. A boat trip through the islands called the 'Cream Trip' followed the route a delivery boat used to take when it picked up milk from the islands and took it to the processing plant on the mainland. Now it take tourists around, and still delivers mail and supplies. One day was devoted to visiting Waitangi. After the British settled NZ, they ran into constant opposition from the Maoris since they were swiping their land. In addition, the French were settling other part as the islands as well. In 1840 or so, the British offered to provide the protection of the Crown to the Maori's if they were to accept being a colony of the British. This agreement, the Treaty of Waitangi, became the found document for NZ and source of claims and counterclaims which continue today. The treaty house is a well-preserved colonial home and grounds are the site of yearly celebrations and protests. We took a bus trip which took us to another Maori marae for an hour or so where Bob had to assume the role of spokesman for the group. This meant getting a personal translation of the speech given to us by the Maori elders, and then thanking them and ancestors for allowing us to visit them. Back on the bus to the Northern-most point on the mainland, Cape Reinga. This was originally spotted by a Dutchman, Van Damien who name New Zealand, but did not settle it. It was fascinating to watch the current and waves where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea com together. Then the bus drove down 90 Mile Beach. This is a wide beach with access via stream at the North end and a sand track at the South end. The bus drives along the surf line at low tide with a couple of stops to climb the sand dunes.
After Easter, we settled in for another wet and chilly Auckland winter. A couple of house sitting assignments let us get some work done on the boat, and reminded us again that many NZ homes do not have adequate heat. We stayed at Judi's boss house during a cold snap and had to keep the only portable heaters closed in the bedroom and living room - the rest of the house was parka territory.
On the cultural front it was a good year: Tina Turn visited NZ before the US on her tour and reminded us how good one can look at almost any age - she is spectacular. Phantom of the Opera, Ray Charles, Porgy and Bess, Soweta String Quartet and some classical music concerts rounded our the year. We went to see David Helfgott, the pianist, with Kevin Sorbo (a.k.a Hercules) - well not really 'with' him, although Judi did approach him after the concert and invite him over to the boat (clod never showed up).
As Spring approached, Louise and Mark Jones form Nevada City and a prior career with IBM stopped by to visit while they were on a tour of NZ and Australia. We had a couple of great evenings and did a little catching up on old times and common friends.
One cold day in November we woke up and found the country had a new Prime Minister. Seems like the incumbent, Jim Bolger, had gone on a goodwill trip to Europe, and in his absence one of his party mate, Jenny Shipley, convinced enough of her parliament cohorts to support her, and when Jimbo walked off the plane, she issued him his walking papers. Very civilized, but quite ruthless. The press was full of it for a few days, but it appears that this will mark only a slight shift to the Right.
In December, Judi was invited to help a friend support an international horse show, the Auckland 3-Day Event. She took the official notes while the vet checked each horse at the beginning and end of the events. So we got to watch a number of NZ and international equestrians strut their stuff and jump obstacle courses. One of the favorites, Blythe Tait (who picked up Gold at Atlanta) had a horse which would not go near water and did not like to jump, so his ride was disaster, but the rest were very interesting.
So now that Christmas '97 is almost upon us, we are feeling the pressure to get ready to leave next year. Bob has wrapped up his work with Powercall and Judi has given notice as of 30 January. A couple of weeks of work on the boat, a six week tour of the South Island with Judi's nieces, a little more work on the boat and May '98 will be upon us! Our plans remain to leave NZ then (or June of July) for the Tropics and Australia.
Again, we wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.