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A mini-bus ride out with the same driver that took me in got me to the airport on time for an evening flight, maximising my stay in Sydney. The trip over the Tasman sea was uneventful, though it had a fierce reputation in the early days of aviation.

Landing late at night, I thought it would be rude to ring friends so instead I arranged to stay at a cheap place in town, after a little running around with airport trolleys at the airport, to the amusement of those present.

The place, Trekkers, has a variety of accommodation from dormitories to single rooms, and a very central location. My room was so kiwi! The tall ceilings, sash windows and wooden vertical boards up to window sill height brought back memories of old farmhouses.

Later on, I was a little surprised to read (in an odd newspaper) that a person who had worked at Trekkers had been jailed for thieving! Lucky that was last weeks paper, not next weeks :-)


Te Papa floor plan


The thing I remembered most about Wellington was the spider web of electrical cables crossing the streets, that powered the old street-trolleys. This was still present. I used to dream I could fly, but kept getting snared up in those wires! Perhaps that was a sign of personal frustration at the time. The other thing Wellington is famous for is its wind, and this it had in abundance the night I landed.

It had certainly changed since I lived there - the place seemed more cosmopolitan, with sushi bars and kebab shops complementing the older fish & chip shops. The shops and bars had longer opening hours and attitudes were improved. They still have a problem with kids hanging around and fighting on Saturday nights, but are trying to deal with it (as always). Unlike the UK, there are no beggars.

Te Papa is the new national museum of New Zealand, and there was a lot to see in it. I was greeted by a worker there who recognised me from the airport! Obviously Wellington is not an impersonal capital city. The museum is the focal point of the planned new developments along the waterfront, which aim at regenerating the area.

In town I bumped into a part-Fijian guy who seemed to be leading a parallel life to me in some ways. He had gone to the school over the wall from mine when I was in Fiji, and he had a few tales to tell of what went on at the time! What a sheltered life I must have led ;-)

Watching the world go by in the main street in the financial district, I saw some suits, but also at least two (very cute) young guys separately walking past barefoot. This is common in New Zealand. Hairstyles were different from London - more often spikes than French crop or centre parting, although one guy had the sort of medium shave that you often see in the West End.

Through my terrible planning, I didn't get to see my old friends there. One was visiting his brother and the other had to go to the dentist (less than willingly). Oops. "Oh well, I'll see you in another seven years time then" I quipped. But I did catch hold of Eddie and Linda, good friends of the family for over 20 years, and popped out to stay with them.


The highway north of Wellington is littered with suburbs starting with P. Porirua, Paremata, Plimmerton, Pukerua Bay, Paekakariki and Paraparaumu. I had a chance to catch up with good people, and hear news about the family. For a quick bit of pre-Christmas shopping, the large local shopping centre was open until 10pm. I'd like to see that happen in Croydon! Linda is not a big believer in subtle clothing, which helped me avoid getting lost.

Their dog, Kennedy, was much more amiable than the last time I saw him, perhaps because 18 years is a tiring age for a Labrador!

Palmerston North train station

Palmerston North

The train is not so frequent in New Zealand these days, but Chris was kind enough to give me a lift to the station, so I went for it. On the train I met up with an acquaintance from Palmy who brought me up to date with the decade's happenings. I was surprised and pleased to hear some people were still alive!

My old university town had changed a little. At the tourist office a cute German and his friend were trying to track down Rodeos. These get held around the country at various dates. There was a new museum that looked reasonably big. Kebab shops had opened (I can never remember kebabs when I lived in New Zealand), but the students there complained that the Massey Empire as it now was, cared less about students than business. Like that's new! After acquiring colleges in Auckland and Wellington, it has its eyes set on Asia apparently. Maybe a Kuala Lumpur campus awaits.

After that quick stop I transferred to bus and headed North. The bus company has seen sense and instead of having a lengthy stop in Bulls or Sanson, towns with I am afraid to say limited tourist potential, it changes routes at a lovely country restaurant nearby. I was soon on my home turf, State Highway 3!

Someone at the transport department obviously is a bit of a kill-joy, and had spent the last decade changing the map so that instead of doing keyboard cable impressions, it did mouse cable impressions. Wanganui was its usual serene self, but Goat Valley had disappeared! Instead of a 20 minute impromptu driving test, there was a fairly straight road. This pattern repeated itself, right up to the bridge near my parents house. Dead Man's Curve, which had claimed my brother's car and several lives had become just another straight bit of road (my Dad organised a wake when that road was re-laid - future archaeologists would have a field day interpreting the graffiti the locals put on it before it went under a mound of earth and rubble!). Despite this we kiwis still manage to have the highest road deaths per capita in the known universe, but then our deaths in drowning, playing rugby and just being generally reckless are also fairly impressive.

Mt. Taranaki / Mt. Egmont

State Highway 3

Milking Time

My old school


Now that's what a mountain should look like! Mount Taranaki / Egmont is famed for its ability to completely disappear under clouds when tourists come by, but looks gorgeous when it does come out. This area has been my family's home since the 1920s (long after the controversial 1860s), and there's quite a sizeable patch of it under my uncles' and cousins' cows. The mountain itself is a national park, and has a Maori legend attached to it. Basically it used to live with the other mountains in the centre of the island, but it fancied a cute female mountain (Pihanga), and her husband (Mt. Tongariro, also a national park) was not best pleased with this. So he was chased away, carving the Wanganui river valley in the process. Since one day he may return to claim his love, Maori people traditionally did not live on that path (in Stratford for example). When asked why he lived there now, one guy said "Well, we've got cars now - we can get out of the way in time, eh?"

This is dairy country, and the lush green grass provides good fodder for cows; as opposed to the UK where they feed them on minced up diseased animal brains, or France where they feed them on processed sewage. Unfortunately the hole in the ozone layer has led to some Freisians getting sunburn on their white patches. Let's hope that doesn't get any worse - burn times are very low already.

Going through this countryside brought back to me strong memories of belonging - the boxthorn hedges, Friesian cows, the narrow-gauge freight trunk line, #8 wire fences, small gullies with gorse, windbreaks around a farmhouse and of course the mountain with its clouds.

State Highway 3 sometimes has cows on it, on their way to milking, and apparently the road signs for this have sometimes been "enhanced" in the Onaero area. A halo over the cow symbol for example (Holy Cow), or a moon underneath the jumping beast. :-)

The bosses of a travel agent chain was astonished when they came to give an award to their Eltham office for selling the most trips to London. The town looked dead and boarded up. "Were they one-way tickets?" they wondered. It seems the farming area itself is still profitable, but centralisation and people's ability to travel to larger, more distant towns for shopping has hurt some rural centres.

Mum & Dad's view to the beach

Mum & Dad's place

Black sand beach


Home, sweet home. Since the door was open, I walked in on Mum's vacuuming. "What's for dinner?" I asked casually. She started replying, but then turned around and clicked. I think she liked the surprise.

Out of all the places I revisited, Onaero had changed the most - mind you it had the longest time to do so! I used to wander down to the beach 25 years ago. The cliffs seem smaller now, and not just because I've put on weight and height! Some parts had really eroded away, especially the old Pa (fortified village) at the end of the beach, which has fallen into the sea. In the 1980s they built a sea-wall to protect one of the cliffs, but its having a tough battle.

What was once all fields is now a community of a few dozen houses, in addition to the older houses and the motel. There is even talk of the council bringing piped water to the place, even if only for a fire hydrant. People around here get drinking water from rain, and flushing water from wells. I guess in other countries they have pollution, so they can't do that.

With the other houses around, I would often see other people on the beach - this was less common when I was a kid.

But the biggest change in the last decade is the opening of the Waiau winery, which doubles as a cafe. The food there is rather nice, and there's a choice of fruit wines. Dad landscaped a path from there down to the beach that showed off his waterwheel and gazebo :-). We really should keep the place a secret though before we get overrun by tourists.

Paritutu / Sugar loaves

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth

Self-advertising in New Plymouth

Wind Wand, New Plymouth

New Plymouth

The capital of Taranaki has been rejuvenated by the energy industry, which complements its recently upgraded deep-water port and the traditional farming services (yes, there are still tractor showrooms there).

Paritutu and the power station chimney are the symbols of New Plymouth. The beaches are black sand (titanomagnetite), as in most of Taranaki.

Pukekura park is quite pretty, containing a rather large living decorated Christmas tree at the time, as well as the usual ferns and ducks, and the Brooklands Bowl sometimes plays host to David Bowie and other music acts.

There are some nice murals around the town, and the cafes seemed quite relaxing.

The "Wind Wand" seems like an odd idea - the council has newly erected a 45 metre pole that sways in the breeze.

Family Christmas


There were presents to be had at our place for breakfast, the extended Muller family for lunch, and my mother's side for dinner. Everyone seemed really pleased to see me (which surprised me - shurely there must be at least one dissenter?) and it was wonderful to see everyone after such a long time. This was the crux of the whole trip, seeing and talking with my extended family.

Being a surprise trip, my haul was a little small, but Grandma Muller has an ingenious system of lucky dips, so I felt around for something my size :-) Of course there was stuff waiting for me on my return - in theory an itinerary could have saved them the postage, but my baggage was already quite hefty and I like surprises. Giving them that is, not receiving them :-).

New Year's Eve 1999

New Year

We had a party on the beach to bring the new millennium in. For all you Pascal and Basic programmers out there who argue that the millennium is not until next year I say this: Count from zero, quiche-eaters!

Des brought a few tractor loads of wood, and Dad's car supplied the music. The bonfire started very easily, although there was a suspicious smell of AvGas around at the time :-) Due to the wind, the sparks raced across the beach, making it clear to everyone it was a good idea to stand upwind. We didn't manage to smelt the iron-sand, but did crack a few boulders.

There was talk of a midnight swim, but surprisingly few people volunteered for this! We had our own fireworks display, and bad luck to any boats that got into trouble that night; their flares would have not have stood a good chance of being noticed!

Boat on a roof-rack

Simply assembled

I'm a sailor now!


This is Dad's great hope for the sailing community. It's a two person sailing boat that folds up and fits on the roof-rack of a car. You can fit two of them on the roof-rack if it is strong. He is building them by hand and selling them, but would like to partner with a manufacturer to produce them in bigger numbers. Here is the brochure:

Bazooka boat Assembly Diagram

And here is a picture of me sailing in it for the first time, doing an impression of a figurehead on the prow. I let Dad do the steering.



We headed North to the big smoke, going through the State Highway 3 sections I knew less well but still had memories of. Mount Messenger is still the main obstacle on the way up, although there is talk of going around it in a new route.

The road had those things I remember - clay slips, one-way-bridges, hitchhikers and roadkill (hedgehogs). Quite different from the M25 in other words.

Auckland Harbour

Hyperion, Paul Allan's boat

It's a long way down!

Diva's bar


The city of sails was hosting the Louis Vuitton cup, the precursor to the America's cup. This is the cup run to decide which country gets to get beaten by New Zealand in the main event. As it happened, Prada from Italy won. But Black Magic beat them 5-0 in the cup itself later this year.

The "Cup Village" area is a hive of activity; it seems most New Zealanders have visited it or intend to do so, if the polls are to be believed. The café food available now is a far cry from the traditional tea-house we used to have.

Hyperion is rumoured to be Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen's boat. Not a bad bit of kit, but you'd expect that when the parking space alone costs NZ$5000 per day.

It's a long way down at the Sky Tower. Forget people - those dots beneath my feet are cars, and the thin dashed line between my shoes is the centre line for a road.

Diva's bar boasts at least one of Auckland's cuties. Auckland's bars may have had only a couple of dozen people in them the night I was there, but one smiling one is enough :-) Obviously I don't include straight pubs in this count.

How had it changed?

The café culture has improved New Zealand noticeably, in the same way as it has the UK. Auckland and Wellington have had their waterfronts rejuventated to great effect. Shop hours are better. My parents' area has thrived, and the region around it has come out of the new economy fairly well-placed.


Enduring Values

I now know what things I am missing in the UK that I took for granted in NZ. Bread that is edible, shop assistants with a sense of humour, people able to walk barefoot in the city without fear of glass or syringes, non-smoking sections in restaurants, swimming.

The trip also brought back the memory of dire television, excruciating radio, pitiful public transport, and most importantly reduced quantity of possibilities in the bars. Of course, you could take the brighter view that this makes it easy for me to choose the cutest one to get rejected by! :-)

But the countryside itself remains one of New Zealand's greatest assets. While the lack of pollution is offset by lots of pollen, the place is generally clean. The vegetation is different from other countries, and it grows in your subconscious.

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