Well, I’ve been here in New Zealand now for just about eight weeks so I thought I’d give you an update on Moonshadow and share a few of my impressions and experiences of this wonderful and unique country. New Zealand may appear to be just a couple of specks on the world map, but is acutally about the same size as Japan or the British Isles. It has all the sophistication, infrastructure, technology, culture and amenities of the United States but with one main thing missing-population. There are endless beaches, tropical waters and rolling green hills, it is virtually an entire worare but 3.4 million people in the whole of New Zealand. Don’t tell anyone, it might start a land rush. With rain forests, deserts, alpine mountains, fjords, forests, almold unto itself. The first thing one notices here as you get off the plane (or boat) is the pace. It reminds me of the United States about 30 years ago. People aren’t as competitive or stressed out and seem to make the time to take a sincere interest in others. They take huge pride in their work and seem to go out of their way to be helpful. The Kiwi’s warmth and friendliness is almost disarming at first, until one realizes that that’s just the way people are around here. The Kiwis keep a keen eye on the USA, or “the States” as they call it. The largest paper here, The New Zealand Herald, runs daily articles on Zippergate and what’s happening on Wall Street. What happens in the States greatly affects life down under. When the US sneezes, New Zealand gets pneumonia.
After nearly two months of agonizing delays, we were finally able to get Moonshadow loaded aboard the container ship Columbus Olivos in Papeete, Tahiti. Rather than bore you with the sordid details, suffice it to say that when you are cruising, usually nothing goes quite as planned. Cruise in remote parts of the world and it’s amazing that anything happens at all. Even the delays were delayed. I’ve learned a few things through all of this: 1) Expect delays and be patient. 2) Follow up, because you can’t assume that anyone will keep their word. 3) Be patient. 4) Politely stay in the face of the people who can make things happen. 5) Be patient. 6) Do something to keep your mind off the wait. 7) Did I mention, be patient. On September 22, six days after she left Papeete, Moonshadow was unloaded onto a truck trailer in Auckland and made the 20 kilometer trip to the Salthouse Boatbuilders yard in Greenhithe, a suburb of Auckland. Even though she looked pretty tired from the trip, I was elated to have her on the same island as me once again. Now is when the wallet hemorrage begins. Salthouse is one the most respected custom boatbuilding yards in the world. They have built a number of sisterships to Moonshadow. It is a small, family owned company that turns out about one boat a year and refits a few others. Ain’t no ‘sembly line here.
New Zealand Driving
I purchased an old Honda to give myself some freedom and the ability to see some of this awesomely beautiful country on my own schedule. It took me a few weeks to train myself to look to the right and leave other cars to starboard. It’s sort of like trying to learn to write with your opposite hand. It’s not difficult conceptually, but in practice it feels like some nerves have been severed between the brain and the extremities. So far no accidents, a couple of scuffed tires and a few birds flipped by other motorists. Of course, the yuppie is alive and well and also resides (and drives) in New Zealand. In addition to the standard Bimmers, Mercs, Lexi, Range Rovers and right hand drive versions of Jeep Cherokee Laredos and Ford Explorers, are some vehicles like Griffins, Holdens, Scodas, Ladas, Hillers, Hillmans, Vauxhalls and Bedfords, that don’t seem to make it to the States. Sixties and seventies muscle cars and Harley Davidsons from the US are prized.
The Kiwis are “keen” sailors. That means they love it and they do it well. These are the people who imported the America’s Cup from the US in 1996. In addition to Steinlager Beer and other corporate sponsors, the general public funded a significant portion of the winning team’s campaign through the purchase of special red socks, a trademark of Russell Coutts, the skipper of the Kiwi challenger Black Beauty. One of the local brew pubs depicted a picture of Dennis Conner (the losing skipper) with red socks stuffed in his mouth. I have been crewing regularly on a couple of boats for the weekly “rum races.” In fact, there are races in the Auckland area virtually every day of the year. The Kiwis are fiercely competitive and I get a kick out of the goodhearted banter aboard and among the yachts during the races. Sailing here is definitely a contact sport! And true to the name, the rum and Coke flows freely after the boats are snug in their berths. Last week after a “rum race” I followed the group down to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, which is the temporary home of the America’s Cup (Go San Francisco Syndicates!!), for a drink. One of the members arranged with the security guard for me to view the cup in it’s verrrry secure room. Also in the room were the Louis Vuitton (America’s Cup Challenge) Cup and custom made Louis Vuitton cases made expressly for transporting both of these beautiful trophies. WAY COOL!! Although the America’s Cup Village site still looks like a Sudanese Pharmaceutical factory, the action is starting to heat up. The New Zealand Herald reports that challenger boats are en route from other parts of the world and that foreign accents are being heard along the waterfront. The Kiwis are jacked up about the upcoming competition and what the Cup will do for the local economy. For all you Jimmy Buffett fans, I spotted a boat at the Westhaven marina called Wasted Away, with a great graphic of a reclining parrot holding a margarita. Too bad most of the locals don’t know who he is or what it means.
Wining and Dining
The Kiwis are as passionate about food and wine as anyone else in the world. And they aren’t let down, because the cuisine in Auckland is as varied and dilectable as anywhere else I’ve been. Contemporary New Zealand cuisine is a style unto it’s own and owes this to some of the unique local style and ingredients. There are lots of restaurants and even the best ones don’t have “attitudes” and long waits. Some recent first place awards in international wine competitions have place New Zealand wines on the map, if not on shelves outside of the country. Some of the wineries have a bit to learn to bring the overall quality level to that of California or France, but I sure hope they don’t learn the same markup strategies. On the whole, for equal quality, wine is one-third to half the price of Californian.
The Kiwis pride themselves on their resourcefulness and ingenuity. Most things here seem to work amazingly well without a lot of fuss. Here are a few examples: Traffic signals at busy city intersections stop traffic BOTH ways, so that pedestrians won’t be run over by turning vehicles and can also cross the street diagonally. Most sidewalks in the business districts cities and towns are covered to protect shoppers from rain and other falling objects. Police don’t carry guns. A legal trout must measure at least 18 inches, and a lot are legal! There is a system here called EFTPOS. It means Electronic Funds Transfer at the Point of Sale. It is a debit/ATM card that is accepted by virtually every merchant, so one can buy anything from a postage stamp, newspaper, cup of coffee, cab ride, drink, meal, etc., virtually eliminating the need to carry cash. The post office sells greeting cards, stationary, newspapers, magazines and packaging goods, as well as stamps. They will facilitate payment of all your utilities bills from a credit or EFTPOS card, THEY know what business they’re in and I’ve NEVER had to wait in line. When my computer was repaired and shipped to me via NZ Post from “Big Blue,” it arrived on the day promised within one minute of the time promised. A service called Dial a Driver, that will take both you and your car home after a night on the town if you’ve had one too many, that costs just slightly more than a taxi. Cigar bars with Cuban cigars on sale. Detailed safety inspections required on ALL vehicles every year in order to reregister. Six months for older cars. The registration and it’s expiration date are attached to the windshield. Free and clean public toilets throughout the city. Cute little dogs that sniff your luggage at baggage claim at the airport, thus eliminating most of the need for delaying everyone with embarrassing searches. Don’t try to smuggle in any Purina Dog Chow! Towel warmer/dryers in most newer home bathrooms, insuring your towel is always warm and dry when you pop out of the shower. You can buy your admission ticket and popcorn at the same counter at the cinema. Espresso bars all over the city, all with different names, personalities and decor-and of course excellent coffee. Most people here take the time to enjoy it on premises, so you don’t see many “go cups.” One shop that sells espresso machines has a sign above the display that says “Serious Lifesaving Equipment.” Duo-flush toilets, a water conserving flush for #1 and a real gusher for #2. Great waitstaff at the many excellent restaurants and bars who are paid an excellent guaranteed salary and don’t expect tips. Free wine tasting at wineries-some of us remember when it was that way in California. Friendly and helpful government employees (not an oxymoron). A legal requirement that foreigners arriving into the country have a return ticket and/or enough money to support themselves during their stay. Unlike some countries we know of, the social welfare system is reserved for the citizens. Almost no “homeless” people. Legal “bookie” shops for betting on sports. Inexpensive and easy auto insurance can be arranged by telephone. People can be banned from filing lawsuits if they are found to be “vexatious litigants.” Despite the fact that there is no toll on the Auckland Harbor Bridge, when it lacked the necessary capacity, a Japanese firm was hired to add four additional lanes (dubbed the Nippon Clip-ons) and it has an effective movable crash barrier. Maybe someone from the Golden Gate Bridge District should come over and have a look-I wonder if there’s any money available? Supermarkets have a staffed customer service counter on site. The dentist I visited was playing Chris Isaak’s Baja Sessions on his stereo while working on my teeth. He gave me a pair of sunglasses to provide shade from his worklight and had South Pacific travel posters pinned to the ceiling. I dreamed, he drilled. Friendly, smartly dressed attendants at gas stations who appear to have an I Q higher than their shoe size. They graciously pump your gas and check under the hood. Havn’t seen any self-serve. The average home in Auckland cost equivalent to $130,000 US, but you know, the big cities are always way more expensive than small towns.
If you wreck your car, you take it to a panelbeater. If your home is on a large lot outside of the city it’s called a lifestyle block. Highway 1 on the North Island is called the Pacific Coast Highway. If you rent an apartment it’s called flatting. If you share it with someone, they are your flatmate. A park is where you leave your car. If you want to enjoy some green, open space in the city you would go the domain or reserve. If you enjoy coffee with cream you would order a flat white. If you need the kick of a double espresso, you would order a long black. You can get your prescriptions filled at the chemist. A pickup truck is a UTE. A caravan is a vehicle towed behind your car to camp in. If you want an appetizer before your meal you would order an entree. If you make an error when writing with a pencil you would erase it with a rubber. The corner market is called a dairy. Tea is a light evening meal. A sailboat is a yacht and a power boat is a launch. If you soup up your car it might be called a boy racer. Ninth through twelfth grades is college, and after that you attend uni or varsity. If you enjoy a variety of good radio stations, well, here you would be called %&*# out of luck.
I have actually been so preoccupied with checking out Auckland, that I have only been on a couple of road trips so far. But as the winter rains fade into the mild spring days, I plan to get to the lower half of the North Island and the real pearl, the South Island. I took one day trip up to the port city of Whangarei. If you are P. C. here, you pronounce this Maori (indigenous people of NZ) name Fung-ar-ay. Along the two hour drive from Auckland, I encountered everything from suburbs, green rolling hills with grazing sheep, rain forest, and mountains plunging into the Pacific Ocean. In the “bush” as the Kiwis call it, one could see pampas grass, palm trees, ferns and Norfolk (monkey) pines all in the same area. Whangarei is somewhat of an industrial city, but has a large marina and a beautiful development of shops and restaurants along the water’s edge. There are even a few wineries in the area. A quick stop for a taste or two and I was on my way home with some excellent Gewertztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet-Merlot. They label the wine with the names of ALL the grapes represented, in descending order of volume-what a concept. Last week I ventured to the middle of the North Island to the Taupo area. Lake Taupo is about the size of Lake Tahoe and sits in two connected volcanic cones. To it’s west are tall volcanic mountains and some excellent ski areas. Well, they are excellent in non El Nino years anyway. Taupo is known for some of the best trout fishing in the world and it’s beautiful surrounding mountain and forest scenery. What is immediately apparent is the lack of tacky resort-type sprawl and an almost golf course type landscape surrounding the lake. Perusing a couple of local real estate offices in town, I found that lake view property is available and amazingly affordable. Taupo is about 3-1/2 hours from both Auckland and Wellington (the capital). It is about two hours drive from Napier, an interesting little city on the Pacific Coast in an area called Hawkes Bay. This is one of the premier wine regions on the North Island. New Zealand is geologically “young,” and has a lot of “activity” in the form of volcanoes, geysers and hot springs, and the odd earthquake. The city of Napier was leveled by an earthquake in 1931 and was rebuilt in the avant garde style of the day-art deco. Most of the buildings of the central business district are of this style and are colorful painted and well maintained. There is a brick paved shopping street lined with palm trees that, on a warm day, might have one believing they were in the deco district of Miami. Visits to three of the local wineries after lunch netted a few more bottles wonderful Kiwi wine. In a Taupo pub that evening, I chatted with an elderly gentleman who came in to have his half-gallon beer bottle refilled. It had on it the logo of the local brew so I asked him about it. He said that when he got out of the navy in 1951, he had purchased a case of four bottles of the beer. This was the last of the bottles, but he had been coming to town to get it refilled regularly for nearly 48 years. He even let me hold it.