I’m in Auckland. Why have I eschewed bucolic bliss to be in the city of bad driving, dug-up pavements, and silly weather? Good question and the answer has its genesis in 1972. That’s when I studied journalism at what was then Wellington Polytechnic. I chose magazine journalism. A lovely woman called Lyn Barnes, in the same year, chose newspaper journalism. We wouldn’t actually meet until 2000, when we were both on a junket to Fiji (with another fabulous journalist from the same year, Andrea Fox). Today Lyn teaches journalism to students at AUT and, because she’s a good friend, I agreed, reluctantly, to come up here and talk to her third-year students. I was nervous. It went well. They were kind to this old, semi-retired hack. I’m glad it’s over.
I drove up yesterday; left the vineyard at 10am, collected my friend Rosie who took the opportunity to come up and stay with her daughter for a few days and provided welcome company. We stopped in Taihape for refreshments, then again in Taupo to see her bach, and I showed her the little bach Dad built for our family way back when you didn’t need permits. I was only tiny. There was a longdrop (toilet) up the back of the section in the manuka bush, we had no bathroom just a kitchen sink, and there were only two rooms in the bach – one for sleeping and one for eating, sitting, etc. Despite these privations, none of us died of typhoid, the roof didn’t leak, and everyone was happy. So much for red tape and bureaucratic nightmares via which one must battle these days to even erect a chookhouse.
We arrived in Auckland at around 6pm. The drive was magnificent – this is indeed God’s Own Country. Especially at this time of the year, well into spring, when everything is green and looking washed clean. The kowhai trees along the eastern shores of Lake Taupo are stunning. The desert road landscape never fails to take my breath away, and I always think of the time I was doing a story for “North & South” magazine on the wild horses of the Kaimanawa region, and the photographer, Gareth Eyres, and I spent several days staying up in these wilds in an old hut, creeping around the tussock tracking down the horse herds. It was just like a scene out of the movie “Dances With Wolves”, and every which way you turned, the scenery was just beautiful, in that abandoned, isolated, lonely way.
Just north of Taupo, there are now huge tracts of land cleared of forestry, awaiting conversion to dairy farming. How strange it all looks, after years of seeing it covered with trees, now the hills look like someone’s body which has been prepped for surgery – all shaven and exposed and humiliated. I suppose next time I drive through it will be dotted with cows. Who knows?
We knew we were getting close to Auckland when, after perfect balmy weather all the way, the raindrops started spattering down, and after good, sedate driving, we began encountering the crazy risk-takers. Drivers is ghastly-coloured Fords or Holdens Vee Sixes (or some such hoonish vehicle) overtaking on blind corners, desperately wanting to be a statistic, or tomorrow’s headline. Why don’t they just do us all a favour, and get a penis enlargement?
It’s funny being back in Auckland. I wouldn’t want to live here again, but it’s nice to catch up with the latest good restaurants (which I shall review later), and run into friends on the street. I’ve just had a coffee with the Mayor of Waitakere City, whom I found loitering in High Street chattering on his cellphone, so we sat down and cooked up a book together which may or may not eventuate. Drifting by were various luminaries from the higher echelons of the legal profession – Galbraith & Anderson, Moore & Grieve. All say I’m “looking well” and I tell them it’s the country life and having, as your work colleagues, a horse, a cat and a dog. They look at me as if I’m barmy, and maybe I am, but I wouldn’t spell it that way.