Posts with tag: holiday
Letters from the Southern Man
Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork, its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people.
Understanding New Zealand is paramount to your immigration survival and to give you a realistic view of the country, its people and how we see the world, read our weekly Southern Man blogs. Often humorous, sometimes challenging, but always food for thought.
I mentioned a week or so ago that autumn was slowly winding its quiet way up the country.
Well it has now arrived in Auckland. It almost feels like someone has flicked a switch.
It is a time of year I love and a change that I enjoy (although I could have done with one more month of the amazing summer we have just had). I start thinking about getting out the jacket and pulling on something warmer in the evening. Five months of shorts and tee shirts are not yet over during the day but at night you have to have thick blood or be an English immigrant (everything is relative) not to need a sweatshirt or jacket.
The humid, muggy nights with overnight temperatures of the mid to high teens have been replaced by temperatures of around 13 degrees here in Auckland. Daytime temperatures continue to be in the 22-24 degree Celcius range and there has still been precious little rain. Autumn really is a special time in New Zealand. In the far south you get the trees turning rich reds and yellows about now before discarding their leaves. This colour explosion slowly moves its way up the country through late March, April and May although I heard today autumn is late down south after their summer that has lingered on longer than usual. We see these autumn colours less vibrantly up here as autumn and winter are relatively short and the temperature cools down slowly through April and May before warming up again by September. And with winter, rain. Although it will inevitably come right now my garden is thirsty and requiring constant watering. The fields and farms outside the city and over most of the North Island continue to be parched and dry.
The days are growing shorter and we have just put back the clocks by an hour – the end of daylight saving draws a curtain on summer around here. The sun is now setting around 6.30pm (on the longest day December 22nd it doesn’t set till just before 9pm – don’t forget we also put the clocks forward for by an hour in summer). I tell myself about this time each year there is only eight weeks till the shortest day and then we are all downhill to spring and summer again!
Although the trees in my garden and the city’s parks aren’t yet losing their leaves they will certainly be thinking about it.
It is a time of year when the fishing is nothing short of spectacular as it tends to be every autumn as the fish look to fatten up before the winter arrives in a few more weeks. Last weekend my wife and I caught our daily legal limit of snapper (a superb eating fish for our overseas readers) in a little over an hour. We actually caught about 36 but as the legal daily catch is only 9 per person (and woe betide if you get caught with more – you can lose your boat and whatever is pulling it as well as being stung by huge fines) so we threw back anything under 35 centimetres (legal minimum size is 27 cm) and stuck to our 18 fish limit. That will keep us in fillets for a few weeks.
At this time of the year the fish practically jump in the boat. We use two hooks and flasher rigs and I cannot tell you how tired we got of hauling up two fish on each line every time the bait was lowered 40 meters to the bottom. We caught our limit too quickly. Seriously, the fishing is that good at this time of year.
However, as the fishing won’t get this easy till next summer and the seas can, at times, get quite rough through winter I am heading north next weekend to have a final crack and fill up the freezer before the fish lose interest and head into deeper waters.
For those living here who don’t have access to a boat you can just as easily perch yourself on one of the wharves in downtown Auckland and try your luck. Plenty a feed of fish are caught down there – people fish in their lunchtimes!
A must do for those of you who have recently moved here or are looking to visit is to head to the Matakana Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. I particularly enjoy it at this time of year- wandering around the stalls with their local produce and ready to eat food on a crisp autumnal morning is great fun and a wonderful way to while away an hour or so. This is a very interesting example of rural regeneration and ‘build it and they will come’. This picturesque little village which is an easy one hour drive north of Auckland was, until about ten years ago, a sleepy little village you drove through on your way to somewhere else. With the Farmers Market, their choice of stall holders (all locally produced foods, wines, olive oils, pastries etc) and its layout which resembles something from Medieval times and village shops it is a destination in itself. The Farmers Market stalls are made of rough sawn timber and chunky native wood and each is covered by fabric in faded red stripe. The gravel underfoot is fine and you expect to hear the sounds of knights on horses jousting in the distance. It doesn’t look like a film set – nothing Disney or tacky about it - it is just well thought out and stylish and the coffee, food and produce are great.
I was sitting outside one of the cafes on the weekend and seven ducks – three white and four brown wandered across the road behind me stopping the traffic before waddling up the footpath stopping to see what titbits of food they could coerce out of the diners. They were very comical and awfully cute.
Matakana has become so popular now with day trippers from Auckland in particular some of the locals are moaning about the traffic jams on Saturday morning and the inconvenience. But this commerce has brought considerable wealth to the area and there is a definite whiff of money about the village and surrounding farms, orchards and lifestyle blocks.
I managed to buy and consume in my hour or so there last Saturday a South Island whitebait fritter (whitebait are the juvenile form of native freshwater fish and are a rare delicacy in this country), consumed a Belgian style custard filled doughnut, had a great coffee and munched my way through a bap filled with rocket and a locally made pork and fennel sausage with caramelised onions (makes me drool just remembering it). And I skipped lunch……
We bought seedling lettuces for the garden, basil and coriander to plant and a 1 litre bottle of local olive oil which is seriously right up there with the best we have ever tasted anywhere in the world (and that includes Italy).
Matakana and the Farmers Market is a place to linger. Once you have eaten your fill and/or bought lunch my advice is then to head off to the Goat Island Marine Reserve. This is about another 15 minutes drive. This was New Zealand’s first Marine Reserve and has been around since I was a small boy. I remember many a summer’s afternoon spent there when I was only 5 or 6 being mesmerised by the fish and marine life while baking under our hot summer sun.
The Marine Reserve gives visitors a sense of what our inshore seas must have been like before humans settled this land. It is breath taking if you take a mask and snorkel. At this time of year the water temperature is still around 22 degrees Celsius so it is quite warm enough to swim in without a wetsuit.
The fish are everywhere and literally even if you stand in the water up to your ankles you are quickly surrounded by them – and some are quite big. Kelp grows in great brown swaying beds. Sea urchins litter the seafloor. Crayfish (lobster) dance on their many feet at your approach and slink backwards into their rock crevices as you pass by. Large crusty old snapper will circle you and smaller schools of fish swirl just out of reach. Truly magical and a wonderful way to introduce your children to the way things were and many of us hope one day they will be again. For those a little less keen to get their head under the water there are glass bottom boat trips and kayaks are available for hire. It is also a popular scuba diving spot.
There is even a camping ground there for those that might wish to pitch a tent and stay the night. In summer it is a real treat – in winter it can be cold (not freezing, just cool).
Within 10 minutes drive of Matakana are a number of vineyards so you can always call into one of these for a wine tasting, to buy a few bottles or just to enjoy the afternoon sun, tapas or dinner before the drive home to Auckland.
I hope you take the time to visit these places. They are well worth it and I was encouraged to see a number of tourists wandering the markets and sampling the wares. I must have heard 25 different languages in the space of an hour.
Add it to your to do list.
To see some more great images of the markets click here>>
Until next week
Iain Macleod - Southern Man
I have three parts of New Zealand that regular readers of this blog understand are extremely dear to my heart – Lang’s Beach in Northland, Waiheke Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and Queenstown.
Asking me which one is my favourite as a few people have done is a bit like asking which of your children you love the most. The truth of course is you love them all but you love them for different things.
The reality is no three places could be more different in terms of the people who live there, the climates, the vistas.
One thing they all have in common is they are great places to spend a few days.
Last weekend I spent four days in Queenstown and its surrounds with a group of friends who get together every two years for an extravaganza of golf (and drinking, giggling and telling lies). This was my first trip with my now 19 year old son who has joined the group.
Tell me where you know that in three days you could play six golf courses, enjoy temperatures in the mid twenty degrees Celsius for the grand total of NZ$400 (including one of the six that cost $200)?
We played the testing Arrowtown golf course situated in the small town of the same name which has a main street that looks like a movie set. Built when gold was discovered there 160 years ago this is a picture postcard village of renovated old stores and restaurants.
The following morning we headed off to Alexandra which is both the hottest part of New Zealand in summer and the coldest in winter. It is a virtual desert with less than 350mm of rain per annum. It is famous for its pip fruit (the cherries and apricots are superb) and wine.
In the afternoon it was back along past the Clyde Dam to Cromwell – another small town enclosed by ranges of mountains on all sides.
These small town courses were in great nick – a warm breeze took the sting out of the sun which in these parts will burn you inside of ten minutes. Just for the record, these short burn times – in February across New Zealand it is about eight minutes of exposure before you will burn badly has nothing to do with ozone holes – a common myth. It has everything to do with clean air and no dust or pollution to block some of the UV rays.
Saturday morning again dawned fine with whisps of high clouds feathering the mountain peaks.
We were off to the country course of Lake Hawea where for the princely sum of $20 we were again surrounded by a million dollar view. Mountains stretched to the horizon, their peaks at 2500m still covered in snow of the purest white. It is hard to comprehend for those of us who live without snow in our lives that you can be playing golf surrounded by these snow covered mountains yet be in shorts and polo and feeling hot. But that is how it is.
On to the afternoon and my personal highlight – The Wanaka golf course. Wanaka is what Queenstown once was and I hope does not become. Where Queenstown is the raucous child with 42 bars (and my son later told me after a 4.30am finish to his evening, two strip clubs) Wanaka is the middle aged parent with less of the bluster and nightlife a more sedate outlook on life.
The golf course in Wanaka was superb – not too hard and not too easy. Rolling fairways and greens all seemed to have a view up the lake to the Mount Aspiring National Park. New Zealand’s second largest peak at over 4000m was majestic in the extreme.
Again we Aucklanders had trouble reconciling the heat we were playing in down at ‘lake level’ with the fact we were literally surrounded on all sides by ranges of soaring snow covered mountains.
Our nights were filled with bars and eateries, bottles of world class but very affordable local wines and the best local produce that could be squeezed between two hamburger buns!
Our final day was special treat day – Jack’s Point. Voted in the top ten courses in New Zealand it presented a challenge that only experienced golfers should tackle (and preferably not on a hangover as I tried). I almost cannot describe it. Nestled by Lake Whakatipu a howling westerly was blowing off the lake. Again strangely warm but the moisture was all left on the other side of the Southern Alps as the moisture laden breeze was forced up and over the South Island’s lofty greywacke spine. All we were left with was a moisture sapping breeze that required 6 irons to play 80 metres at times.
Google this golf course as I cannot do its beauty justice (and golfing terror in such a wind). Think mountains high enough to pierce the sky, dry rocky hillsides covered in brown tussock hissing when the wind blows, lenticular clouds forming over the mountain peaks as the air is forced up by that coming in behind it and air so clear that you feel you can reach out and touch mountains that are at least 15 kilometres away.
Through this golf course are scattered rock walls created from the local schist, houses built of the same materials sat low in the landscape where millionaires and rock stars stay for a few months of the year escaping when winter bites.
I am a 20 handicap golfer who could do with a few lessons and I found it a real challenge (for the record I scored 104). I had trouble concentrating to be honest. And it wasn’t just the hangover. Every hole was perfectly designed, the views that surrounded them almost surreal. How can any place have such mesmerising presence?
I flew the one and a half hours back to Auckland with sore feet, an aching body and a sore head but as always wondering what I am doing wasting my time living in Auckland.
If there is a God he most surely lives in Central Otago.
A bit of a change of pace this week...
If a picture tells a thousand words - grab yourself a coffee, put your feet up and watch this six minute featurette prepared by some fantastic local producers.
It is a real eye-opener even for those of us who have lived here for quite some time. Each time I watch it I notice something new and something familiar. It will give you a nice introduction to Auckland, our 'Big Little City'.
Until next week
Iain Macleod - Southern Man
Recently I had a client flying in for a whirlwind five days to check out New Zealand. Quite how you can do justice to a landmass of 270,000 square kilometres in five days is a bit of a mystery to me but they were going to give it a good go.
Like most visitors they had heard about the Bay of Islands and wanted to head up there. These are folks of means and I suggested that they hire a private helicopter for their time here so they could see a lot of the country.
I also suggested for a taste of a significantly different New Zealand (culturally and geographically) they visit Queenstown and its surrounds - the virtual desert dry landscape, mountain vistas, vineyards and food.
A night or two in Auckland as well to round it all off.
They took my advice and saw all three. Personally I believe the Bay of islands is over rated – in summer it is sublime but these clients were visiting in September which is spring and the weather up there can be very changeable.
The one place I forgot to mention was Waiheke Island but luckily they found out about it themselves and spent the best 24 hours of their trip there.
There are a few special places in New Zealand that I really love and feel a real connection with. One I have written much about is Lang’s Beach where we are lucky enough to have a beach house. This is situated 160 km north of Auckland where a beach of golden sand rings the Pacific Ocean. Only last weekend I watched as a huge pod of over 200 Common Bottlenose Dolphins fished their way through the shallows. Tail slapping and body slamming the water to herd the fish into ever tighter bunches. Last summer I watched from the deck of our beach house a pod of Orca chasing and catching sting rays. Apparently only in New Zealand do Orca hunt and eat sting rays – you have never seen a sting ray fly as far out of the water as when he has a three tonne Killer Whale on his tail. Several ended up on the beach. Frying pans and fires!
This last weekend I had the pleasure of once again spending a couple of days on Waiheke Island to support my brother-in-law Greg’s Jassy Dean Trust annual garden safari. The Trust raises money for the families of sick children of Waiheke.
My wife and I climbed on board the high speed ferry at 4pm and enjoyed the first glass of Waiheke Island produced Pinot Gris. Pulling away from the wharf in downtown Auckland I could feel the stresses of a hard week being left behind. The wine probably also helped……
Around 40 minutes later we berthed at Mateatea wharf to a different world.
Off to Greg’s house in his recently purchased cabriolet. Soft top down, sun in our eyes, breeze in our hair and all that. His house stands proudly on a hilltop overlooking regenerating native forest with views out to the Pacific Ocean. Tuis wheeled and dived over the tree tops and fat Kereru (native wood pigeon) flew heavily through the early evening air. Skinks (native lizards) scuttled around over fallen logs while bumble bees laboured between blooms of nectar bearing native flowers.
This island is very steep for the most part with rolling hills running down its spine. No one seems to live more than an easy stroll to some secluded cove or wide, sandy bay.
This island feels like a world apart from the bustling, car choked city 40 minutes back up the harbour. It is idyllic. Winding roads and native forest give way to vineyards, groves of olives and sheep farms. The extremely wealthy with their helicopters and super yachts live side by side with New Zealand’s less well off. Waiheke used to be a hangout for hippies – they have either island hopped out to Great Barrier (even further out in the Hauraki Gulf) or they have become middle class aspiring artists, real estate agents or website developers. There is always a holiday feel in the air.
Saturday morning dawned fine and warm – an almost cloudless sky. I instantly regretted what had to have been around three bottles of local Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc the night before. Two rapid action paracetamol under the belt and into the car we climbed (gingerly).
Being the idiot I am I had left my hat at home but plastered my nose and face with sun screen. We are getting to that time of year when the burn time is down to single figure minutes. The temperature was predicted to be a warm 22 degrees with no chance of rain. Waiheke has 25% less rainfall than downtown Auckland and it never seems to rain when I am there. I am told it does but this is what makes it so good for the olives and grapes – cool winters, terrible soil and baking hot summers.
We were off on our Garden Safari.
Whether you are into gardening or not as a migrant you can learn an awful lot about not just this island but our society, the things we have in common, the things we care about, what serious money can buy or for that matter what you don’t need money for.
Some of the gardens were so big they covered several hectares. So big in fact the owners employ full-time gardeners (full-time gardeners are a real rarity here given the cost of labour yet some of these gardens had three full-timers working in them). Some gardens were very small. All were equally loved. Most used native trees and shrubs and plenty displayed wonderful local sculpture and art in many different forms.
Many of the gardens ended in jagged cliffs. Others meandered their way down to the sea. Some disappeared into native forest that surrounded them.
All that walking gave us an appetite so it was off for lunch at Te Motu Vineyard. The wonderful thing about eating out in this country and, nowhere more so than Waiheke, is the local fare and wine. Especially seafood. We are spoiled for it. Plates of raw marinated fish, main courses of fresh caught snapper and shell fish. Early season strawberries and other local fruit and of course (some more!) local wine. It certainly is not cheap but sitting out under the cover of sun sails, a half hour lying in the grass under a huge, clear blue sky surrounded by vineyards while the lunch went down, it was hard not to just smile. Life can be much much worse than a weekend on Waiheke Island I was thinking.
If you are local or hoping soon to be one, mark your diary for about this time next year. Buy yourself some tickets online to the Jassy Dean Trust Garden Safari. Head out on Friday night and stay the weekend. Make sure you get out to some of the local cafes and restaurants, drink the local wine, and you will get to enjoy some of the most stunning gardens, homes and and vistas anywhere in New Zealand – and buy yourself a Lotto ticket while you are at it so if you win it you can join the ‘other half’ and build the house of your dreams.
Actually the truth is this island is still very affordable to us mere mortals as well. There is some small corner for everyone out there. The best parts of the island – the beaches, ocean, forests and views -are all free.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
You have no reason to be aware but I am the father of two teenage boys, one who just turned 19 and the other 16.
I have been giving a lot of thought lately as to how these two sons of mine might be able to enter the Auckland property market in the coming years given the seeming relentless rise in residential property values in this city.
There are now 11 suburbs in Auckland that have reached a median value of NZ$1 million with one now sitting at a median sale value of $1.9 million which could well make it the first to top $2 million in the coming months.
Across the entire city the median house price has climbed to $505,000.
This compares to a national median price of $387,000.
Given the average salary in Auckland (before taxation) is $75,000 this means the median house now costs 6.6 times the average salary.
My eldest son is in his first year of University. I hesitate to call him indolent but he did decide to give up his part time job a couple of weeks ago to ‘enjoy the holidays’ (oh my, to have the choice, the confidence and not a care in the world….) we have had a discussion about the future. House prices. Debt. That sort of thing.
We have this thing in this country called interest free student loans. I’ll give my son some credit – he must have listed to something when studying Economics – he seems to understand that if he borrows the $170 odd a week the Government allows him it is a loan and it does need to be paid back. The risk is it does appear to be cheap easy money which does, when you are 19, look rather attractive.
However I have suggested to him that if he does not change his attitude fairly quickly he will likely leave university in three years time with a student debt of between $10,000 - $30,000. Most of this I hasten to add will not be course fees which average $3000 - $5000 a year but beer and night clubs. I know, I know, but I can only tell him – we were all teenagers once and we also knew everything, remember??
Given most University graduates start with salaries of $50,000 - $60,000 and they need then to start paying back their student loan it seems without parents coming to the rescue with a deposit on even a modest house in a modest area (they do exist in Auckland but are usually a long way out of the central city –away from the clubs and bars……) home ownership might simply no longer be possible for many of our young people.
So what is causing this rise in value given it seems to be only happening in Auckland and to a lesser extent Christchurch?
There are a number of factors:
• Record low interest rates. Floating mortgage rates are currently around the 4.95% – 5.05% range and the banks are lending aggressively once again.
• Migration – both internal from other parts of the country and migrants arriving from overseas – Auckland is where most find work and settle.
• Lack of supply – we are simply not building enough houses and demand is outstripping supply
What is really interesting about all of this is that in his farewell speech (and final monetary policy update) the outgoing Governor of the Reserve Bank last week signalled that notwithstanding the house price inflation in Auckland this is not putting significant upward pressure on overall inflation within the economy. At just 1% and not growing he believes that this is because most New Zealanders who own property (only one third of whom have a mortgage over their property) are (funnily enough) highly geared so they have cut back on discretionary spending. I for one am not surprised. With the size of many of the mortgages people have in this town I am surprised that they can afford to eat!
By 2014, perhaps because of an expected closer alignment between supply and demand in Auckland and given that net migration (from overseas) is running around zero, the Governor sees house price inflation falling to zero.
In the past year median prices in Christchurch have jumped by $15,000 to $371,600.
Why are house prices there in something of an upward spiral – albeit they are starting at a far lower base than Auckland? In a word – earthquakes. The earthquakes of early last year and late 2010 caused a real supply issue and people on the move are competing for stock that is limited. There are simply not enough houses to go around and as people ‘migrate’ from the damaged eastern suburbs to the hardly touched northern and western suburbs there is quite simply not enough decent housing to go around. As the rebuild gets underway as more land is opened up for residential development the pressure there should ease.
In Auckland that $371,600 would buy you something extremely modest in a part of town most people would be looking to leave.
The house price ‘boom’ however is largely restricted to Auckland given the rest of the country is busy paying down their own debts. Hence inflation not being an issue in the country.
While all this is going on the banks remain flush with money and are all marketing home loan products aggressively. Most are back to lending 95% of the property value.
It is my view that interest rates in New Zealand will over the next 12 months will fall further. At the very least they will not rise significantly for some years.
As the Americans, Brits and Europeans continue to print money, our dollar has risen to heights simply not supported by the fundamentals of the economy. Of course it is keeping import prices, especially petrol and imported machinery and consumer goods lower in price (there are always winners and losers with currency movements) but it is hurting exporters who mostly trade using the Greenback.
Of course China is also now set to once again to inject billions into its own economy as it cools given demand for its manufactured goods fall, especially in Europe. And that isn’t the greatest news for New Zealand as China is now our second biggest trading partner after Australia and Australia’s mining boom is clearly over (as the Chinese import less of their dirt).
So my pick is our new Governor over the next few months will be forced to act to try and bring down our dollar and he only has one tool at his disposal to do so – interest rates. With an Overnight Cash Rate (effectively the wholesale rate) sitting at 2.5% our currency remains attractive to the Japanese, Americans and Europeans because our banks will still pay 3-4% on retail deposits which is three to four times what they are getting at home. While it is a vote of confidence in the economic stability, management and future of our economy it is hurting our exporters.
In my opinion the Governor will be forced to move within 6-12 months and that will lower interest rates further but not spark inflation.
I see the Government making no moves to introduce a capital gains tax (that’s right, unbelievable as it might sound we do not have one), stamp duty or other disincentives to keep the residential property market under control in this town. Perhaps they are right in relying on the market to control the fever and perhaps the market will sort things out.
A former client of mine (she of the finest set of pins I have ever laid eyes on - former tennis professional) and her husband just sold a house in a suburb that is ten minutes drive from downtown Auckland. In 1996 the median house price in their suburb of Westmere was a little over $350,000. They just sold theirs for $2,250,000.00 They had paid $932,000 in 2009 and have apparently carried out ‘extensive renovations’. A rough guess tells me that would likely be around $500,000. So a non-taxable profit of around $800,000 for three years work. And these stories are common.
If I am right then house prices in Auckland will continue their upward climb. Across the rest of the country outside of Christchurch they won’t. Given house values in Christchurch by Auckland standards are ludicrously cheap and real estate in Wellington, Dunedin, Tauranga and Napier all look like bargains to we Aucklanders, for most migrants (and University graduates) housing will remain affordable if they don’t settle here or they bring some money with them.
Aucklanders however will continue to wallow in private debt. The rest of the country won’t.
The implications of course for my children are as stark as they are for many migrants who will be joining us here over the next 2-4 years. Migrants from countries like South Africa will simply not be able to afford homes and will be renting forever if they are earning salaries of $50,000 odd a year and living on one income in Auckland.
Anyone that does not land here with at least NZ$100,000 in their pocket will struggle to save enough to put down a deposit on that middle class ‘median’ three bedroom Auckland house if they earn that sort of money. And plenty do – Artisans, Technicians, Personal Assistants, graduate Nurses and graduate Teachers all earn that sort of annual salary. If both partners are working you can save and will get onto the property ladder as overall New Zealand is generally cheaper than somewhere like South Africa or even Singapore. If however you stop to have babies or one of you gets sick then you will be renters for a long time.
If only I could make my 19 year old son see all of that.
Until next week
It’s a tired old cliché that travel teaches you much about yourself and your cultural norms but it is an infallible truth. This is why I try and arrange to take time out with my family once a year and go somewhere that might take us out of our comfort zone and to explore in part what it means to be a New Zealander.
This week we are in eastern peninsular Malaysia in an area called Terranganu. Having spent the bulk of last week in Georgetown, Penang this is a real culture shock for my family - 95% muslim after the very secular feeling Penang. If you ever come to these parts then add Georgetown to your list. And if you have no plans to travel here, change them!
The old part of Penang’s capital was designated as a UNESCO World heritage site in 2008 and remains, certainly in this part of the world, one of the largest remaining sites of its type anywhere in South East Asia. Block upon block of renovated and derelict Chinese shop houses make up this living, breathing, heaving part of Malaysia. It is a treat to wander the alleyways and markets for a few days.
Although it looks like a movie set, Disneyland it is not. This is living, breathing, working, worshipping Penang where tens of thousands of people live and work cheek by jowl and have their businesses and homes in buildings up to 300 years old. There are mosques, temples and churches everywhere reflecting the Dutch, English, Chinese, Indian and Muslim migrants to the area over three centuries.
It’s a place not yet overrun with tourists and where you will see wizened old Chinese faces peer from behind faded curtains or lurk in the shadows of a heavy wooden door craning to hear the neighbours chattering in the street outside. Where you can ride in a trishhaw by a man who would have remembered the Japanese occupation in WWII and a time when cars only went as fast as he could peddle.
It is Hawker (street food) paradise and a place where the Food Safety Inspectors of Auckland would have a massive coronary as soon as they stepped out into the streets. It isn’t the sweetest smelling place but the food is to die for (but is unlikely to kill you). I swear we ate five meals a day. My eldest son now loves curry for breakfast every morning…….
I have never seen such well fed and healthy looking rats that appeared to eat at the same places that we were. But they didn’t bother us. And they looked so healthy I decided that if the food wasn’t hurting them it wouldn’t hurt us.
We had laksa at a small shop that has sold nothing else, no other singe dish – since 1956 at RM3.50 a bowl. That’s about NZ$1.50. Char Kway Teow from a stall holder that has been selling it since 1968.
When you travel you learn so much about yourself and your own culture. Every food safety rule (paranoia?) we live with told us not to eat in these places – when you see the staff washing the dish you are about to eat off in a plastic bucket with some detergent on a footpath you are on guard. What may be normal for you is not necessarily so for the locals. I figure that if you have been in business selling one food product for 56 years then you can’t be responsible for too many deaths by food poisoning. I suspect word would get round…..so we were in boots and all and set aside our own ‘fears’ and ‘standards’.
I am a Pakeha – a New Zealander of European descent but a New Zealander, created and moulded by the unique norms of my society.
My ‘difference’ to people from most parts of the world is no better illustrated than in our tendency to greet everyone we meet in the street. As I did for five days in Georgetown.
When passing someone in your street, or passing in a corridor in New Zealand it is generally accepted you will acknowledge, at the very least, the person coming towards you – a Good Morning, Good Afternoon, ‘Hi’ or at least raised eyebrows. You will hold doors for people to let them go first, you will hold an elevator door open and you will ask someone how they are today.
This I have realised over the years is a particularly a New Zealand thing. But it is travel which has made me appreciate that.
If you greet people on a footpath in South Africa, people who in every other respect appear just like us will look back at you suspiciously (probably expecting you to mug them or ask them for money).
In the resort where we are staying the guests appear to be a mix of Malaysians, Irish in great numbers, a few English, Japanese, the odd Australian and a stray New Zealander or two and the only ones that initiate the ‘passers by greeting’ with me are the Australians. The Irish and English will respond but the rest look slightly puzzled or even annoyed that this ‘weirdo’ wants to say hello.
Thing is it makes me feel a little stupid but it is a compulsive behaviour most New Zealanders have. Frankly I find it rude if people do not make eye contact with me when passing. I find that suspicious and unsettling.
Another behaviour of most New Zealanders is we are considerate when in confined or public spaces. We think of others. I don’t know if that’s because we have a society that is based on egalitarian principles or if it is because we are still just a big village, albeit of 4.5 million.
A good example of how to cause me offence was on our flight from Borneo to Penang. In a case of you get what you pay for the family was flying on Air Asia where the cheap seats are only cheap by being squashed in like battery hen cages and laid out for your typically ‘Asian’ length limb which is somewhat shorter than your average ‘pakeha’ length leg. We had four back row seats. Our seats couldn’t recline. The large, portly gentleman in the seat directly in front of me decided after take off to recline his seat for the two and half hour flight. This meant my initial 12 inches of leg room in which my knees were already touching his seat became about 7 inches.
In his doing so I literally had the width of my Macbook Air between me and his sweaty balding pate and I was so squashed I couldn’t open the screen up properly to see it. I asked him, politely at first, if he would mind not reclining the seat and he just grunted and smiled at me. I assumed he couldn’t speak English.
My next request was in less than polite English and suffice it to say it contained at least one word beginning with ‘f’ and I decided that even if he didn’t speak or understand English he would understand tone.
He appeared oblivious to both.
He closed his eyes, dozed a while, later appeared to enjoy his in-flight meal and read his magazines merrily away.
I was therefore forced to spend much of the next two hours standing in the aisle of the plane. He knew I was standing there - It clearly bothered him not.
About ten minutes before landing I was still standing in the aisle talking to my eldest son and made some intentionally loud(ish) statement about overweight, selfish, inconsiderate and rude people. The balding head whirled around and he looked at me and then pulled his seat into the upright position.
It appears that the understood English perfectly well when it suited him to put his seat upright!
He probably thought that he had booked that set and that little parcel of aerial real estate and so he could do what he wanted even if it meant a less comfortable trip for the person behind him. Hell they all seem to think like that when they drive around these parts so thinking about others doesn’t appear high on their list of priorities.
I thought that I don’t know too many people where I come from that would act so selfishly. We were all in the cheap seats together – they were not designed for comfort so the NZ thing would be to make each other as comfortable as possible.
My clients always seem to observe three things about we New Zealanders when they come to settle or visit – how clean we keep the country, how efficiently we run everything and how friendly New Zealanders are.
I know these things to be true.
What I don’t really understand is why we have ‘evolved’ in this way and why in most other countries these values have been lost.
It does, however, add to the experiences of travelling and learning so much about yourself, your culture, your norms and expectations.
Home next week, and until then
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
I so believe in travel – not just to escape the grey and rain of an Auckland winter but travel continues to provide me with work possibilities, opportunities to just take it easy and chill out and to interact with other people and cultures. The older I get the more I treasure these encounters on journeys through different countries.
I am in Malaysia enjoying a mid year break with my wife and sons. I have spent so much time in the capital, Kuala Lumpur but precious little time outside of this big bustling Asian city I decided this year to change that. Malaysia is not really well known by New Zealanders – we all seem to know Thailand and many know Bali but Malaysia for some strange reason is a country we fly over on our way to somewhere else.
Which is a shame given English is widely spoken, it is relatively cheap, it is warm (actually hot), it is diverse in terms of its people, food and ecosystems. I had two things in particular I wanted to see on this trip – Orangutans and to enjoy some of the great scuba diving I heard was readily accessible here.
So after a couple of days in Singapore the family and I headed for Borneo and in particular, Kota Kinabalu, a city of around 700,000 people in the eastern state of Sabah. While there I had some interesting experiences in mass tourism of the Chinese kind.
Our world view is so moulded by our home experiences and where I come from there are, once you are outside of Auckland, so few people that you can truly get away from humans if you wish without too much difficulty. And get away from humans is what I, perhaps naively, thought I’d be getting for my family in Borneo.
We had four days so we sat down and chose four day trips that we hoped would give us an insight into Borneo its people and its wildlife and settled on a river cruise to see the increasingly rare Proboscis Monkeys, a visit to an Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, a day on the beach at a local island and a day of scuba diving.
I have to say, I enjoyed all four but is equally fair to say that what we got wasn’t always what we expected.
The evening river cruise to see the Proboscis monkeys turned out to be the mangrove equivalent of the 30 Land Rovers all parked around a lion in the Masai Mara. Each boat contained about 20 people, almost all Chinese for whom a wilderness experience probably means a stroll in their local park with 10,000 others. So being quiet and just enjoying nature is not something I imagine too many of them understand or appreciate. The monkeys were somewhat plentiful (we were told we were particularly lucky to see so many of them) but our boat would be parked alongside at least six or seven others full of oohing and ahhing and chattering Chinese tourists clicking cameras and yapping away. An experience it was – a quiet ‘river cruise’ it was not as the outboard motors of scores of boats roared and belched their fumes up and down the river. It was most certainly an experience – but not quite what we had been expecting.
Our morning with the orphaned orangutans was amazing – three youngsters whose parents had been killed by poachers were being raised in a semi wild environment and prepared for a return to the rainforests around the age of 6. Coming from a country where 90% of our forests have been turned into grazing farmlands, I am not about to start lecturing the Malaysians who have as much right to a decent income as the rest of us, but it is habitat loss caused mainly through clearing of forest for the production of palm oil that has lead to the rapid decline of these magnificent cousins of ours. While it was a thrill to get up close with the Orangs I did wonder how many of the tourists there with me were really aware of how these cute young orphans came to be cute young orphans. The next time they bite into that chocolate bar or biscuits containing palm oil I wonder if they will associate it with the Orangutans they saw.
Our day at the beach was something to behold. More a cultural experience than a day at the beach as we in New Zealand would understand it. About 15 minutes by speedboat from the mainland we were plonked on a stretch of beach perhaps 400m long with about 2000 others – again mostly chain smoking chattering Chinese tourists who didn’t appear to understand what function the plentifully provided green rubbish bins were for. Each party was assigned a plastic table, four plastic chairs and four sets of masks and snorkels (along with life jackets for ‘when you are swimming’). Being New Zealanders and well used to the sea we chuckled at the ‘strongly advice’ to wear life jackets when swimming in two meters of water that was as rough as your average bath but we noted that virtually everyone else did. I guess they don’t get to swim in the sea very often. And most of them probably have never learned to swim – something we pretty much take for granted.
The water temperature was about 30 degrees and sublime. The sun was shining and we took our towels and lay on the fine white sand. The snorkelling was probably good if you seldom venture into the sea. What I couldn’t get over, but was expecting, was the rubbish in the water – plastic bags, instant noodle wrappers, soft drink cans, polystyrene containers – you name it – we were swimming in it.
My wife and I took a stroll over the island to try and escape the throngs and found our own deserted beach where we spent a wonderful hour or so in relative isolation.
If you could shut out of your mind the piles and piles of plastic water bottles and other cast off junk that littered the high tide mark it was almost beautiful.
The best however, we saved till last and I needed it to remind myself that away from the more populated areas there are parts of this huge island where you are not surrounded by and swimming in plastic. Or surrounded by chain smoking Chinese tourists. On our second to last day my sons and I spent an hour and a half on a bus and another hour on a speedboat getting out to an island to do some scuba diving. It was a revelation and everything I had been hoping to find. No rubbish. No plastic. No discarded fishing nets and other flotsam. And almost no people. Just clear warm water being shot through by the strong tropical sun and a reef alive with fish and coral that is being protected. It was magical. And well worth the effort in getting there. I had heard the diving was pretty good in Borneo and we were not disappointed.
There is in all of this a salient lesson for New Zealand – tourism is our single largest earner of foreign exchange and over 400,000 of us are directly or indirectly employed in the industry. Thankfully my experiences of tourism within my own country have been anything other than ‘mass’ and we need to keep it that way.
I like the ‘Botswana model’ where they have become a low volume high cost tourist market and when my family and I were on safari there a few years ago being able to drive all day and see not another human or vehicle was not only a revelation but an absolute pleasure.
Everywhere I have gone in Malaysia when we are asked where we come from and we tell them, the response is usually ‘Very beautiful and very peaceful’ to which we nod in agreement. It is both those things.
To which I might add – and it is very clean– promoting tourism but having the sides of your highways and cities looking like rubbish tips is not the way to seduce tourists. Malaysia has magnificent land and seascapes and the people are friendly and the food to die for – someone just needs to tell the local authorities to set up a regular rubbish collection programme so we tourists don’t have to swim in it or have our ‘wilderness experiences’ blighted by another plastic bottle wedged into the roots of a mangrove tree in which a Proboscis Monkey is sitting.
And to teach people (why it isn’t inbuilt in people is beyond me) to find rubbish bins to put their litter in. A city of 1.5 million people like Auckland can do it, so it is hard to understand why cities across Asia, and Africa for that matter, so utterly fail to do it.
It ain’t a good look.
Until next week
Southern Man - Iain MacLeod
This time last week I was in Central Otago, one of my favourite places on the planet let alone New Zealand.
A group of six of us were off to ride the Otago Rail Trail. Formerly the railway line linking Dunedin to the Otago gold fields the railway was shut down in 1992. Someone came up with the idea of ripping up the tracks and providing a surface suitable for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. And so in February 2000 the 150km Rail Trail was launched.
We began this adventure with two days in Queenstown where we ate wonderful food, drank some of the finest wines produced in New Zealand and when not imbibing wine, sat sipping local boutique beers mesmerized by the view.
I realised why the view looks so different in Central Otago and it is not just the local architecture, vineyards, soaring mountain peaks, lakes and rivers, it is the lack of moisture in the air that lends a clarity. We Aucklanders are surrounded by warm oceans and as a consequence are used to high levels of humidity (and on days when there is no wind, smog) with moisture laden air. This creates a haze you don’t get in Queenstown and Central Otago.
Our brief but enjoyable stay in Queenstown was followed by a night in the Dunstan Hotel in Clyde which was our starting point for the Trail ride. I felt like I was in a movie set. An old gold mining town that at its peak had 42 pubs (it now has one) and a resident population of over 30,000 people (it now has 900) that had entered a seemingly terminal decline until the rail trail brought it back to life as a tourist destination and start (or end) point for the walkers, cyclists and horse riders that pass through.
This old two storied hotel was a rundown backpackers until the current owners renovated and restored it around seven years ago operating it now as a bed and breakfast. Authentic in the extreme and true to its past but now with showers and flushing toilets…
What followed was three days in the saddle on mountain bikes. A little wary of ‘saddlebum’ I asked about the need for gel seat covers when we picked up our bikes. The guy who rented the bikes to us reckoned “only pussies need them” so being the tough guy I thought I was I didn’t rent one. Well, miaow……I was wishing within 48 hours I not only had a gel seat cover to sit on but a big fluffy pillow under my bum to boot!
There is something about bikes – the freedom they offer, the exhilaration you feel as you free wheel down a hill; the things you see because you are travelling more slowly – dew soaked spider webs in the morning, a brown grasshopper sitting on a grass stalk, a New Zealand falcon riding the thermals looking for his next meal and a skink scuttling off his basking rock as your shadow passes over him. And the smells as your tyre crunches over the wild thyme, of grasses and dust and in this case the odd dead sheep all smelled strangely intoxicating.
I confess I felt like a ten year old once again the first morning riding beside the Clyde River, round Poplar trees which were turning a rich gold colour as autumn settles in the valley and through piles of leaves that were accumulating on the path. What great fun to stop every now and then at local wineries for wine tasting (didn’t do that when I was ten).
Another bonus was apple trees gone wild. All along the trail apple trees grow. Thrown from passing trains decades ago some of the seeds sprouted providing free juicy apples. fresh fast food at its finest.
A stop at an unmanned fruit stall with its ‘Honesty Box’ outside of Alexandra where I left my money in a jar in exchange for $5 worth of the freshest sun ripened strawberries was a real treat. They were quite possibly the plumpest and sweetest I have ever eaten.
The thing that really got me apart from the vastness of the countryside was the lack of sound. Like all children of cities I am comfortable around noise. Immersed in the constant urban sounds provided by cars, buses, fire engines, ambulances and police cars I realise when these sounds are not swirling about me I don’t feel totally comfortable.
Out on the trail there is a lot of ‘scrunching’ as the bike tyres roll over the stones and gravel and after that there isn’t a lot to hear.
There are poignant moments on every journey and one of mine came shortly after leaving Wedderburn on the second day of our ride. Having puffed and panted my way up yet another gently sloping part of the trail I stopped to enjoy the view. My riding companions were spread out ahead and behind me so it was just me, the sky, an early autumn sun, the gentlest of breezes, a whole lot of brown tussock and a few sheep spread all the way to the horizon. I had the whole of the Maniatoto Plains to myself for a good five minutes.
The sun was fair beating down given it was the early afternoon and I was surrounded on all sides by what are called ‘Ranges’; not big enough to be classified as mountains but far higher than your typical hill. What is labelled in these parts as ‘High Country’. The fields seemed to go on forever. The light was pure. The view dominated by rust and blue.
I decided to do something I never do in Auckland.
I lay my bike down and just listened.
The first sound I was conscious of was the whisper of a breeze. Far off I heard the faint sounds of birds. Crickets chirped in their thousands in the grasslands from my feet to the hills (and no doubt beyond). A bee then flew across the path in front of me.
And that was it.
Nothing else. It was utterly peaceful. And utterly sublime.
Central Otago is classified as semi-arid with rainfall of less than 350mm a year or for those of you using the imperial system that’s about 13 inches. The farmers pray for rain. Away from the river fed valleys the soils are traditionally poor making it ideal for producing wine and the grape of choice is Pinot Noir although many of the local vineyards do a pretty good Pinot Gris as well. If you are into wine this patch of NZ is heaven on a stick (or in a bottle).
The landscape is dominated by mountain tussock of various varieties interspersed with grass for the sheep, cattle and deer that are raised through here. In many parts Thyme grows wild among the cracked and flaking schist.
Through many parts of this journey I half expected to see a rhino or two, herds of Impala and possibly a Zulu village or three as it looked and felt exactly like parts of Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa.
We saw it at its best perhaps because we enjoyed it at its most climatically comfortable – not too hot and not too cold. Being there in early autumn we were told is the best time to ride the trail because there is little to no wind. This is important for here the wind can blow fiercely – it races down off the mountains and is dry and hot (think Berg wind you South Africans). Swapping stories with friends the other night who have also completed the trail they got a couple of intensely windy days and one of their sons was literally blown off his bike. No damage done but a good laugh was had by all.
As I have spent my life explaining to so many would be New Zealanders it doesn’t rain all the time everywhere in this magical country of ours. Just through the mountains where we were basking in the heat the west coast of the South Island was almost certainly being rained upon. Over that side of the mountains rainfall is usually measured in the thousands of millimetres. Yet the massive mountain range that is the Southern Alps blocks the moist westerly airflow meaning by the time the weather cells pass over Central Otago and Canterbury they are spent and a parched thirsty landscape sits yellow-brown from horizon to horizon.
The temperature extremes are quite extraordinary. Even last week we would get up in the morning to temperatures of only 3-4 degrees. On went the thermal, the tee shirt, the merino hoodie and the wind breaker. Within half an hour of hitting the trail the wind breaker was off, within an hour the merino was stowed, by lunch the thermal was packed away and by 2pm I was cycling only in shorts given the temperature was 23 degrees in the shade which would make it at least 30 degrees in the sun.
Many people avoid riding the trail in summer (January and February) given it is usually over 30 degrees in the shade and well over 40 degrees in the sun. Plentiful pubs and the cool rivers would be welcome relief I am sure for those brave enough to cycle in such heat.
Along the way we had a night at Waipiata which holds the record for one of the coldest ever temperatures recorded on mainland New Zealand – minus 23 degrees Celsius in 1995. By contrast it is regularly 35 degrees plus in summer. This is a part of New Zealand that occasionally gets a hoar frost – where the moisture in the air actually freezes – making for scenes straight out of Narnia.
It really is a magical place. Harsh for sure but peaceful in a uniquely New Zealand way. I’d recommend it to anyone who lives here or is passing through.
Over the three days spent on the bikes we covered 163 km. My advice to any of you that might fancy this adventure is you need to be moderately fit (but no more), it would be great with children but I’d probably want them to be 10 years old or older, you can do it over 4-6 days and best of all it is free.
Do it. You will love it.
Until next week.
Southern Man - Iain MacLeod
I spend so much time overseas exploring other people’s countries that I spend precious little time exploring and enjoying my own. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that saddens me a bit.
Having a beach house doesn’t help. Don’t get me wrong and I don’t want to sound like some pretentious prat but when you have access to a beach house you tend to want to spend your time there to the exclusion of spending that precious leisure time elsewhere.
So it is both a real blessing disappearing regularly to your favourite part of paradise but equally it can be a little restrictive.
So, I have decided that this year I am going to see more of New Zealand and have two trips planned to Central Otago this year – one to Queenstown to play golf in November and on the immediate horizon I am really excited at the prospect of spending the next week completing the Otago Rail Trail with my wife and a few close friends.
This involves mountain bikes, plenty of pub stops, mind blowing scenery and I suspect a rather sore bum.
If you haven’t been to Central Otago add it to your must see list. It is barren, rocky and always brown because in most parts it receives less than 100mm of rain a year. It is like the Great Karoo in South Africa meets Afghanistan (without the roadside bombs) or Iran without the Mullahs. It is New Zealand’s ‘high country’ where the plains meet the sky and the air is so clear mountains tens of kilometres away look like you can reach out and touch them, where the sky is so big and so wide it makes you feel insignificant and the size of an ant. It is a place where the weather is sunny and hot in summer and sunny and cold in winter.
Luckily we will be there when it is neither extreme and we are set to enjoy early autumn which will offer lovely warm days with daytime temperatures in the low to mid 20s Celsius but very cold nights with temperatures as low as 2-5 degrees.
With the changing seasons there is some chance of snow up in the mountains but that is highly unlikely (I sincerely hope so because we can only take 10kgs of luggage and I am an Aucklander and don’t possess ‘snow clothes’).
Perfect for golf. We’ll see about mountain bikes.
I will report back on this next week if I can.
One of the attractions of Central Otago for me is that it is so full of history and represents a region of the country that has been settled by Europeans and a few keen Chinese longer than most other parts. Sparsely occupied (if at all) by Maori when gold was discovered in the early 19th century the population exploded when the gold rush cranked into life. Given the scarcity of trees in that region the architecture represents a period of Victorian England meets often poor but eternally hopeful gold prospectors and settlers and many of the old cob and stone buildings that are still standing have been turned into boutique hotels, B and Bs and the like.
As I thought about what we are likely to see next week and enjoy in parts a landscape and New Zealand heritage little changed in 150 years it occurred to me that migrants tend to look forward at the new life that awaits, the city they have landed in and the new country ripe for exploration and seldom do they look back – except in those times of inevitable homesickness especially among the newly arrived. Those that have always lived some place often look back in time and at our history to better understand who we are and what made us and our world view what it is.
As a self-confessed history junkie I have been reading a wonderful book these past few days by local Journalist Gordon McGlaughlan. Its title is ‘Auckland – A Life and Times’ and as a sort of ‘Brief History of…’ is fascinating and well worth reading for those who have an interest in my home town, why it is here, who settled it and the forces, both natural and human that have shaped it to become what it is.
It is full of wonderful facts and insights.
As a keen geographer and Aucklander I have always been aware of the massive ‘reclamation’ that went on during the 1800s of Auckland’s foreshore. The soft sandstone cliffs in many parts were levelled by pick and shovel, sometimes explosives and carted down the faces barrow load by barrow load to create, through the destruction of some beautiful bays, flat land for the rapidly growing port and commercial activity. This book has allowed me to roll back the years in my mind to a place and time when the rail lines and yards, the wharves, many of the coastal roads and blocks of high rise buildings were not there and picture a place where in the 1830s only a tented ‘city’ existed. Where streams flowed down the valleys of bracken covered hills, slowed and accumulated in swamps of reed and raupo, where eels swam and freshwater crayfish hid among the rocks before the waters that sustained them flowed into the sea through mangroves and coastal estuaries.
Fascinatingly for a city that enjoys more than its fair share of rain one of the biggest constraints on the early city was the availability of fresh water. How ironic after the wet, seeming ‘summerless’, summer we Aucklanders have just had. Although in the 1830s there were only 1500-2000 people living in Auckland fresh water sources quickly became polluted and undrinkable.
There were during those early years only a few sources – the stream known as Horotiu to local Maori that ran down from the ridge along the valley now covered by Queen Street was the most important. Queen Street for those of you who have not walked it is our main Central City road that starts at the ridge now dominated by Karangahape Road at its southern end and which ends at Customs Street which crosses it a block away from the harbour.
About two thirds of the way to the harbour this stream pooled in a large swamp about where Aotea Square and a massive underground carpark is now. It then meandered down through the valley before once again entering a wetland and mixing with the gentle tides that lap this harbour.
Now that same stream is imprisoned in large concrete pipes that feed storm water and the remnants of the steam itself into the Waitemata Harbour.
As I type this I am looking out over Queen Street from my office and imagining a landscape not covered in high rise buildings but a valley cut by Horotiu and guarded by two gently chiselled hills which once would have looked like any valley in this part of the North Island – towering Podocarp forests of Totara and probably Kauri - that most majestic of trees. With Tui, Kereru (native wood pigeon), kaka (native parrot) and all manner of birds wheeling and diving over and through the canopy. At some point Kiwi would have been poking and prodding the ground looking for fat native earthworms.
Now we have glass, concrete and tarmac and the nearest thing to fauna are flocks of pigeons that strut and preen on the window eaves of the oldest buildings that overlook Horotiu’s final resting place.
I have also learned that in the middle of Auckland University (about ten minutes walk from our offices) there exists to this day a fresh water spring which continues to flow with the clearest water that has been filtered over hundreds if not thousands of years by the volcanic rocks of the region.
It is now piped directly into the city’s storm water system which seems a real waste. A clean source of the freshest Aotearoa H2O not being consumed by the good folk of Auckland and thirsty University students is a real shame.
Another major source of fresh water came from a spring that bubbled its way up through the scoria on the northern slopes of that iconic volcanic cone I have written of before, Maungawhau or Mount Eden, and then wound its way down toward what would become Newmarket to collect in a large swamp in what is now Khyber Pass (another imprisoned stream). It was here the first of the big breweries set up shop and until recently, produced some of the world’s finest beers. They needed that fresh water.
It’s funny when you so take for granted the landscape you view daily to stop and consider occasionally what it once looked like. To consider that the water that comes from the tap that you do not think twice about would only 150 years ago have been thought of as an absolute luxury.
Each Aucklander today consumes around 300 litres of water. From about 1830-1850 in Auckland everyone relied on buckets and springs or rainwater. A wash would have been hands and face and a jug and wash basin. It is recorded most of the local population washed every six weeks. I can imagine how nice they’d have been to stand beside on a baking hot summer day in Auckland. No thanks…..
We lost Horotiu but gained personal hygiene.
And next week I am going to see a part of New Zealand that has changed little since the last Ice Age.
Until next week
Southern Man - Iain MacLeod
In an interesting development last week the New Zealand Government signalled they are reviewing the visa free status of South African passport holders who wish to travel to New Zealand as tourists, to visit friends and family, to check the country out as a place to settle, to look at schools for their children, to attend job interviews and so on.
I would predict right now they will go through with it.
They are justifying forcing all South Africans who wish to visit here to obtain visitor visas prior to their departure from South Africa on the basis of the risk presented by an increasingly corrupt public service in South Africa that sells passports. Our Government, among others, feel this risk to the integrity of our borders and the potential increase in the risk of terrorism makes this change prudent. It is common knowledge that significant numbers of Al Qaida suspects have been picked up travelling on South African passports. Why terrorists travelling on false South African passports might be interested in New Zealand is a little beyond me, but that’s the official reason.
I suspect to a large extent this is a case of our Government simply being politically correct. While it is fair to say the UK Government used the same reason to justify imposing visas on South African travellers a few years ago I strongly believe the real reason is that visa free access to South African passport holders means the Government cannot prevent all South African passport holders attempting to enter New Zealand – rich, poor, skilled, unskilled, ones they want, ones they don’t……..have an airline ticket, can attempt travel equals risk.
Being able to travel to New Zealand without a visa has never guaranteed entry to anyone (ever watched those stupid Border Security programmes??) but forcing people to get visas allows mitigation of risk from the New Zealand Government’s perspective. In my judgment the risk is actually very small given most travellers to New Zealand are not members of terrorist groups and poor South Africans or refugees to South Africa have limited financial means and most could never afford the Visa application fee let alone the airline ticket to even attempt to travel here.
I would also venture to suggest our Government is ‘future proofing’ against a South Africa as more and more people of all backgrounds may wish to depart.
It is, it has to be said, a sorry indictment on the ‘new’ South Africa. Corruption and fraud are undermining other Governments’ faith in the country’s Institutions and their integrity.
I recall a conversation a few years ago with a senior official at the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA). When they decided they should start verifying the authenticity of South African Trade qualifications they found that one in three was false.
South Africa now holds 1st equal status as the nationality with the highest risk profile for immigration fraud in New Zealand.
No longer are University degrees from once proud world class Universities there automatically recognised within our education system as being comparable to degrees conferred by New Zealand Universities. Any degree issued in 2010 or more recently now has to be assessed/verified by NZQA.
Although New Zealand employers haven’t caught up with this change in recognition this decision by the Immigration Department and NZQA to potentially ‘downgrade’ the status of many South African degrees is caused not just by fear of fraud but by well publicised declining education standards in the Republic.
Requiring all South Africans to obtain Visitor Visas before travelling here will impose even more bureaucracy on our South African clients, but we do hope that those who are honest about their intentions of visiting here – to scout the place as a possible destination to settle, to check out schools for their children, to see feel first hand the cost of living, the cost of housing, renting, employability and even to apply for jobs is not going to be given as reasons to decline visitor visas as they are not ‘bona fide’ tourists. We routinely deal with this nonsense in many other markets (and I would add virtually always get the visa).
No one should read into this that the New Zealand Government is closing the doors to South Africans – I don’t see it like that at all. What I do know is that politicians and their public servants often end up ‘throwing babies out with bath water’ however and they need to be very careful they continue to allow the South Africans we (they?) do want to visit here in order to ensure the success of our Residence Visa programme.
There is no way the New Zealand Government does not want South African skills here and I will put my reputation on the line in saying so. Nobody should fear any sort of closing of the doors.
South African migrants are highly skilled, demonstrably employable, linguistically identical (or very close) and present a close cultural fit. No one else outside of Australia or the UK comes as close although Singaporeans and Malaysians might dispute that if they were to settle in or around Auckland given the increasingly Asian nature of this city.
The simple reality is to get those jobs the Government demands of skilled migrants in order to migrate here these people need to be here to apply for jobs. New Zealand employers overwhelmingly demand that so to close the door would be unthinkable and I strongly suspect not in the minds of the Ministers.
Having said that a lot of policy gets lost in translation and as it filters down to counter level immigration officers working thousands of kilometres away policy intentions and policy outcomes can become confused and twisted.
With different policies seeking different outcomes – visitor visas to protect against non-genuine ‘visitors’ yet residence policy demanding jobs which requires migrants to visit New Zealand for starters can, for your average immigration official, cause all sorts of cerebral contortions and confusion. And given the reality is that most immigration officers exist in a somewhat paranoid world of risk assessments and belief that everyone will lie and cheat their way to ‘Paradise’, unintended policy consequences occur.
'If in doubt, keep them out!' would appear to be the motto.
So for us life will get even more complicated and for South Africans wishing to visit here the scrutiny placed upon you will become even greater.
We will be working extremely hard to ensure that the sorts of skilled migrants this country needs out of South Africa (and anywhere else that visas are required to travel here) will continue be strongly represented to ensure they have the maximum chance of becoming employees of New Zealand businesses.
And that those who wish to visit friends or family will not be prevented from doing so by the officials that work in the New Zealand Embassy in Pretoria.
Until next week