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Coming home to New Zealand

Posted by Iain on March 18, 2022, 1:12 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

Good things come to those who wait.

So counselled my dearly departed mum.

Well, we had to wait eight months to be allowed to come home to New Zealand from Australia. Finally, ten days ago, our flight from Brisbane touched down in Auckland, New Zealand. A planned three week trip had turned into 32 weeks. An absolute emotional roller coaster of a time as our expectations were raised then dashed as we tried to get back numerous times. I’d be lying if I said I could forgive ‘my’ government for treating those of us stranded overseas the way they did while at the same time allowing many thousands of non-resident DJs, entertainers, sports teams into New Zealand but not its own citizens. It seemed entertaining to the masses and distracting them was more important than letting our own people home.

From the time we queued up at Brisbane airport to the time we were hailing a cab at Auckland airport a few hours later the three of us were anxious something would go wrong - one of the various vaccination certificates or records wouldn’t be accepted or the Prime Minister would change her mind mid flight and force us back to Australia.

Thankfully we had nothing to worry about and the arrival process was smooth and orderly and from the time the plane touched down in Auckland to the time we were looking for that cab wasn’t more than half an hour. Airport officialdom was polite, courteous and efficient.

Friends and family have asked what it feels like to be back. I was surprised at how I felt actually. I had become a little bitter and twisted over the shabby treatment of NZers abroad by this Government. In my head I had started to build a new life in Queensland, having bought a townhouse late last year given we had no idea how long we would be exiled. I really loved Noosa and Brisbane, and its surrounds. Australians, to the last, had embraced and welcomed us. They were not the arrogant unfriendly bunch more than a few Kiwis had told us to expect. Quite the opposite in fact. 

Because I have lived out of suitcases due to constant travelling for work commitments, for the past three decades, in my mind, home was where I was at any point in time. I knew I could live happily in many places and I have never thought that New Zealand was perfect. It was the place I returned to, enjoyed while in and left from.

My reaction to getting home surprised me. I can best describe it as a constant smiling on the inside.  Like crawling under a duvet on a chilly winter’s night with a good book and a nice mug of hot chocolate. It just felt nice. It felt right.

Home I realised isn’t just where I happen to be. I was wrong. Home for me is Lang’s Beach, Northland. You can live in a house somewhere and enjoy your life but that isn’t the same as being home.

In fact, now that we have sold our Auckland house and only have our beach house to stay in, we drove straight through Auckland and up north. Going to bed and listening to the sound of the waves breaking on Lang’s Beach down the bottom of the hill is something I will not forget in a hurry. Waking up last Saturday morning to a pearler of a day and sipping my coffee while gazing out over a still Bream Bay I swear I felt like I had never been away.

Not quite how I expected to feel to be honest. I thought the months away and feeling anything but part of New Zealand’s so called ‘team of five million’ would make this a bitter sweet return. It turned out not to be bitter, only sweet.

I have enjoyed ten days of stunning early autumn weather with the temperature hovering between 26 and 28 degrees. Sure, the garden was overgrown, many plants did not survive another searing summer without much rain and no one here to water them, there were cobwebs everywhere in the house and so much dust my wife had to sweep the dining room table with a broom. Seriously. My vegetable garden beds had long since given up on the vegetables I had grown and were matted with weeds.

But none of that really mattered, because it has felt so bloody nice to be here.

I was greeted by a bunch of fat juicy bananas ripening on my palm. The Frangipanis are in full bloom on the deck. The macadamia trees are spilling nuts. The Feijoa trees (google it) are covered in sweet fruit.  All my native trees seem to have survived across the hill and all have grown spectacularly.

I am not missing Noosa (yet) and it remains my intention when winter knocks on the door here in a few months to return to Australia and enjoy another ‘summer’ in ‘winter’, renew the friendships we have started to develop over there and to welcome a steady stream of kiwis to our Australian home. Go camping and play more golf.

I’ve developed a much better understanding of what our clients go through emotionally with the migration process - not just the logistical nightmare of moving internationally and dealing with faceless immigration bureaucracy but the intangibles - leaving home and trying to find a new one. All I can say to that is it will happen but it will take a long time. NZ (or Australia if you are heading there) will one day feel like your second home, but I imagine for most people your heart will be firmly wedded to the country you grew up in.

At least that is how it all feels to me.

NZ flying under the radar

Posted by Iain on June 25, 2021, 4:58 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle


I have often thought that New Zealanders are so self effacing it’s almost embarrassing. It’s like, team, it’s okay to celebrate our successes, just don’t go all ‘Australian’ about it - because as we all know, no one blows their own trumpet louder than Australia.

This week we saw yet another example of the little country that could - the New Zealand men’s cricket team were crowned world test champions. Now, for those of you that don’t know cricket it is a strange yet engrossing game played mainly among former British colonies. Taking up to 5 days (try explaining that to an American) and advantage swinging toward this team or that until finally one team or the other wins, or strangely, no on wins. Trying to explain to someone that a game might take five days to win (or lose or even draw) can be a real task - I did try to explain this to a baseball mad America once - failed dismally. Point is test cricket is quite possibly mentally and physically the toughest of all sports. Batting, bowling, fielding under a blazing sun (it’s a summer sport for the uninitiated) is a physical and mental test of endurance like few others. I for one, love it.

And this week, New Zealand, population 5 million, beat India (for whom cricket is their national sport with population of 1.3 billion) in a rain affected test match in the UK.

To put that in some context it has been described as a David versus Goliath contest but in so many ways it so sums up New Zealand. The quiet achievers. Flying under the radar. Taking on the worlds best and winning. Quietly. Self effacing, as I say.

As in sport so too many other fields.

I chuckled earlier this week when I consulted with a South African who really loved the thought of moving to New Zealand but thought that the country had ‘no manufacturing’, so was resigned to heading to Australia.

No manufacturing I asked?

We design and manufacture rockets and satellites and we put them into space. 

We design and manufacture some of the most technical medical equipment in the world. 

We manufacture high value engineered products for Rolls Royce aircraft.

We design and manufacture world leading robotics for a range of industries.

We design and manufactured crystal chip oscillators used in most cellphones on the planet.

The thing is we just don’t tell anyone we do it often enough. 

It’s a real shame because we are so good at so much but it seems part of our DNA to not scream it from the roof tops. Which is kind of cute but at the same time I find it a little frustrating.

In fact I have just finished a consultation with a potential client and I heard myself telling him that we are ‘quite good at what we do’ here at IMMagine. I thought, actually, we are ‘bloody good!’, so why can’t I just say it? We have moved around 38,000 people and have had to provide one refund to a client when we didn’t secure their residence (and it is worth nohing that was only because I agreed to take on a client relying on a written opinion from a very senior immigration officer but which was not honoured by the person processing the visa - I remain furious to this day).

It just seems deeply wired into us as New Zealanders to not acknowledge that we are really good at so many things. And that to fly under the radar is the way to fly. I suspect that is why so many people love New Zealanders - actions speak so much ouder than words.

So, here new are, having spent two years beating every test nation (bar one) that we have come up against in cricket, punching far above our population weight and we have won it. Our dear cousins across the Tasman Sea haven’t offered their congratulations, only tried to say we can’t be true world champions because we haven’t beaten Australia very often. Which is pretty petty and not very ANZAC friendly, even if it is true.

We have proven time and again we are an incredibly successful country - making films, designing and manufacturing the best yachts in the world, excelling in sports and business. Being a country other world leaders turn to giving us out sized influence for a country with such a small population.

My only regret is we seem so incapable of celebrating these successes, whether they be sporting, business, politics or the arts. Or Covid.

We are a country that punches far above our weight on the international stag and we should celebrate it.

What the New Zealand cricket team achieved this week is undoubtedly the greatest sporting achievement in our history — and that is saying something.

It is a week we should remain true to our DNA but not cringe at celebrating another success on the international stage. 

And to stop being so bloody humble about everything! 

Until next week 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


One rule for me and one rule for you

Posted by Iain on Dec. 6, 2019, 2:50 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

I like to think I am old and wise enough to see both sides, or even all sides, of an argument (although my wife might beg to differ).

I struggle to understand the policy concessions recently rolled out in favour of partners of culturally arranged marriages. I stand ready and resolute to be accused of racism.

A little background. New Zealand has always recognised, and treated with respect, the concept of culturally arranged marriages, limited as far as I am aware to India and a few other nations. We have had, for many years, special visa rules which said that if you go and marry someone you hardly know, have never lived with and want to bring back to New Zealand, you could, without ever having lived together with them or if you have lived with them, normally only for a matter of weeks.

This concession has been made, despite everyone else having to demonstrate when they file a relationship based temporary visa, that they and their foreign partner are ‘living together’ (note the present tense).

Culturally, living together with a foreign partner before the marriage, is frowned upon in some cultural traditions so it doesn’t happen.

Usually, in these cases, the New Zealand party to the marriage gets on a plane, flies to (usually) India, spends enough time with their partner to get through the marriage, then hops on a plane and flies back to their job and life in New Zealand. They then file a visitor visa or similar and expect their partner to be able fly and join them shortly after.

Historically, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) turned a policy blind eye to the ‘living together’ requirement, which it should be noted is not limited to arranged marriages but all partnership based visa claims. The other rules however are pretty clear - not only must the applicant be living with the New Zealand party, the relationship needs to be ‘genuine, stable and likely to endure’. How any couple can prove their relationship is any of those things when they don’t, and have never have lived together for any length of time, is beyond me. They hardly know each other….and they live on different sides of the planet.

I am not usually sympathetic to INZ, but in this case they were stuck between a tandoor oven and a blast furnace. To be consistent, it was totally appropriate to have declined those culturally arranged marriage visa applications where the applicants weren’t living together even if they took a flexible view on the ‘genuineness’, ‘stability’ and ‘likely to endure’ aspect of the rules. Perhaps a culturally arranged marriage has a longer ‘life expectancy’ than non-culturally arranged marriages, I am not sure.

INZ didn’t (credit to them) decline them until around 18 months ago when it seems someone inside the department decided that they shouldn’t be implementing these relationship based visa rules any differently even for the culturally arranged - they might stay flexible on the genuine and stable criteria but they drew the line at couples not living together. Hundreds were declined.

An outcry ensued. ‘Racism!’ cried the local Indian community. ‘New Zealand is denying us our human rights’ they howled. Protests were organised. Marches were led. Petitions were signed.

Predictably our Government buckled.

INZ was recently instructed to change how they deal with these applications (there was no change to the written rule by the way) and also to reassess the hundreds of correctly declined applications.

The message was to treat these particular applicants differently to everyone else.

I did chuckle at the political contortions the Government performed.

INZ has subsequently sent out an advisory which basically said that these applicants must satisfy two criteria:

1.       Intend a temporary stay in New Zealand so that a visitor/tourist visa can be issued to them; and yet

2.       At the same time, satisfy INZ that they intend the relationship to be a long term one.

Call me thick, but how can you intend a short stay on a tourist visa and at the same time intend to live with your partner indefinitely?

An American client of mine who has been in a genuine relationship with a New Zealander for thirty years, who spends many weeks every year living together with her here, in the US and in third countries, recently retained us to get him over to New Zealand permanently. I explained because they are not ‘living together’ he was not entitled to be treated as her partner, but as a regular old visitor/tourist.

That meant travelling over to NZ on a visitor visa (in which we will explain the purpose of his visit is to be with his ‘partner’), then, once they have lived together for a couple of months, set up their lives as any couple would, file a work visa for him on the basis of the relationship and later a resident visa application.

Having read in the media about the concessions made to the Indian community, he asked the quite reasonable and legitimate question. “What about us? We are in a genuine, long term, monogamous relationship but for cultural reasons” (his parents were elderly, got ill and over recent years died), “I couldn’t make a permanent move to New Zealand and because of her career and potential US visa issues, she couldn’t move permanently to the US”.

He had a very good point.

His question raises all sorts of issues of fairness, transparency and the fact there is only one rule book for all relationship based visa applicants.

If someone chooses to move and live in another country, is it reasonable for them to hold on to all their cultural traditions and make the local rules bend so that they can preserve those aspects their culture and history that are important to them?

I have no problem with INZ turning a blind eye to Indian couples not having known each other long or not having lived with each other before they are married but why shouldn’t they, just like everyone else wanting to bring their foreign partner to NZ, not have to be ‘living together’ and prove it?

I know the argument is the New Zealand party will almost certainly have a job in New Zealand and they need to return to it. Really? How about they resign their job or ask their employer for three months unpaid leave, go to India, get married and then live together with their partner like everyone else has to do if their cultural traditions are so important to them…

If your tradition and culture is to marry someone you don’t know, that’s your choice. If you don’t live together before you get married, that’s also your choice. If your partner needs a visa, that’s your problem.

It isn’t as if Auckland is short of Indians who might share the tradition — there is in fact over 150,000 ex-pat Indians living and working in Auckland with thousands more joining us every year. What’s wrong with them? Before anyone tells me that it is something arranged by the parents of the couple, the parents are quite able to apply for a visitor visa themselves, jump on a plane and come and find a suitable partner for their child. Can’t they? And if not why not adapt that important cultural tradition to the New Zealand cultural context?

It raises a really interesting discussion point on what migrants should expect of the country they choose to settle in and we, who encourage and welcome them, expect of them.

Should they leave their culture at the airport when they leave home? What about their language? Their traditions? Do they have to start supporting the All Blacks, drink like fish and say, ‘Gidday mate’ the minute they clear passport control in Auckland?

A few years ago a South African, resident in New Zealand was quoted as saying that it was time that Afrikaans was taught in a North Shore Primary School in Auckland to keep their language and culture alive among the children moving to New Zealand from South Africa. He meant well. He was however shot down in flames by many including a whole lot of NZ resident South Africans as well. I understood his point but I understood the counter argument which was, dude, you chose to move to New Zealand….

I didn’t hear any politicians tell us we should respect his culture and his traditions and maybe they’d look at adding Afrikaans to the local curriculum. He was basically told, if you don’t like ‘our’ language you know where the airport is.

I don’t expect any group to leave all their culture and traditions behind when they choose to move country.

What if I chose to move to India?  Would I be able to, and should I have the expectation that, I can continue to live my life with my values and traditions even if they are at odds with local Indian visa laws? Is it fair or reasonable that our visa rules are being bent to breaking point in New Zealand for those from India who have chosen to move to New Zealand to accommodate their cultural beliefs?

I am not picking on India but the Government of New Zealand has ordered the bureaucrats to ignore the rules that apply to everyone else over a cultural tradition not practiced here.

Is that fair? Where does it end?

They are two questions bound to raise a few hackles but it is a legitimate discussion to have.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

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Tags: lifestyle

The prettiest garden in the world

Posted by Jack on Nov. 16, 2018, 12:50 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

Last week I quoted that great modern poet, Oprah Winfrey, cough cough, who described Queenstown and its surrounds as a place where ‘God was just showing off’. I endorsed that summary of this part of New Zealand, she was bang on the money.  I am not sure if she made it to Fiordland or if she ever walked the Milford Track, something I have been waiting 40 years to do and have spent the better part of the past week doing. If she had, I suspect even she might have been rendered speechless. If the Big O made it that far she might agree with me when I suggest God may have been showing off in Queenstown but in Fiordland, God created a playground for giants in what is arguably the prettiest garden in the world. God, it seems, was also a bit of a dab hand at landscape gardening.

How anyone can really begin to adequately describe a landscape of such epic scale and beauty as the Fiordland National Park is beyond me and exceeds my talents. This Park exists in an environment produced by geologic forces incomprehensible in their power, with glacial formed U-shaped valleys with near 1500 meter cliffs soaring almost vertically into the often brooding sky, of fiords 300m deep and forested valleys filled with hundreds of towering waterfalls, and as spring turns to summer, snow still sitting atop the highest peaks, I can imagine the Gods sitting around drinking a good local Pinot Noir and admiring their handiwork below.  This is a place that almost defies description.

I can’t do it justice. Photos can’t do it justice, you simply have to see it to believe it.

I’d suggest leaving the camera at home, no photo I have seen that you might share with your friends and family will begin to recreate the sheer magnificence and immense scale of the place. Trust me - I just took over 2000….and not one did the place any justice at all.

Milford Track is limited these days to 14,000 hikers annually and all must travel in the same direction over four days. What it meant was, you could walk for hours and see and hear no other humans (something I love). It was you, the sound of running water, the occasional avalanche (seriously but high in the mountains) and birdsong. You really get to enjoy a small part of the world as it has been for many thousands of years.

We went with Ultimate Hikes who have a private concession in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, National Park that covers 8% of Te Wai Pounamu (South Island) and sits at its south western corner. 

On our first day as we crossed Lake Te Anau by boat to get to our starting off point we crossed the 45th parallel which meant that we were exactly half way between the equator and Antarctica (it felt I have to say more like Antarctica, it was a freezing day of only around 7 degrees).

Day two up the Clinton Valley was simply breathtaking. The sun was more or less out, the temperature a very comfortable (for walking) 16-17 degrees. A relatively easy 17 km walk with light packs (we carried all our clothes, everything else was provided for us at the lodges) through thick rainforest, a big blue sky squeezed between the sheer cliffs and light fluffy clouds.

Day three we trekked up and over the MacKinnon pass, greeted at the summit by a number of Kea (mountain parrots that have this insatiable curiosity - anything not tied down is chewed or stolen, I swear they have a form of OCD). The misty clouds danced and swirled and occasionally wrapped themselves around us offering only tantalizing, and at best, stolen glimpses of the forested valley a thousand meters below. We were at that stage far above the tree line and in fields of tussock grass.

The walk down the other side as we left the tussock lands, saw the grasses replaced by the most beautiful of alpine flora - I had to keep telling myself this was a not a meticulously planned and planted garden, such was its perfection. The Mount Cook Lily (actually a buttercup) had just started flowering - its petals white as fresh snow contrasting with the greens, greys and browns around it.

Those alpine plants gave way to forest once again and we were back in the company of giant trees, ferns and goodness only knows how many species of mosses.

Late on day three we had the option of a side hike to the Sutherland Falls, New Zealand’s largest waterfall and the fifth highest in the world. Nothing prepared me for this.

The Sutherland Falls lie in a deep valley, around 45 minutes’ walk (stagger by that stage) from Quinton Lodge. They lie off the main track and given it had been a pretty exhausting seven hour slog over a mountain pass I wasn’t going to go. My legs were more than weary, I was joint sore and feeling utterly spent physically but the promise of another walk among ancient towering beech trees, hundreds of years old and more crystal clear rivers with raging rapids perked me up and kept me going.

These forests are my ‘happy place’.

This is thick temperate rainforest. Ground ferns, beds of moss you can sink your arm into up to your elbow, liverworts, tree ferns and trees of every shade lined the track - everywhere life could be, it was. Plants filled every possible piece of the under-canopy and spilled over onto the track. This is a landscape dominated by rock, water and the colour green in every shade and hue. Even the mighty beech trees were covered in lime green mosses, many of these mosses dangling from the branches such is the moisture content of the air.

As we approached the waterfall and perhaps 200m away from it, the roar grew louder, its spray being fired almost horizontally through the rainforest and with every step the wind generated by the force of the falling water increased in strength. The rain jacket was zipped up that little bit tighter in a reflex but largely futile attempt to keep the water out. Suddenly the trees parted and in front of us was a sight that took my breath away. Not just a waterfall, but a 580m high waterfall - only around three or four metres wide but containing millions of litres of the purest water cascading down over two terraces to where we stood. 

The noise was that of a jet engine. The wind battered us and I felt like we were standing in the teeth of a hurricane.

This was the granddaddy of all waterfalls, tumbling from cliffs towering almost a thousand metres above us. Straight up.

The old ‘Jurassic Park’ cliché springs to mind and the entire valley did look like it had been created by a movie maker and overlaid onto a blue screen and we were the tiny and insignificant actors. Had a Velociraptor poked its head out from behind a large, rotting log, I’d not have been surprised. This valley did not look of this world.

We took the obligatory snaps more to remind ourselves of what we had seen, as you couldn’t begin to capture the entirety of those 580 meters, the majesty nor the magnificent fury of this tumbling, torrent of water.

Then back to the lodge, day three under our belts and feeling very small in a very big and very challenging environment. I slept like the dead.

Day three we woke to heavy rain. In this part of New Zealand we don’t measure rainfall in millimetres or even centimetres, but in meters. This corner of south western New Zealand lies in the region known as the ‘roaring forties’ which means it is windy and relatively warm and that means, wet. Moisture is driven up the western sides of high mountains by these westerlies, it condenses and it falls as rain.  In fact it rains on 200 days a year. In sheets. Apparently we struck it pretty lucky as even on day three the rain had largely stopped a couple of hours into our trek.

But those waterfalls had been refuelled. As we walked to the Sutherland Falls the night before the valley was filled with scores if not hundreds of waterfalls. Dwarfed by the Sutherland they were still impressive in themselves but by the next morning they were all in aquatic overdrive.

It occurred to me that those early European explorers and surveyors who first came up these valleys were incredibly tough - no modern waterproof clothing and boots for them. Carried everything on their backs. They’d have been wet and cold for days. How they must have suffered when a trek that took us three days took them six weeks.

The Maori who were the original builders of the trail many centuries before MacKinnon and Mitchell explored what became known as the Milford Track were also here in even less clothing and protection from the elements but such was their want and need for Pounamu (greenstone or jade), they too endured these tough elements. Archeologists have found human bones in some of the caves here suggesting some paid a heavy price for this most prized of rocks.

It is equally clear the Europeans who surveyed these parts in the 19th century had not a poetic bone in their bodies. As a result we walked downArthur Valley, sat by Lake Ada, traversed the Clinton Valley and stood beneath the Sutherland Falls - if I were naming this place it would have to be ‘Valley of a thousand waterfalls’ and it is no numerical exaggeration.

This place is sculptured by water. Originally by frozen rivers of ice and now by the liquid form. Not only does it tumble out of the sky or travel down waterfalls to the rivers below in thousands of streams, the water here is surely among the most pure in the world. We carried water bottles and drank our fill from water that, despite, or perhaps because of, being filtered through layers of moss had not the slightest taste of vegetation or dirt and was crystal clear - it was the sweetest water I have ever drunk.

The water running through the streams and rivers was in fact so clear, we spotted fat trout, hanging in the currents from 100m away. You could count every pebble lining the river beds, often several meters deep, if you were so inclined.

A final thought if this has in any way inspired you to follow in our footsteps. You need to be moderately fit to do the Milford Track and it is not for sissies but anyone that gets into reasonable shape can, through Ultimate Hikes, enjoy what is truly an amazing slice of God’s Own country as we like to call New Zealand.

A place where (a) God may well have been showing off but man, got it so right.

Until next week


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Queenstown - Where God Starting Showing Off

Posted by Iain on Nov. 9, 2018, 1:54 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

I have been in beautiful Queenstown the past few days, working and getting ready for our five day hike along the Milford Track which starts at sun up tomorrow.

Queenstown is without doubt my favourite New Zealand city. When I help clients plan their ‘Look, See and Decide’ trips to NZ, I always encourage them, no matter what the purpose of their trip, to squeeze a few days staying in this beautiful part of Te Wai Pounamu (South Island). There is no place like it on Earth. Bold claim I know.

I often say to people ‘If there is a God she lives in Queenstown’ such is the magnificence of this place. Rugged snowcapped mountains that lie 15 kilometres away seem to be within touching distance, yet recede as you drive toward them so clear is the air.

I may have been one upped by Oprah Winfrey who when here last year filming said that when it comes to this place ‘God was just showing off’. I couldn’t have said it better.

Although it is termed the adventure capital of NZ, with jet boats racing through steep sided canyons, mountain biking, water sports, fishing, hiking, paragliding, skydiving, skiing and snow sports in winter, along with being one of the areas where The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed, I tend to think of it as being the ‘chill out’ capital of New Zealand. That might be age talking when restaurants, cafes, bars and vineyards (with restaurants and bars) and orchards (with restaurants and bar) are more your idea of adventure. The wine produced down here is usually world class.

There is definitely something here for everyone.

When you are in a small lakeside city where almost everyone is on holiday it seems that everyone is seriously relaxed, in no great hurry and simply enjoying themselves. As I sat lakeside yesterday, sipping on a damned fine coffee, I could almost feel the stresses of dealing with immigration bureaucrats being sucked out of my midriff. It was a very nice feeling indeed.

Surrounded on all sides by towering mountains at this time of year the highest of which still have snow, the lower ones are now largely clear.

The climate is very benign and ‘continental’ meaning unlike Auckland for example there is minimal humidity and little rainfall with the average annually only 300-400mm; winters are crisp and cold and summers can be very hot. High 20s are common through summer and mid-30s more often than Auckland which lies 1000km closer to the equator. In fact Cromwell, which lies around 50km from Queenstown, has the honour of being both the hottest and coldest city in New Zealand such is the influence of it being east of the Southern Alps and lying in a mountain basin (as Queenstown does, only this Queenstown’s basin was formed by glaciers which supported ice over 1km thick).

Two weeks ago it was 27 degrees here and the next day roads were closed because of snow. That’s spring in this part of the world for you. Yesterday was 22 degrees, today it is 8 degrees as a front passes through and the wind wraps round to the south. Tomorrow it is supposed to be 17 degrees.

The city now attracts 3 million tourists a year and the plan is to double that number over the next decade. Nine new hotels are being built to add to the scores that are already here. They have had to put in traffic lights. They have ‘peak hour traffic’ and the place is expensive.

Chatting to the (English immigrant) taxi driver who charged us $40 for a 5 kilometre taxi ride from the airport, he was moaning about the sheer number of tourists flooding the place pushing up prices of everything - it does have the most expensive real estate in the country. I couldn’t help but ask him to look at his fare meter which was spinning so fast I thought it was broken! To catch a taxi in Auckland five kilometres might cost you $20 but everything seems double down here.

Therein lies the challenge for this place. The more popular it becomes the more expensive it seems to get. And the more people that flock here for the views, the activities and the food the less it becomes about what made it so great in the first place.

It’s a problem facing not just this part of the country but the entire country. We are groaning under the weight of tourists and we are scrambling to build enough facilities, hotels and the like and then find people to work in them, to meet demand.

And being from a relatively big city I crave wilderness (or at least quiet) places but with the roads heaving with rental cars, camper vans and bikes it is becoming harder to capture what I have loved about this town all my life.

How many tourists do we need to give us the lifestyle and income as a country we need?

Queenstown seems to be doing pretty well off the back of what those 3 million people spend now and the place is still pretty amazing. I am not so sure the same would be the case if we see the 7 million being planned (and hoped?) for.

The locals have managed to cap the number of flights landing at the airport and that means the two airlines that fly in here can almost charge what they like. Hotel rooms have to be booked months in advance and cost $250 - $400 a night (you can get cheaper and you can get much much more expensive - as in thousands of dollars per night). A coffee costs $5 and most places we eat at are more expensive than Auckland (which is on par with most major cities now around the world in terms of cost, so not cheap).

Every second bar/restaurant/retail shop has a ‘worker wanted’ sign in the window. This is a city where you can get a work visa without labour market testing to do any type of work (so long as you have a job) such is the chronic shortage of skilled and unskilled people. The fact it is so expensive to live here doesn’t help given tourism and hospitality jobs are usually fairly poorly paid (not sure why given what everyone charges for everything round here!). The city is full of Holiday Working Visa holders from all over the world which adds to the energy and vitality of the place.

This morning I heard Chinese being spoken, Cantonese, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Dutch and I heard English being spoken with accents from Ireland, England, South Africa, Australia and America.

The regional council wants to try and move more of the tourists to Wanaka to spread the load, another drop dead gorgeous big town/small city that lies around 70km away, but plans to expand their airport have been met with solid local resistance.

Freedom campers are everywhere and we don’t have enough public shower and toilet facilities and so they tend to do their business in places they shouldn’t (have to). It is starting to irk a lot of the locals.

Government is spending a relative pittance given tourism is an industry that employs directly or indirectly 400,000 people and is worth something like $25 billion a year, to get facilities in place. Like most governments though it seems to be a case of catch up.

However, as my wife said to me yesterday as we drove over the Crown Range to Wanaka to have a BBQ with a friend, ‘There is just nothing ugly is there? There’s no rubbish. The air is so clear and fresh, the spring growth on the trees almost looks polished and even the sheep look beautiful’.

And that sums this magnificent part of New Zealand up. There is just nothing ugly about it.

I just hope that we don’t get greedy and it becomes ugly through sheer weight of numbers. We need to preserve the reason we all love coming here.

Off tomorrow to start the five-day walk in Fiordland National Park. Had the briefing. Got all the gear in the backpack (all 7 kgs of it) and given it is spring we have been told to be prepared for heat and sun (sun hats and sun block) or cold and rain (water resistant jacket and pants) and for the high mountain passes, possibly even snow (thermal pants and tops)….um, really? Righty ho, anything and everything in five days then?…….

The scariest bit for me is not the weather -  it was the advice that we need to buy ‘special’ insect repellent because apparently the sand flies (midges) are ‘somewhat voracious’.  There was some talk of shotguns to deal with them*. Never see that in the tourist brochures!

I’ll report back next week if the blood hasn’t been all sucked out of me.

*Sandfly joke

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


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Tags: lifestyle

The Promise of Summer

Posted by Iain on Nov. 2, 2018, 4:41 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle


I really love this time of year in northern New Zealand. It is now late spring/early summer, the days are getting longer and they are consistently brighter and warmer. We do however still have colder snaps and the shorts and tee shirts are replaced by jeans and hoodies. Evenings remain cool.

I’ve been planting plenty of rocket (lettuce) seeds in the raised garden beds and ripped out the underperforming Bok Choy and cabbages. New Lavender plants in italian pots dot the garden. Tomato stakes are in the ground, the tomatoes starting to flower. Peas climbing the chicken wire. Leeks thickening. Courgettes starting to flower.

Bird netting has been thrown over the nectarine, plum and peach trees to protect the marble sized fruits as they develop and sweeten.

The insects are back and the annual battle against them will once again be waged. Neither side ever seems to win.

Fledgling birds are all around. The native Tui, having drunk heavily from nectar laden spring flowers the past few weeks are a constant and welcome cacophany, their calls reminiscent of chiming bells as they chase each other through and around the tree tops.

The sun now sets close to 8pm, with daylight saving having kicked in around a month ago, putting our clocks forward an hour which seems to create a real change in how so many of us feel about the world.

The promise of summer.

I am typing this looking out over Bream Bay under a cloudless sky. It's late afternoon and a slight chill is descending but it is still shorts and sun glasses.

It is at this time of year that New Zealand has the greatest range of temperatures. In winter there’s probably little more than 5-10 degrees (C) separating the warmest and coldest cities along the 1200km length of the country. In spring things seem to go haywire or at least a little schizophrenic.

Two weeks ago Central Otago and Canterbury in Te Wai Pounamu (South Island) were enjoying temperatures of 25-26 degrees for several days. Queenstown hit 27 degrees. Three days later residents of Central Otago were shoveling snow in what was hopefully the last southern blast before summer. A 30 degree swing in 24 hours.

Up our end of the country things are so much more sedate, settled and predictable. However, Auckland is often cooler than Christchurch in spring with temperatures still in the high teens to low twenties. Christchurch lies around 1000 km to the south of Auckland…..

Each month up here in the north sees temperatures rising around 2-3 degrees on the previous.

Whereas in September I had seedlings drowning because of the rain, I am now having to water them every couple of days - putting in an irrigation system for the veggies this weekend at the beach house.

We are told that the heat is about to arrive and we have one more week of spring. Farmers are already worried about the lack of rain and the firefighters are on alert as we hit scrub and forest fire season.

The humidity is also on the rise. I was in Melbourne for a couple of days this week. Melbourne lies, in terms of lattitude, around 450km south of Auckland (same sort of latitude as New Plymouth). We arrived to a 21 degree day and very much like Auckland at this time of year. The evening was quite cold. Day two it was around 24 degrees and similarly cool evening. Yesterday, as we drove to the airport midafternoon, it was announced it was 33 degrees. Today at my beach house in NZ it is about 20 degrees yet this 20 degrees felt as warm (I swear!) as Melbourne’s 33. How can that be? 

Warm oceans surround Auckland and Northland. With that comes high humidity. We have it and Melbourne doesn’t. I hadn’t raised anything approaching a sweat walking from the office to the hotel at 230pm even though the walk was around 3 kilometers. NZ humidity is always high - at its lowest up this end of the country it is always at least around 70% and this is why I tell people to be very wary of judging a country or a city by the raw temperature reading.

I have said this before - I have been in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Melbourne when the mercury reaches 35 degrees yet it ‘feels like’ a 25-26 degree day in Auckland of which through summer we get many. Until you live, or have lived, with humidity you cannot appreciate the difference a bit of water in the atmosphere makes to how you feel. A few weeks ago I was in Hanoi and the temperature was 33 degrees and it felt twice as hot as Melbourne simply because of the humidity. In Vietnam my shirt was soaked in sweat and I am not a big ‘sweater’. In Melbourne not a drop on my back.

That is one of the reasons I so enjoy the climate of Northland. Sure there is a winter, often soggy, well, always soggy and we have fires through the coldest few months but it is never cold cold - no snow or anything silly like that.

Our climate here seems to have changed somewhat - we almost have a rainy season (May - October) and then a dry season with little regular rain. When we get it over summer, we get it big time. Tropical in intensity but fleeting.

The boat engine will get a checkup shortly, the cover pulled off the boat's back and the fishing rods cleared of their cobwebs. I can hear the fish calling…..

I really enjoy having four discernible seasons in this part of the country, the changes in temperatures, variable daylight hours and rainfall patterns. You get a real sense of the passage of time so often missing in more ‘mono’ climates.

And we sure look forward to summer.

Right now we live with the promise.

Next week I am heading to Queenstown for a couple of days and then my wife and I, along with a group of friends, are going to walk the Milford Track. I was down there last year and was awestruck by the epic scale of the landscape. This is one of NZ's great walks where limited numbers of people are allowed to make this trek (odyssey seems a more fitting word) over four days. It is also the one part of NZ where it is still going to be winter and where the daily temperature highs are predicted to be 11- 17 degrees. Ech year they receive 3000-9000mm of rain. Yikes! Nothing summery about that and I hear the sandflies (midges) are the size of mosquitos and the mosquitos the size of cats. We have been warned to buy hard core insect repellent as the usual pharmacy bought stuff is for 'normal' blood sucking insects

Can't wait. 

Until next week (although there may be no next week from me, I'll be deep in the forest)


Channeling Bear Grylls

Posted by Iain on Oct. 26, 2018, 6:49 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

My marketing team tell me no one wants to read my blogs about lifestyle; apparently the most popular blogs are about topics like what sort of relationship evidence will satisfy your average immigration officer if you are trying to get your partner a visa, or how you get jobs without visas and visas without jobs or why time is your enemy. To them I say, fine, I get it, but our work at IMMagine is as much about preparing people for the kind of life they can or will have in New Zealand (or Australia), as it is about getting them here.

I also happen to know there are a lot of people that read this that are frankly more interested in the pieces about our lives and values as they are about the visas.

So this week is for the greenies!

A quick recap – around 15 months ago our family and some very good friends purchased 22 hectares of land around 150km north of Auckland. The land runs north to south like a great big W. Three ridges, we have two small sleepouts and an open air kitchen on the middle one. The slopes on either side are steep and both feature spring (we think) and rain fed streams with two waterfalls. The property is largely regenerating native northland podocarp forest dominated by Kauri, some of which we believe are around 500-600 years old, Kohekohe, Taraire, Tanekaha, Rimu and Miro and a range of native mosses, liverworts, orchid and the like. It is truly a piece of heaven.

But it is also damaged goods. Ecologically speaking.

Once it would have been home to many species of native birds, including our national emblem and highly endangered Kiwi. This part of Northland’s native forest belt is depressingly quiet with the birds that once thrived here unable to sustain viable breeding populations. Introduced Brush Tailed Possums (fluffy cute marsupials about the size of a cat) from Australia, weasels, stoats and ferrets along with feral cats and the occasional wild pig have led to very quiet forests. They eat everything they can sink their teeth into.

We decided to do something about it.

New Zealand is trying to rid itself of these introduced predators by 2050 which is no easy task and we wanted to join the effort (and give us a project away from the hustle and bustle of Auckland).

There is on average meant to be around 20 possums per hectare and your average Mustelid will eat seven birds a day. Seems then we were home to around 400.

We have received some funding support from the Northern Regional Council which means we now have three marked tracks where we put out poison in bait stations for rats along with a number of traps which kill these animals humanly and instantly.

The numbers of these pests we have killed has been staggering. The latest body count, as of last weekend, is around 115 possums, around 150 rats, three feral cats and seven stoats and weasels. And most of those have been relatively recent – 20 possums last weekend alone as we have doubled the number of traps set for them. Despite these numbers which boggle my mind, it seems we might have killed perhaps a quarter of the local possum population, hopefully the voracious mustelid population has taken a hit and the rats (which I hate to tell you are often huge) seem to have taken a good beating as well.

A couple of weeks ago we had an expert out and she noticed all sorts of native orchids and other flowering and fruiting plants that she explained would not be doing so if we were not getting well on top of the population of possums and rats. Pleasing indeed. More food for the birds and other insects and invertebrates.

From our piece of damaged paradise north to the Bay of Islands (around 200km) there are now over 100 groups like ours, all doing their bit on forest and farm blocks of varying size to help make this part of the country at least somewhere where you will see Kiwi in your back garden (at night, they are nocturnal). Right now 95% don’t make it through to their first birthday. An adult Kiwi can fight off a stoat, but a baby has no chance.

The visiting expert thought it might not be long before we have Kiwi on our property as it is prime habitat. Time soon to lift and set those traps off the ground where the pests will climb but kiwis, being flightless, will not.

I was so looking forward to a long weekend clearing the traps, resetting them, putting out some and rebaiting the bait stations. However, I woke up last Saturday with a bit of a twinge in my lower back and a slightly aching leg. I had told myself before we spent a weekend in the forest the lawns at the beach house needed a mow. I quite enjoy getting out there with the weed-eater, very satisfying work. When I started doing them I had further twinges which led, after an hour, to a lot of lower back pain, resulting in my having to lie down for a bit and the pain getting worse...and not really being able to get up. 

We had planned Sunday to head over to the forest block to mark a new track on a particularly steep part of the property where, having had a strong pain killer donated by our partners in conservation, I foolishly went. I was tender but I could walk. I was channeling Bear Grylls. ‘You can do it, you have to, or you might not make it out alive’ (to the carpark), etc.

I might, if I wanted to make you laugh, tell you about the otherwise normal looking tree I sized up to lean on as I inched my way down a very steep slope, around an hour into the mission. I can spot a rotten tree and this one looked solid as. Mistake. It was in fact completely rotten such that when I leaned upon it, it proceeded to snap in the middle, dissolve into a shower of tiny wood chips and give way, disintegrating utterly. Gravity of course then took over and I, if you believe my wife, gingerly picking her way down the slope behind me, said what she saw was me doing an impersonation of a star fish – legs apart, arms outstretched before in a wild flapping of my fruit salad patterned shirt, disappeared with a crash and a yelp out of sight. All she could hear was what sounded like a barrel rolling through the undergrowth.

There was indeed much crashing and shredding of leaves. Down I tumbled. Thankfully this is northland rain forest where plentiful winter rains makes the leaf litter thick, soft and spongy meaning my only real concern as I barreled face pointing down the 80 degree slope, was when I might stop.

Which was less than immediate.

Eventually I did. Having made like a bob sledder, without the bob sled. I lay there, feeling quite fine, just a little surprised, and yes slightly embarrassed that my inner Bear Grylls, my usually mountain goat like feet and eagle eyes (so ‘at one’ with the forest) had so badly let me down.  

I could hear shouts from behind me and from up the hill ‘Are you okay?’ and ‘Lie still’ (which I found more than a little ironic given this was a really steep hill, I was lying face down deep in the leaf litter and getting up was the last thing I could do without further risk of plunging deeper into the forest below).

I rolled onto my side, swiveled, turned, twisted and sort of bounced (staggered?) up. I felt surprisingly okay (adrenalin surge...) for a 20 meter rainforest tumble. ’Do you feel faint?” ’Sit down!!” demanded my conservation companions.

I felt fine but when the ’nurses’ checked me out I realised it hadn’t all been leaf litter and spongy undergrowth - there had been rocks and I had a nice gash in my shin. Which now seems in the process of getting infected.

Needless to say I spent the rest of our long weekend of glorious early summer weather prone on the couch or in bed with nothing but Asprin for pain relief (the local pharmacy burned down a couple of weeks ago in mysterious circumstances and the only other one within 25 km was closed for the public holiday).

My gait this week has looked remarkably like a cross between a chimpanzee and a 95 year old man. Perfect for the rainforest, looking a lot like one of Jane Goodall’s apes at the Gombe reserve in Africa.

I imagine there might be a few possums (also nocturnal) shaken from their slumber thinking there was a magnitude 6.8 earthquake as I tumbled past their nests and if they can giggle, might just have been doing so.

Possum and mustelid karma? 

Who knows, but ridding this wonderful forest of these critters is worth the pain.

Until next week...

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Turning Back the Clock

Posted by Iain on May 4, 2018, 7:49 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

A few months ago, I shared the news that our family had joined forces with good friends to purchase 22 hectares (50 acres) of rainforest 20 minutes south of Whangarei in Northland, New Zealand.

Our purpose was to try and turn back the ecological clock - as best anyone can - to allow a magnificent piece of native rainforest a chance to return to its former glory.

It has been eerily silent since we took it over last year.

New Zealand peddles something of a myth about being ‘clean and green’ – it is, relative to the rest of the world, but that says more about the state of many parts of the world than it does about New Zealand. Superficially, New Zealand is indeed a stunning country with magnificent landscapes, forests, rivers and lakes but when you get down to the ecosystems once supported, they are under tremendous pressure. Most of our forests have been under siege from introduced insects and mammals with most local species having no way of defending themselves. Most forest birds end up as dinner...95% of Kiwi chicks, for example, do not make it to their first birthday. A sorry indictment on a country that markets itself as it does.  

Our plan was to try and get on top of these introduced pest species including rats, mice, Brush Tailed Possums, stoats and weasels in order to give the local native bird and invertebrate populations a chance at finding a sanctuary where they can once again live and raise offspring.

We began setting (humane) traps to deal with Possums and the Mustelids (Stoats, Weasels and Ferrets) around September 2017. The Mustelids in particular are killing machines, on average taking out around 7 birds a day within their territory. The Brush Tailed Possum, a very cute, furry, nocturnal cat sized marsupial was introduced to NZ over a century ago and with no natural predators their population is now estimated to be 30 million. Seven Possums will eat the same amount of vegetation as a sheep each day, so our forests are under siege. Possums also eat birds eggs and chicks.

We also spent a few months putting out poisoned baits specifically targeting rodents and Possums. In 4 months we went through around 10kgs...all of it eaten.

The results have been both stunning and disturbing. 

Since October the kill tally has been:

Rats: 59

Possums: 42

Stoats/Weasels: 4

Cats (feral): 3

That is in the traps! It doesn’t include however many have been poisoned which I’d suggest would at least double or even triple the numbers. Remember, we are talking about 22 hectares here – you can walk around the entire property in about three hours (it is steep). 

Take these numbers and multiple it by several million to get an idea of how many of these pests live across the whole country and you start, I hope, to understand why when you enter most of our forests they are strangely and depressingly silent.

Over the past year I have caught in my backyard in Mount Eden (we are talking 3km from downtown Auckland) in a single trap, 12 Possums. The latest one last night…

At our beach house (around 20 minutes drive from our forest) I have trapped or shot a similar number. 

That’s around 60 Possums in 12 months on our urban and rural properties.

No wonder the birds and forests are being decimated – what chance do they have with such overwhelming numbers of predators and animals competing for their food?

Unfortunately, we are only able to visit the forest property over weekends to reset the traps. If we were there more regularly, no doubt we’d be killing more. While these numbers are absolutely staggering if we are up there and staying the night, we still come across Possums everywhere (so we now have a gun!).

We have applied for some funding from the Northland Regional Council and we expect they will come to the party allowing us to have buy enough traps to have a ring of them around the property. 

It seems, however, that as fast as we kill these critters more simply move in.

We know we have the highly endangered Brown Kiwi living in the area where our forest is and as more landowners like us join forces and start rigorous trapping programmes we are hoping that at some point in the future we will have Kiwi wandering around our backyards. 

It can happen – half an hour away from our forest block a number of landowners got together about ten years ago and all chipped in money to employ a fulltime trapper. In 2010 it was estimated there were 80 odd Kiwi struggling for existence there. Today there is close to 850. People literally have Kiwi poking around their back yards.

While it may not be possible to ever completely turn back the ecological clock, we now have a citizen army fighting back and giving it a damned good go, attempting as best we can to get on top of the vast hordes of predators silencing our mainland forests.

One introduced predator at a time.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

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A Mother of a Road Trip Across NZ

Posted by Iain on Jan. 19, 2018, 4:44 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

Welcome to 2018 everyone.

What a start it has been for us. Usually we can expect January to begin at a rather sedate pace but not 2018. With a new President in the offing for 2019 in South Africa, I thought the market there might quieten a little – WRONG! - as Donald Trump might say. Our first seminars in South Africa has seen 800 people invited to attend with two weeks to go, from the close to 1600 or so who have asked to attend. The other 800 we don't believe we can assist unfortunately having gone through our screening processes.

With a seminar in Singapore tomorrow the number invited there just topped 500.

We have started advertising for another licensed adviser to join us, as we expect the year to be an extremely busy one as the world continues to go barking mad and New Zealand represents a first world oasis of calm.

I didn’t take much of a break over Christmas and only got ten days or so but spent it with friends and family up at our beach house and forest block.

We have had the summer of all summers across New Zealand. In December temperatures were on average 2.5 degrees Celsius warmer than usual across the country. Doesn’t sound like much but when 26 degrees and 75% humidity becomes 29 degrees and 75% humidity it is all of a sudden like living in Tahiti or Fiji rather than Auckland or Christchurch. Climate records continue to be pushed hard – last week Invercargill (bottom of the South Island) hit 33 degrees, it was 35 degrees at Dunedin airport a few days ago, Christchurch has hit 36 degrees on many a day over the past 6-8 weeks, and Auckland has been stuck at between 25-28 degrees since November. It’s like February came early...

Rain has been scarce with droughts declared in many parts of the country – the usual suspects of the eastern coasts of both islands but recently on the other sides of the mountains in the South Island as well.

Fish have been caught, snorkelling has been done and I managed to find (last weekend) five intact whale ribs, a whale vertebra and part of a whale jaw whilst puddling around on an island near to our beach house. I suspect given the size of the ribs (think The Flintstones) they came from an animal that has to have been at least 10-12 metres long. We have a resident population of around 200 Bryde’s whales in the area that I have only ever seen once. An amazing find as we swum among scores of sub-tropical fish species, star fish, sea urchins, sting rays and large beds of kelp in the most amazing underwater garden. 

Last weekend I had a dip in pools below a local 15m high waterfall in a local forest (if you follow me on Instagram you can see it as well as the whale bones – southern_mannz)

The most fun of all the fun though was a 61 hour jaunt with my youngest son Tom just before Christmas who wanted to bring his car back from Dunedin (he is studying down there) to Auckland for the summer. 

If you think that sharing the driving with an impatient and opinionated (chip off the old block as they say) 21 year old and listening to rap music for 1431 kilometres might not be fun – you’d be wrong. Possibly not about the rap music but certainly about the fun.

Two things struck me about this trip – we live in the most amazing country where around every bend in the windy roads there is some new gobsmacking view, some new experience, some new taste, some new winery, some new microclimate and there are things you can see in day that would take a month of travel in bigger countries like Australia.

The second thing is how much wealthier this country is from the NZ I was a lad in. Small country towns that were dying in the 1970s are now pumping and heaving with tourists, cottage industries and vitality. It was really hard speeding through so many of them. What I wouldn’t give for a month in a campervan with no planned itinerary.

Highlights included:

Falling a little more in love with Dunedin – that most beautiful of southern cities with its Victorian homes and buildings. The richest city during the gold rush of the 1860s it ran out of money when the gold did, meaning the developers never knocked all the beautiful buildings down 100 years later. Grungy, cool, great coffee and an old school charm. Now being restored. Magic.

Stopping off at Oamaru and spending an hour or so tasting local whisky (the driver limiting his intake to just one), enjoying the restored harbour warehouse district (all made out of local stone) and enjoying another small city that has reinvented itself as the steampunk capital of the world. One large $160, 18-year-old bottle of whisky chucked in the back seat for later...

Stopping at the Whitestone Cheese factory to top up on some of the country’s most delicious cheeses including a blue which just won second prize out of 3000 entries in some prestigous international blue cheese competition somewhere in Europe. I made the mistake of mentioning I heard they came third whilst having a taste...met with a scoff and corrected! Second! Alright, already.

A night in Christchurch catching up with my sister – what a great city that is after their recent troubles.

Buying fresh apricots and boxes of Central Otago cherries on the side of the road leaving Christchurch. Driving, eating, wiping juice off chin, rolling down window and spitting out pips – for kilometre after kilometre. 

Lunch in Kaikoura where the road north had only reopened three days earlier after 2016s massive earthquake which caused huge damage to the road – amazing on so many levels, the size of the slips and the speed with which hundreds of Kiwis have rebuilt these roads (it was always one of the country’s best drives, it is now indescribable). Stopping off along that road to get up close and personal with the hundreds of NZ Fur Seals that call it home. Marvelling at the new shoreline; in places 2m higher than it was before the earthquakes. A geomorphologist’s dream.

Getting pissed with my son in a beautiful old Victorian pub in Picton and then playing chess deep into the night.

Not enjoying waiting in a long line of cars to board the ferry the next morning.

Ferry Crossing from Picton to Wellington – usually a four hour trip and it began with millpond still waters under a cloudless blue sky in the Queen Charlotte Sound as we cruised toward the open sea. 

Hitting the Cook Straight an hour later the waves were as high as 8 metres (that’s no typo). Never seen so many tourists throw down their cameras and throw up so fast. Quite comical (I don’t get seasick). Unfortunately, Tom gets seasick in the bath. Poor lad spent the next three hours clinging desperately to a toilet bowl vomiting, his will to live ebbing away (they say if you’ve been seasick you know what he means). As he clung to the toilet and vomited the rest of his body and his feet swung like a pendulum across the floor from one side of the cubicle to the other. 

Two hours in Wellington Hospital A & E while the aforementioned son was put on a saline drip and given anti-nausea medication to stop the vomiting (he is one of those that when he starts he cannot stop). Never let the public health system here be criticised – mid-day, holiday period, admitted at once, seen at once, treated for two hours, checked on every few minutes and released when he felt life could go on once again – no one asked for my visa card or insurance – I pay my taxes you see. Shout out to everyoone at Wellington Regional Hospital.

Onward to Auckland.

Two speeding tickets (one the lad, one me), one ticket for driving an unregistered vehicle (the lad), one jovial policeman, one less so, one cussing young male driver at the fact some of the tourists in their rentals really do drive at 30km per hour on the open road ("and they %$#@ brake going around corners, Dad, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM?!"). Not helped when you have nowhere to pass them for 45 kilometres because of the winding hilly roads and on the first straight road you floor it and......and....and there is a cop hiding behind a tree with a speed radar gun. One $250 fine later...more swearing and abuse.

Then quiet, with not much talking for about 50km thereafter apart from occasional mutterings about the injustices of the world, the ‘establishment’, ‘tourists who can’t drive’ (he has a point) and the rap music turned up several notches.

Fell into bed after 3 days and nearly 1500kms under the belt.

A wonderful way to end the year.

What a country.  

Here’s to 2018 – do something positive in it.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

A (Common) Tale of Honesty

Posted by Iain on Feb. 24, 2017, 12:41 p.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

Most Saturday mornings sees my wife and I at our local Farmers market in Mangawhai buying some fresh produce, the world’s best bratwurst (according to the German proprietor) and yet more native plants for my ever expanding garden.

It is usually fairly uneventful however last Saturday was different.

For the first time in, well, years I got out of the car and didn’t take my satchel (‘man bag’ as my millennial sons tease me). I just slipped my wallet into my back pocket.

At stall number one I got it out so we could pay for some vegetables.

At stall number three I went to get my wallet out of my back pocket and it had gone.

Interesting what you might think had happened if you are from countries like South Africa (or almost everywhere else). I suspect many of you might think I’d been pick pocketed and others (mostly Kiwis I suspect) thought I’d probably just dropped it or left it sitting on some stall holders table – read on for the answer).

So we backtracked but none of the stall holders we had stopped at claimed to have seen it.

A bit of an ‘oh shit...' moment to be sure because it was five days before I was to leave on my next trip offshore and it contained local cash, foreign currency and worse, all my credit cards.

I left my contact details with the market manager in case someone handed it in.

We then decided to head down to the local police station to leave our details there for when someone handed it in. I should be clear I had no doubt I was not pick pocketed and I was equally certain someone would hand it in...but you never really know.

Unfortunately (or surprisingly depending on your world view) this being New Zealand the police station was closed for the weekend. Apparently we only need police during normal working hours (isn’t that just so cute?).

I wanted to report it however so rang the number they had pasted to the front door. Having reassured the police call centre this was not an ‘active crime situation involving assault or violence’ (although I thought my wife might strangle me at one point as she fought hard not to tell me I was an idiot), I logged my report. Once the description of the wallet and its contents were offered the cheery voice on the other end said ‘see ya!’. She may even have been smiling.

We drove home. Not much was said.

Once back at the beach house I got out my computer so I could call the credit card companies and banks and start cancelling my cards and ordering replacement drivers license, loyalty cards and everything else.

I opened the computer and the email program was open. 

There was the report from the police quoting my report number.

And there was an email which read:

‘Hi Iain

This is Mandy from the Mangawhai market and I have something very valuable of yours. Call me on 021……’

The one thing I never carry in my wallet is my phone number.

So this angel, Mandy, who has a stall at the market, had apparently been handed the wallet by her son. Realising there was no phone number to call me she saw my Immigration Advisers License card, went to their website, found my email address and sent me the message. She also did something else. She uploaded my photo off their website and went from stall to stall asking if anyone recognised who I might be!

No one did (I have a very bland face perhaps) and she later told me was starting to panic as she thought I might have just been passing through town as many do on their way north or south.

Anyway, in a state of great relief I called her and we agreed to meet about 30 minutes later and she handed back the wallet.

How cool is that?

I swear I never doubted someone would hand it in. It’s the New Zealand thing to do. But given I spend so much time in countries where pocket picking is a national past time I confess to having just the odd doubt.

If I didn’t know so many people that live in new Zealand who could share with you similar tales of honesty involving lost wallets in particular, I might have thought I was just lucky to get it back.

But this is New Zealand – I expected to get it back, contents and all.

Those of you who haven’t yet made the decision to move here and are fearful of what you might find, there couldn’t be a better illustration of what makes this place more special than this.

I always counsel New Zealand is not perfect, we have crime and what we do have is amplified in the media. 

This real world experience however I think shows the true nature of the overwhelming majority of Kiwis and just how well our national moral compass is aligned. 

So I am about to board another long haul flight to Singapore, with my satchel over my shoulder and all my cash and credit cards intact.

I really love this place.

Until next week

Iain Macleod

Southern Man – Letters from new Zealand

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