Our Diary Auckland, New Zealand

Kiwi Culture!

Hi everyone, you may have thought that we have fallen off the edge of the earth… It could be said that being in the middle of the Southern Pacific ocean, definitely in "here be dragon" country, IS at the edge of the earth - but you can hear the cry from all 4 million Kiwis "Don't forget us, eh! We may be small but we have hearts of gold and care!"

Well, we are now growing barnacles alongside a marina in Auckland, New Zealand. As May approaches, to stay or go is our big conundrum! We have both joined the Kiwi workforce and, although only "temping", are being lured by offers of long term assignments. Christine is currently the financial controller/office manager of a small company and Keith is doing consultancy work at a large printing company investigating/improving their cost structure and other issues.

The employment is enabling us to cover the cost of our stay in NZ - and pay for some much needed boat maintenance, new sails, replace engine mounts/sound insulation and other capital intensive small projects. We are also banking a little to fund future cruising.

So how are we finding life in NZ? You've heard of "London Fashion", "Paris Chic" - well now we've coined the phrase "NZ relaxed" style. Throw on a polo shirt and a pair of jeans/cut offs for any occasion and as long as you wear something black that's the NZ vogue. Make no mistake - Kiwi's are very well travelled and worldly wise. They under-rate themselves and their record on healthcare, race relations, child abuse, green issues, foreign policy and lots of other aspects of life. But, compared to most countries, they should be Number 1 on all these issues. Currently, (apart from World Cup rugby, World Cup cricket, netball, fishing & hunting, cycling, swimming and the Americas Cup etc, etc, etc.) global warming is THE big issue. NZ has big problems here - it's not greedy gas guzzling cars, billowing smoke stacks or industrial pollution - it's the humble f**t! NZ's agricultural industry has millions of tonnes of methane wafting out of the rear end of their 50 million sheep and cows. This is an insoluble problem, (unless genetic engineers can develop a f**tless sheep) and could cost NZ millions in carbon credits!

Their other big problem is Asian prosperity fuelling the economy. The immigrants from Asia (currently at 19% of the population) are helping create a housing and business boom. Chinese, Korean and Japanese restaurants are everywhere - not that we are complaining! Once a week we visit our local Asian food hall for cheap and excellent fare (NZ$12 gets you a meal including drinks).

Kiwis also have high disposable income due to the low tax rate (around 22%) and they love their toys. Boating is high on the agenda and nearly every family owns a craft of some type - usually a small "tinny" for fishing, which is good and plentiful around the coast. This all leads to a relaxed lifestyle and outdoor life.

We have spent so much of the last four years away from "big cities" - and as big cities go Auckland is a tiddler but has huge aspirations. Culturally there is always something going on - free concerts, festivals, cultural events, cinema, theatre - all in walking distance of our berth.

So what have we been up here are some highlights:

Free Christmas party at the Auckland Domain…with fireworks
Free spring concert, Beethoven's 1812, with cannons and fireworks
Auckland Festival with fireworks
Visit of the "Queens" cruise ships…. with fireworks
Chinese New Year celebrations …. Yes, with fireworks !!!!

To give a flavour - I needed to get some cable for the installation of a new battery monitor so a short walk to the local "cable" store in Downtown took me past an outdoor jam fest at the local park, dragon boat racing on the harbour, it was St. Patrick's day so each "Irish" pub had a party going on, plus street entertainers at every major square - all giving an impression of a vibrant fun-loving culture.

We have managed to get out of Auckland once or twice, (we're saving ourselves up for the grand Kiwi experience next year. Once outside of Auckland, you quickly enter agricultural land, water or virgin forest dotted by small communities. I learned that to become a "dot" on the map you only need a cross roads and one or two dwellings - so estimating whether there is anything of interest or a place to stop from looking at the map is difficult. There are also lots of "white" roads which quickly turn into un-sealed tracks.

For an Easter break we hired a car and spent the weekend in Hastings close to Napier. Napier's claim to fame is that it got wiped out by an earthquake in 1931 when that part of NZ was lifted over 2m. The earthquake demolished the city. Unperturbed the local business people set out to rebuild the city and commandeered all the architects in NZ to design and construct a whole city. They decided to follow the example of Santa Barbara (California, USA) which had suffered a similar catastrophe. Santa Barbara had re-built using the new Art Deco style of architecture - intermingled with the Californian Spanish Mission style. So Napier, half a world away but with a similar climate, was rebuilt within two years, in mainly Art deco style. The city then went to sleep and was "rediscovered" in the 1980s when a US property developer came to assess the city for further development. He observed that here was something special a whole city frozen in time (a Kiwi tradition). The locals, inspired by his enthusiasm, created the Art Deco Society which now oversees all development and tries to preserve the buildings for all to see. A guided walk around the city is a "must" if you visit. Hastings (about 15 minutes away) was also destroyed and rebuilt at the same time and its buildings are also of the same era, but without the Art Deco Society "hype" - a lovely city just to wander around in. We can't comment on the quality of restaurants though - despite all the motels being fully booked, very few restaurants were open over Easter, something to do with the unfathomable NZ labour laws.

A cross country hike on the return journey took us through the Urewera National Park a totally unspoilt area of forests and lakes covering hundreds of square miles. We had hoped to stay in the Park, but all the accommodation was full. But we did manage a 2 hour tramp through the forest to a high lake. We then headed to Whakatane to pay a visit to Christine's 89 yr old Aunty Phyl and her son Paul and his wife Alison.

Although the cruising life has come to a halt for a while, the social life certainly hasn't. New friends and old often pop by for a visit. Nils and Marit from Checkmate visited while they were in New Zealand. And we have managed to catch up with Graham & Lynne from Minaret, Arni & Cam and Molly & Nancy from Jade, and Rune & Idunn with Marita & Hedda from Blue Marlin. The girls are all enjoying going to school in Whangarei. We enjoyed a great evening with Toni & Peter from Tigger - who subsequently decided it was safer to sleep on board rather than drive! And David & Heather from Milliways stayed with us on their way back to Australia - we hadn't caught up with them in person since about 2004!

Amongst others, Pier 21 Marina could provide source material for a mini soap opera; Mark from Heartbeat came to NZ to recover from the death of his wife last year - and has found love with Leanne, a lovely NZ woman who now has to learn about sailing! Jim on The Shepherd is having run-ins with the Civil Aviation authorities, Roy and Dianne who bought a new Bavaria 39 for Christmas have now sailed GwenRoy to Nelson where they are building a new home and will be starting a new life. Arnie and Jane on Shady Lady have adopted a foundling puppy but still hope to go cruising in 2-3 years, while Richard and Jane on Lionheart are about to set sail on the start of their cruising life! Richard and Jane astounded everyone by getting married recently - it turns out that their RYA Examiner is also a marriage celebrant, so when they finished passing their Skippers' exams, produced their marriage licence and asked him to marry them!

And, of course, all the Aucklanders who have helped us and shown us how to BBQ like Peter and Anita, Nikki, and Pam and Shane (Pam is Christine's old school friend and they have kept in touch since they were 5 years old). We spent Christmas Day with Pam and Shane - and Pam's brothers and sisters and their families - a great re-union for Christine. And they kindly drove us to Tauranga to watch Auckland play soccer - and a chance to check out the marina in Tauranga for a haul out later this year. Other new friends include Annette & John Orchard - our friends in the UK, Doug & Shirley Savage, asked us to deliver a surprise Christmas gift to the Orchard family - Alex Savage has been pen friends with Lizzy Orchard for years. We have since enjoyed many meals with the family.

And we are enjoying the availability and quality of the local food produce. Green lipped mussels, seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables - and mint sauce available in ketchup size bottles! Surprisingly, lamb is more expensive that beef - probably because all the legs of lamb are exported around the world! But the lamb shanks are delicious and Keith is enjoying the beef steaks and seafood. With the profusion of Asian restaurants you do see some funny signs, though; we enjoyed the one offering "Vegetarian Sweet and Sour Pork" (see photo on the website www.pocoandante.com).

Our boat maintenance continues - although the pace is somewhat slower than expected (due to working full time in paid employment). So far NZ has come up to expectations on that score, all the skills are here and the prices reasonable, especially as we are GST free. And David and Heather from Milliways who have now tried both New Zealand and Australia, confirm that the resources are much better in NZ - and the prices keener! Having parts shipped in doesn't cause any problems - although most items are available locally.

So, here we are - stuck in New Zealand until we resume cruising in 2008 - assuming the Customs people grant us the extension on the Temporary Import Permit for Poco Andante. We hope to work through the winter, finishing our boat maintenance and saving hard, and then fly to Australia for 3 months travelling by car, before returning to NZ and driving down to the South Island for a month or so. Then we hope to be ready to set sail in April/May next year.

It is sad to be saying goodbye to the other cruisers who are about to head off - but we hope to catch up with them next season, and we are looking forward to seeing the new batch of cruisers who are crossing the Pacific to NZ this year!