Come On, The Bay!

The Ranfurly Shield is the Hawke’s Bay Magpies’ for the summer again!

It really seems that when our provincial rugby team do well (especially holding “The Shield”), Hawke’s Bay as a whole do well (and vice versa)!

This is another great boost for our region that is already on the path to great things post Covid 19 lockdown and recovery this year!

I go on about Hawke’s Bay lots, but it’s because I believe in it & it believes in me!

It has been my life-long home, has allowed me to grow, live and raise a family.

It has given me an income, a home, and security in uncertain financial times, and wonderful friends!

It has a gorgeous climate, central location AND ULTRA-FAST BROADBAND!

I’m vocal because I feel we’re often ignored and looked down on because we’re not a cliquey Auckland corporate, or the Wellington “beltway”.

A new news website boss recently said nothing newsworthy happens in regional NZ.

Then his newsroom won an award for a story they did on the Oranga Tamariki child uplifts here in Hastings!

Our horticultural sector is world-leading, our wines, beers and coffees, restaurants and cafes national award winning.

The quality of our produce is only matched by the quality of the people we produce, hence one of our regional taglines: “Great Things Grow Here!

We work well with others:

We launch rockets into space in conjunction with Auckland-based Rocket Lab, which still amazes me 15 launches later:

We provide Tech hub support bases for Kiwibank, Xero and the home of Hawke’s Bay’s own award winning ISP: Now! 

Which is why I think the Magpies are such a great allegory for the region:

We punch way above our weight.

We are in the game for the full 80+ minutes.

If others drop the ball you’d better believe we’ll be there to pick it up and be over the try line before they’ve even noticed!

So please come to Hawke’s Bay!

Visit, stay, relocate!

After the Covid lockdown, even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s first domestic holiday destination was a #Baycation!

You’ll be amazed at just how diverse & wonderful we are!

With international travel currently off limits I know many social media friends who have only just visited Hawke’s Bay for the first time recently and loved it!

We may even let you have your photo taken with the Ranfurly Shield! 😉

Radio Silence

 

Listen.

Can you hear that?

Its the sound of waves breaking on Napier’s Marine Parade.

And that?

It’s a magpie calling on a fence in Waipukrau.

Then there is the roar as hundreds of cricket fans cheer when Ross Taylor sends the ball soaring over the boundary for six at McLean Park!

These are all familiar sounds to Hawke’s Bay locals, but may not be so well known to those outside the region.

Recently the chances of Hawke’s Bay locals and others further afield hearing Hawke’s Bay over the airwaves became slimmer and slimmer and one of New Zealand’s biggest media organisations, NZME (“New Zealand Media and Entertainment”), was at the centre of both.

One affected me indirectly, while the other had a more personal impact.

I wish this was a new problem, but it has been going on for as long as I’ve been a curmudgeon! 😉

“Larakin Lads? Local’s Loss!”

In February NZME announced plans to potentially replace their “The Hits” network’s remaining regional breakfast shows with the Auckland-based “comedy duo” of Jono and Ben, who they had head-hunted from rival network, Mediaworks, last year.

As I’ve written before there is already, in my opinion, far too little local input and regional relevance in networked stations like “The Hits” where, in 2015 I estimated around “158 announcing positions across the country are covered by the same 8 people in Auckland.”

New Zealand commercial media’s regional markets have been continuously written off and downgraded for years now.

It’s a self fulfilling prophecy – The media outlet cuts back on local content or relevance, so the local market switches off and / or turns to social media, so the media outlet loses money, so they cut back even further…

They just keep doing the same thing again and again while, somehow, expecting a different result!

Hawke’s Bay had been fortunate to retain at least some local content during this time via NZME’s “The Hits” and Mediaworks’ “The Breeze” breakfast shows remaining local, broadcast from Napier and Hastings studios respectively, but this Jono and Ben announcement certainly seemed to threaten that status.

New Zealand media’s talent pool is shallow enough as it is without just swapping the same people around and simulcasting them on yet another network.

We’ve already had that here: The current Breeze Hawke’s Bay breakfast hosts used to do The Hits’ Hawke’s Bay breakfast show, while one of The Hits’ current hosts used to do The Breeze’s breakfast show, and the other used to do The Hit’s local breakfast show in Taranaki, but moved to Napier to take over from the announcer who moved to The Breeze.

Their Taranaki show became simulcast from Auckland soon after they left.

Confused? I can’t blame you!

Imagine how frustrating it must be for new talent wanting to break onto the airwaves in Hawke’s Bay, or whatever region they may hail from!

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of either network’s local breakfast show, but at least they are Hawke’s Bay content on Hawke’s Bay airwaves.

As I write this NZME’s plan had been downgraded to see the Auckland duo replace only Canterbury’s The Hits breakfast show.

For now.

It’s a lucky escape for Hawke’s Bay and the other regions who narrowly avoided yet more locally-irrelivent media content taking over.

Telling staunchly proud and self-sufficient Cantabrians that:

“You’re getting Jono and Ben for Breakfast!”

“But, we don’t want Jono and Ben, we want relevant local content and talent!”

“Too bad, you’re getting Jono and Ben for breakfast!”

Is just dooming their operations there to failure, isn’t it?

When will media management ever learn?

 

“Chew For Chwenty Chew After Chew”

Not long after the Jono and Ben move was revealed NZME’s Radiosport and New Zealand Cricket announced they would be going seperate ways after broadcasting cricket across New Zealand’s airwaves for over 20 years.

NZ Cricket didn’t want to commit to Radiosport’s five year offer, citing advances in technology and a changing media landscape discouraging them from tying themselves into broadcasting on radio for that length of time.

(This opinion apparently failed to take into account that Radiosport has also been broadcasting over NZME’s online streaming service “iHeartRadio” for some time now)

So, from the end of this domestic and international cricket season the dulcet tones of Brian Waddle, Jeremy Coney and their cricket commentating colleagues were out of jobs and will no longer keep summertime gardeners company.

New Zealand Gothic:

Transistor radio playing test cricket,

Freshly mown lawn,

Reel mower quietly pinking in the background.

Ladders, planks & tin of paint set up

For a fresh summer coat on the weatherboards..

Cricket commentary from McLean Park, Bay Oval, Seddon Park, University Oval and all the other grounds around New Zealand will fall silent on the airwaves from April.

Personally, it meant an opportunity I never thought I would have was lost.

Because for three domestic Supersmash T20 cricket matches at my beloved McLean Park, I was one of those Radiosport commentators!

Late last year I got a phone call.

I had mentioned on Twitter earlier in the year about wanting to do cricket commentary, or had been doing my usual social media promotion of McLean Park / Napier / Hawke’s Bay, when I got an email from someone at RadioSport asking if I’d like to send in an “audition tape”, as they were looking to expand their regional roster, and Hawke’s Bay was somewhere they felt they were a bit thin on the ground in.

I was taken aback – Knowing what media in NZ is like (see above), this was not just something that comes along every week.

Unlike The Hits, cutting back regional resources, Radiosport was trying to expand – Having local voices at the likes of Hagley Oval and McLean Park.

So I recorded an ad-libbed over of commentary on my phone one evening after my daughter had gone to bed and emailed it off.

I didn’t hear anything back, so thought I must have sucked and forgot about it.

Until I got a call one afternoon in November.

It was Malcolm Jordan from Radiosport. “Did I get back to you about your audition tape?” he asked.

I replied “No.”

“Oh, sorry, we liked it! We’ve got some Supersmash T20 games coming up at McLean Park in December and January, would you like to commentate them?”

And so began what would unfortunately turn out to be one of the shorter careers I have had.

Which is a shame. Because it was great fun!

I love cricket.

I’ve played it for years, and followed it for even longer.

I also love my home town and McLean Park!

This was an opportunity to watch the game I love at a place I love and tell the nation (and anyone else listening online around the world) all about it!

And they paid me to do it!

But the money wasn’t the best part.

The best part was that they BELIEVED IN ME!

The day before my first match Malcolm phoned me and went through some pointers for commentating he had sent me.

“We didn’t pick you for no reason. We know you can do this!” he said (or words to that effect).

Self-belief is something I’ve struggled with for a while now.

Because while I believe I am capable of doing the things I want to do, that doesn’t mean a hell of a lot if no one else does, too.

I’d be a multi-media star broadcasting Hawke’s Bay to the world by now if it did!

It’s not even something I’m used to in my day-to-day, non-writing job of a decade and a half!

So to have someone believe in me, pretty much out of the blue was, well, unbelievable!

The games were played and I think I did a reasonable job for my few times in the commentary box.

A personal highlight was I got to step out onto the pitch block in the centre of McLean Park – the closest I would likely get to playing there!

My short stint was completed, pay was deposited, and I looked forward to possibly doing it again next season.

Except as it currently stands I won’t get to.

I know I’m no Richie Benaud, Ian Smith, Jeremy Coney, or Brian Waddle.

I was never going to be able to chuck in my current job and set off on an international cricket commentating career after a couple of T20 games.

But this was an opportunity – something that doesn’t come along very often.

It was a light at the end of the tunnel that said If I stuck at this and worked on it there was a chance, a possibility, AN OPPORTUNITY that somewhere down the track I MIGHT just be able to make a career of it.

With NZ Cricket and Radiosport parting ways that light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be a freight train coming the other way.

As I wrote in a tweet about the Provincial Growth Fund recently:

“Opportunity really is the thing.

It is hope, it is promise.

Opportunity gives people a chance.

Without opportunity there is no future.”

“There are others out there far worse off than you are.”

I lost an opportunity I never thought I’d have which is a real mind bender on its own.

But that made it a bit harder. Beause it wasn’t just a job gone – it was the opportunity.

An escape.

Gone before it ever really got started.

I saw an interview with Frank Zappa a while ago about how the music industry lost its cool:

 

He talks of “cigar chomping executives” in the 60s taking a chance – Giving something they didn’t understand an opportunity.

Where as the more modern execs had a “we know what’s best for you” opinion.

We’ve seen both of these cases in Hawke’s Bay media already this year.

We need more opportunity for regional media, and the people who can make that happen.

And far less of the Auckland-centric “we know what’s best for you” executive mindset.

There may not be another opportunity for them to change, or fix the current system.

A Glamping Staycation


 

The last time I spent a night in a tent was a high school trip to Kuripapango, (the last stop before you climb the “Gentle Annie” on the Napier-Taihape Road.

It rained pretty much continuously, the teachers got us lost on a tramp and the boys’ bus broke down on the way home and we were stuck on the side of a shingle road for hours, while the girls’ bus carried on home unawares.

Hardly memorable for the right reasons…

Fortunately time heals some mental scars, and it also provides room for development.

In these intervening years the concept of “Glamping” (a portmanteau of “Glamorous Camping”) had been developed.

With bigger tents and more hospitable amenities such as actual beds, couches, and other features (and no teachers to get you lost on walks) Glamping makes for a more refined and relaxed camping experience.

So when, during a period of rather intense issues and times, our Twitter friends Emma & Colin from Meadowood House offered my family a night’s Glamping, in return for making a donation to a local charity we lept at the chance!

Located on Korokipo Road (State Highway 50), fifteen minutes from both Napier and Hastings, Meadowood is far enough from town to be “away from it all”, while still being, well, “close to it all!”

Also within close proximity are several renowned local wineries and right next door is new, award winning Zeffer Cider.

Arriving at Meadowood we were greeted by our host Emma, who showed us to our accommodation for the night – a “Lotus” Glamping tent – kind of like a Mongolian “Yurt“.

With three tents spaced far enough apart amongst a copse of trees to provide a good level of privacy we were also greeted by a number of Piwakawaka – NZ native Fantails!

After settling in to our accommodation for the night we explored the property.

The centrally located house has rooms that can be rented separately, or as the entire house.

The property also has large open spaces and a big, tent-like marquee perfect for events or parties.

Meadowood has been set up so the entire site can be hired out as a whole event and accommodation venue for weddings and the like.

Hosts Emma and Colin live on site with their family, so they can quickly and easily attend to guests’ needs.

Our daughter was quickly playing with theirs’ while the family four-legged food quality controller, the aptly named labrador “Kai” kept an eye on my dinner.

An outside barbecue area features a grill, shade tent with seats and bean bags, a brazier and a spa pool.

Meadowood is far enough away from the light pollution of the twin cities that some amazingly clear star-gazing around the fire, or in the spa is a real possibility during your nights’ stay.

Sadly for us it was overcast overnight, but there were some gorgeous lights close by.

The Art Deco-inspired “Speakeasy” (the house’s converted garage) acts as a bar, a movie theater and a breakfast nook.

Featuring a couches, projector and screen, fridges and the world’s flashest toaster it is a great place to socialise, sample some of the local liquids, or watch some old-time and classic movies.

We wandered back to our tent illuminated by more fantastic fairy lights and settled down for the night.

Our tent was configured with a big, amazingly comfortable and warm queen sized bed for my wife and I, and a single bed for our daughter, along with a comfy couch and storage.

They usually feature just the more intimate queen or king bed for couples, but they can be set up almost however you want.

Far from my last aforementioned experience in a tent this was the warmest, coziest night under canvas I have experienced!

We are woken early the next morning by a mixture of the sun, our daughter and the call of nature (no, not a fantail dawn chorus, the “other” one..)

Meadowood’s glampimg amenities block looks a bit like your typical NZ country longdrop but are far from it.

Flushing toilets and a pristine basin set a more refined tone, while the private, yet OUTDOOR shower proves both stylish and popular.

Over breakfast in the Speakeasy we met some of our fellow guests.

A young ex-pat South African couple were having a tour of NZ’s regions to find somewhere more affordable to move to, while a Mum from author Bill Bryson’s hometown, Des Moines Iowa in the United States and her Auckland-based teacher son were taking a road trip holiday.

While only recently opened Meadowood is indeed proving popular, which explains why they recently won the Hawke’s Bay Tourism “Rising Star” Award!

Hawke’s Bay keeps attracting great people with bright ideas and Emma, Colin and their family.are no exception.

From being friends online to friends “IRL” (In Real Life) it yet again shows how HB’s Twitter community puts the “Social” into Social Media!

Meadowood is well worth a stay if you are visiting Hawke’s Bay or even if, like us, you are locals just needing a break or “staycation”.

Meadowood’s “Glamping” season runs from September through until April (weather permitting). Enquire online for the availability and hours of other aspects of the venue.

Please check them out!

A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay: Part Two

“A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

It used to be a term of snide derision.

The moniker for any unidentified person in the society photo section of Auckland’s Metro magazine in the 80s.

Whether they had their back turned, or were wearing a lampshade, they were “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

Some in our region may have even aspired to it, but not many.

Certainly not me.

Yet, over recent months I have been an actual “Visitor from Hawke’s Bay” to Auckland several times, on account of surgery I needed to undergo that could only be done in the city.

Rather than the local tourism board paying for my visit and lavishing me with luxury accomodation and gourmet food as Hawke’s Bay’s agencies do to visiting Auckland media, the Ministry of Health paid for my return travel and equal nights’ accomodation in both motel and hospital beds, and I had to hunt and gather my own food, except when my kind social media friends shouted me a coffee or lunch. (Disclosure statement ends.)

Planes, Trains, Ferries and Lime Scooters

A little over a month after my last trip to Auckland I am waiting at Hawke’s Bay Airport for the flight which will take me up for my operation in two days time to arrive. Strong cross-winds have seen the in-bound flight delayed and diverted to Palmerston North, with the plane eventually arriving in Napier two hours late.

It could be worse. Those on the flight from Auckland all had to disembark in Palmerston North and are being bussed up to Hawke’s Bay.

There’s always someone out there worse off than you are.

The flight to Auckland is smooth and far quicker than my previous commute.

I spend most of the trip with my head plastered to the window. While I’m almost 42, the “magic” of flight still fascinates me and I eagerly soak in the airborne views of our magnificent country – Forestry operations in the central North Island, glistening lakes and rivers and even the Firth of Thames and Coromandel Peninsula are all things I get to see far too infrequently.

I am due to be admitted to hospital for two nights, one either side of my operation, but before that I have a night in a motel equidistant between downtown Newmarket and Auckland’s Central Hospital.

As I ride there on an airport shuttle I become very aware of just how many cars there are in Auckland.

They are EVERYWHERE!

You get an idea of just how bad vehicle congestion could get in the city when you see the sheer volume of cars lining residential streets. They almost out-number fallen leaves on the more arbourous thoroughfares.

It’s strikingly evident that when/if the Zombie Apocalypse strikes it would be only the cockroaches and cars that remain in Auckland.

My accomodation is on the lower northern slopes of Mount Eden – a Maunga I had intended to summit on my last trip, before car trouble scuttled the attempt.

A look at the nearby clouds and realisation that I forgot my jacket scupper any thoughts of doing it on this occasion either, so I head in towards Newmarket as raindrops begin to fall.

After a couple laps of Broadway I have run out of things to see or do and with no supermarket nearby I hop on a train and head into the CBD.

I do some browsing and pick up a few bargains and some dinner along High Street and its lanes, including another trip to Krispy Kreme (for dessert), before searching out a supermarket.

My search takes me through the recently developed area around Britomart, which I have to say is quite stunning! Old and new seamlessly meld together for offices, restaurants and shops.

I wander back along the waterfront and catch a train back to Newmarket, walking back to my hotel past a wide range of asian eateries.

While waiting for a crossing light I absently look in the window of one restaurant and watch a young pakeha woman teaching her children how to use chopsticks.

Fusion cuisine AND fusion people!

I also feel a little homesick for a moment.

The next morning I am up and out early to see a man about a Travelator.

Yet another train ride reveals some odd train etiquette – Despite the train being quite full of early morning commuters, no one ever talks to, or looks directly anyone else! This is quite a challenge for someone like me who is usually quite chatty and inquisitive, but apparently its “a thing” all over the train-commuting world.

I get off the train at Britomart, cross the road and hop on a ferry to Devonport, to meet David Slack – another long-time (well, by Twitter standards) friend, who takes me for a tour around his neighbourhood and up his maunga – Mount Victoria – something I have been wanting to do again since I climbed it early one morning while on a course in Auckland a decade and a half ago.

A Man About a Travelator and a Visitor From Hawke’s Bay

David is marvelous company. We have coffee and chat at a village cafe after exploring Devonport and viewing its surrounds, then I must start heading towards the hospital.

The ferry ride to Devonport and back is great fun too – After my tachycardia episode I have taken greater pleasure in the little things like viewing things from different perspectives – Whether it be from the air or the sea they are fun experiences.

From the ferry building I slowly make my way up Queen Street, aiming to be at the hospital at my check in time of 2pm.

A Hospitable Host and a Visitor From Hawke’s Bay

I stop here and there to get gifts for my wife and daughter, before meeting another Twitter friend, Mark Graham, who has kindly offered to buy me lunch at “The Kimchi Project” – an smart, narrow “Asian Fusion” restaurant on Lorne Street with a great big garden bar out the back.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have been very fortunate to meet some great people on social media. When used correctly and kindly, as it should be, it really is a SOCIAL media!

I thank Mark and make my way to the hospital after eventually realising the “north and south” of my Google map does not necessarily equate to what passes as the M.C. Escher-esque reality of Auckland geography.

I cross Grafton Bridge on foot and make it to my ward for admission right on time.

My visits to Auckland have coincided with the boom of Lime E Scooters in the city. It is as impossible to miss coverage of the new mobility devices as it is to miss the scooters themselves.

You regularly see people riding past on them, but even more often see clusters of them on footpaths, awaiting their next hire.

I would have been more likely to give one a try were it not for the number of reported incidents and injuries involving them.

I’m already going to hospital for an operation. I don’t fancy a side-trip to the Emergency Department!

I stick to walking.

After some preliminary admission tests I am given licence to wander off until tea time, so, seeing the Auckland Domain and the War Memorial Museum beside the hospital I decide to go for a stroll through there.

On my stroll I find myself overcome with emotion.

When I was young I had an unusually large head for a child and we were sent up to Auckland Hospital for an MRI scan (apparently my head knew I would grow to be 6’8″ before the rest of me did and was merely getting the jump on things).

I clearly remember playing with one of those cheap 80s pull-cord plastic helicopters on a hill in The Domain with Mum and Dad (it must have been in between a scan and seeing the doctor about the results).

As I crest one of The Domain’s hills (likely the very one we flew the pull-cord helicopter on) I have a quiet moment & cry thinking of Mum and Dad, who are no longer with me.

While recovering from my operation the next day I have time to reflect on my recent experiences of Auckland as A Visitor from Hawke’s Bay.

Welcome Home

Auckland is a marvelously, multicultural city!

Middle eastern and African teenagers have served me American fast food. I ate at a Korean restaurant, was operated on by a Indian surgeon and a Sri Lankan anaesthesiologist, both of whom had “Oxbridge” accents, and the night after my operation I fell asleep listening to a sweet old lady praying in Tongan.

A week or so after my operation some perennially privileged, pathetic pakeha politician trys to make some sort of inference in mainstream media about who are “real New Zealanders” and who aren’t.

This is our country and these are all our people. We are all kind, caring, compassionate kiwis!

The “JAFFA” is Dead

With more modern, inclusive times upon us, it’s reasonable to say the term “JAF(F)A”, an acronym for “Just Another F***ing Aucklander”, is dead.

To be fair, it was usually used as a parochial term for the “small fish, big pond” sort of person who moved from Auckland to regional New Zealand to try and assert the authority they felt they lacked in the big city upon provincial plebs. So maybe not as applicable to Aucklanders on their home turf.

It is (or was) the antithesis of “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”.

Everyone I encountered in Auckland was polite, kind and considerate, no matter their race, sex, or National Provincial Championship rugby affiliation. I would gladly see the back of its use, and that of similar terms.

 

I’ll see You Again, When the Stars Fall From the Sky..

A few weeks later I am back at Greenlane for a post-op check-up.

Flown there and back in a day it is probably the closest I have gotten to being a jet-setting-corporate-business-commuter-type.

With a couple hours to spare either side of my appointment between arrival and departure I get to do some more exploring.

Still unable to get up Mount Eden (next time!) through a lack of logistics (maybe those Lime Scotters aren’t such a bad idea after all..) I take a stroll through Cornwall Park and mount Maungakiekie, One Tree Hill.

The view is spectacular – Literally a 360 degree view of Auckland!

 

 

It also brings into stark relief another issue Auckland has – Space and housing.

 

There is only so much land to occupy on the Auckland isthmus and from my viewing spot it looks pretty much all occupied.

While many suburban Aucklanders seem quite averse to multi-story townhouses and appartments in their leafy streets, it would appear, as 80s band Yazz sang, that “The Only Way is Up!” to ease this problem.

This could have been solved earlier, of course, had previous governments and corporate Auckland just spread some economic love and shifted more business to regions like Hawke’s Bay!

I head back to Napier a content Visitor From Hawke’s Bay.

Auckland is a neat city with lots of diversity, but also a few issues.

As with most problems, though, I’m sure those issues could be resolved with help from, or by listening to others like regional New Zealand.

As I board my flight home I notice something that Paul Brislen picks up on via Twitter a few weeks later.

While the snide side of “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”, just like “JAFFA”, is well past its used by date, there is something a large number of those bound for Napier have in common – We have all been “A Visitor to (Auckland Domestic Airport’s) Krispy Kreme“.

Perhaps there’s an opportunity for an alternative nickname (or, at least a new regional franchise) there!

A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay: Part One

To be fair I wasn’t Halfway Down, more like A Quarter Up…

“A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

It used to be a term of snide derision.

The moniker for any unidentified person in the society photo section of Auckland’s Metro magazine in the 80s.

Whether they had their back turned, or were wearing a lampshade, they were “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

Some in our region may have even aspired to it, but not many.

Certainly not me.

Sadly it appears some old habits die hard. Or not at all..

Yet, over recent months I have been an actual “Visitor from Hawke’s Bay” to Auckland several times, on account of surgery I needed to undergo that could only be done in the city.

Rather than the local tourism board paying for my visit and lavishing me with luxury accomodation and gourmet food as Hawke’s Bay’s agencies do to visiting Auckland media, the Ministry of Health paid for my return travel and equal nights’ accomodation in both motel and hospital beds, and I had to hunt and gather my own food, except when my kind social media friends shouted me a coffee or lunch. (Disclosure statement ends.)

So Close, Yet So Far.

The last time I was in Auckland was in 2011 for a Foo Fighters concert at Western Springs.

My wife and I stayed in the centre of town and we were in the city for about the same length of time it took to drive there and back.

It’s not that we didn’t WANT to visit more often, it’s just with IVF, the birth of our daughter, buying our first home, the death of my Dad, my month-long government-funded stay in Wellington, and the death of my Mum all coming hot on the heels of that concert trip, we simply hadn’t had the time or opportunity to go back to Auckland.

So, odd as it may sound, I was looking forward to this operation. As it gave me an opportunity to have a nosey around!

There and Back Again: A Hawke’s Bayite’s Tale

My first expedition for a pre-op appointment and assesment was by road.

Leaving Napier at O-Dark-Hundred I cross the fabled Napier-Taupo road in a mixture of bright, full, moonlight for the most part and pea-soup fog in the middle section around Lochinvar Station.

It isn’t until I am deep into the Waikato region that the sun starts to make an appearance.

And what an appearance it is!

A pink and purple pastoral panorama unfolds around me as the early morning hues illuminate rolling dairy country. Patches of mist lie in valleys and green grass glistens in the gloaming.

It’s the sort of view giant dairy cooperatives pay advertising firms millions of dollars to try and replicate on clogged, polluted urban motorway billboards.

I somehow manage to drive non-stop to Hamilton, where stomach and lower portions dictate I need to take a break for breakfast, stretch and a rest-stop at around 8am.

New Zealand’s state highways and roads really are a story of thirds.

One third is perfectly fine, one third is roadworks and the final third is utter rubbish and SHOULD be roadworks.

I drive the fastest I have ever been legally allowed to drive on the Cambridge Expressway – 110km/h!

The only thing is with that section of road being several hundred meters across, with multiple lanes and (almost) everyone else doing the same speed, you might as well be doing 50km/h – there is no sense of the added “Oomph!” that 10km/h would otherwise bring.

You also still get passed by Audis and Hiluxes regardless of the speed limit, so very little changes, really.

You quickly reel in those who have overtaken you anyway, as further roadworks and rush-hour traffic grind everyone down to a crawl past Mystery Creek.

Having spent the last few hours driving so smoothly and freely, we are now packed together so tightly I can see the irony dripping from their exhaust pipes.

Aside from some stunning native bush views along the northern Waikato River trying to draw your attention away from the road and task at hand, the rather deafening sound of cicadas in river-side pine plantations along State Highway One is quite distracting.

Before you realise what the noise actually is you fear something is going wrong with your car.

Sadly something DID go wrong with my car on this trip once I arrived in Auckland.

The exertion and heat of the almost non-stop trip up made my transmission somewhat fiddly upon starting, so I limited my movements in the hope I would be able to get home in one automotive piece.

Close encounters of the Twitter kind! Paul Brislen and a Visitor From Hawke’s Bay.

Never the less I do manage to meet up with fellow Twitterer, technology commentator and pop culture fan Paul Brislen in person for coffee at a swanky Mount Eden Village cafe and pick up a present for my daughter from the equally Twitter renowned Time Out Bookstore.

The appointment with my doctor at the Greenlane Medical Centre goes much better and quicker than planned, and the picturesque view of Maungakiekie – “One Tree Hill” (right behind the hospital) out his office’s windows cheers me up, so I decide to go into town.

This is where the logistics of Auckland traffic come into play.

Greenlane is, in the grand Auckland scheme of things, very “central”. You are kind of in the middle of, well, everything!

This does, however, mean it can take a while to get everywhere.

With my car recuperating at my nearby motel, I decide to test out Auckland’s public transport system and catch a bus into the CBD, do some sightseeing and drop some copies of the magazine I write for, “Baybuzz”, to some of my big-city media friends.

The fare is reasonable and the ride is comfortable, but there is only one issue – the other bazillion vehicles on the road! (I did, unwisely it appears, choose to travel at 4pm in the afternoon..).

What “should” have been about a 15 minute commute takes over half an hour and I get into the CBD just as most of its workers are heading in the opposite direction.

While in Auckland I decide to sample some of the city’s haute cuisine that is unavailable in regional New Zealand – Namely Krispy Kreme Donuts and Wendy’s Burgers!

“No Regerts!!”

After taking in central Auckland for about an hour the day’s driving and events catch up with me and I find myself rather exhausted, sitting outside Britomart without the energy or will to traipse back to the bus stop I arrived from at The Civic Theatre.

I decide to take the train back to Greenlane (have I mentioned before that I think trains are awesome?!).

The train trip takes a mere ten minutes, if that, and another short bus ride delivers me to the door of my accomodation for the night and soon after I am enveloped by the arms of Morpheus.

“I’ll see you again
When the stars fall from the sky,
And the moon turns red,
Over One Tree Hill.”

H.G. Wells, Huka Falls and Home

I wake early the next morning keen to get home, or as far home as possible before any further issues can afflict my car.

At least I THINK I wake.

Merging onto the Southern Motorway in the early hours of the morning is like entering an 80s neon dream.

A river of white, yellow and halogen blue lights stream towards you, as those bound for work in the city make their way in. While ahead, red tail and brake lights form a long, rippling rouge ribbon to the south.

It’s not too disimilar to the “Light Cycle Battle” in the movie Tron (and quite possibly why residents of the next major city in this direction, Hamilton, use the movie’s name as their city’s nickname).

As the motorway heads towards the Bombay Hills the pink and purple tinges of dawn are growing over the horizon.

But also coming over the hills is a scene from “War of the Worlds” – Row upon row of giant power pylons stretch towards the city and motorway.

Not unlike Wells’ giant aliens, these steel quadrapeds actually provide power to the metropolis’ populance, but in the misty glow of dawn they look other-worldly, straddling the red and white streams of light.

Traffic flows freely and smoothly, despite the sheer volume of vehicles that are simultaneously using this small strip of road. The only issue I have is trying to rejoin the flow after pulling over to take the obligitary picture of the Waikato River and Huntly Power Station beyond.

I bypass Hamilton to top up with fuel and grab breakfast to go in Cambridge.

I carry on, eventually stopping at Huka Falls for a walk, where my car decides to play its “lets not start of a while” trick again and in Taupo to take a look at the lake (transiting Taupo so early in the morning on the way up, I had bypassed the town).

The trip back over the Napier-Taupo is far less foggy and dark than the day before and I arrive home in time for a late lunch.

It was a roadtrip I had wanted to do for some time, but now having done it twice in 24 hours with car issues, I think I would prefer to fly next time.

Fortunately they fly you up for operations, which would come around quite quickly.

To Be Continued!

Problematic Pacific Plastic

I entered the following in a Sea Week poetry competition last month.
I never heard anything back, so obviously didn’t get anywhere (which is a bit odd..) but thought it was worth sharing nonetheless:

Problematic Pacific Plastic

Our oceans are dying!
That’s not iconoclastic.
You would be too,
If you were that clogged up with plastic!

We’ve got lagoons of balloons,
Whale swimming speed’s off the throttles,
‘Cause it had to get ocean motion,
When you’re chock-full of fizz bottles!

Sea turtles are choking,
When they spy their favourite dish.
Because turtles can’t define
Between plastic bags and jelly fish!

There’s so much plastic pollution
Floating around the Pacific,
They’ve named it “The Great Garbage Patch”!
Y’know, just to be specific!

We need to do something!
All this ocean pollution must end!
For the sake of our existence,
And for our planet to mend!

It’s too much a problem
For us just to park it –
Start by taking canvas bags
To your supermarket!

Reduce, reuse,
Recycle the lot!
Sea levels are rising,
But our future ain’t looking too hot!

So as my poem ends,
I’m begging you, Please!
“Tiakina o Tātou Mōana”
“Care for our Seas”!

Shine a Light

As you may know I’m BIG supporter of my home & region, Hawke’s Bay.

And, as you may also know, I’ve been pretty vocal about how little media exposure (other than disasters & crime) regional New Zealand has gotten over the past two decades in favour of an Auckland-centric focus.

In the last 5 years we saw the rise of smaller news websites like Spinoff & Newsroom, intended to take on the likes of TVNZ, Mediaworks & Herald/NZME.

I had high hopes for these new sites, given how little the main players cared about places like Hawke’s Bay.

I was disappointed.

Early on it seemed Spinoff had more articles about NZME’s Jane Hastings than the actual city of Hastings.

To them apparently one media person > City of 80600+

And if not for the wonderful, award-winning autobiographical writing of the late Peter Wells, Napier would have hardly featured at all.

Hardly inspiring for this regional reader and writer.

Not to be out done, Newsroom’s Mark Jennings essentially declared NZ’s regions don’t matter:

“Viewers in Invercargill don’t give a toss about Whanganui’s sewage problems.

There are simply not enough stories of national significance in Nelson or Queenstown or Tauranga to justify a full-time TV reporter in those areas.”

That understandably pissed me off.

The new wunderkind websites had the same mentality as the old media dinosaurs they were meant to be superior to.

It felt like they were blowing the biggest opportunity New Zealand media had had in years – Wherever there was internet access they could have had reporters!

Within the last month the New Zealand government recognized the country has a serious lack of local-body news coverage – particularly in regional NZ and announced a scheme to put several specially focused, government-funded reporters in established newsrooms around the country.

Then last week a story with major public reaction & national implications broke about state carers taking newborn babies from their parents.

The story wasn’t broken by a mainstream media outlet.

It was broken by Newsroom.

And the story wasn’t based in Auckland. It came from Hawke’s Bay.

My region.

So I’ve been right all along?!

NZ regional news DOES matter!?

This should feel like vindication for me, but it doesn’t.

How many issues have been missed because they were “regional/provincial” and “didn’t matter”?

How many wrongdoings could have been stopped?

Jennings’ hypothetical Whanganui sewerage problems?

Homelessness?

Inequality?

This is just the tip of an iceberg New Zealand media SHOULD have started melting years ago!

Heck, in the 80s we had regional news in print and on national TV every weeknight that stopped these bergs from forming in the first place, let alone making it out into the shipping lanes and causing casualties.

We have regional stories that deserve coverage, as many have national implications; A specialized regional local government reporter program in the works, and a Provincial Growth Fund to assist NZ’s growing regions.

Isn’t it time NZ’s commerical media refocused back on the regions, too?

There’s a saying goes:

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

Regional New Zealand has a whole lot of growth going on. Not all of that growth is going to be good.

It’s going to need a lot more solar energy from traditional & digital NZ national media to keep regional growth rot-free!

Regional Rugby’s Lament

Listening to the talk of NZRU CEO, Steve Tew’s, resignation annocement on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report the other morning I was irked by how much his / NZRU’s focus was on the international game & stage under his tenure, while it’s felt, like with so many other big New Zealand corporate organisations, regional / grassroots rugby has been ignored under his tenure.

How many Super Rugby, or even All Blacks games (Napier has hosted only two in 20yrs!) could have been played in sold-out, 15,000-20,000 capacity regional stadiums like McLean Park, rather than the regularly 1/2 – 3/4 empty Eden Parks, or (Wellington’s Westpac Trust Stadium) “Caketins”?

Main centre Super Rugby fixture crowds have been pitiful and/or declining for some time, and the whining about low attendances from rugby bosses has only gotten louder, yet do they change tack and spread the games around?

Hell no!

HOW MUCH??!!

Hawke’s Bay and their NPC team, The Magpies have been fortunate to have the local support, income and success over recent seasons to weather the storms Tew bemoaned.

Hawke’s Bay, its team and its fans have been regularly providing the talent, the turnout and the income for Tew’s organisation for years, so why haven’t NZRU returned the favor?

Or, under Mr Tew’s reign, has rugby in New Zealand become more about the money than the mana?

Long Train Runnin’

Daughter in Frame and her “Bestest Friend” wave at friend’s Dad, who drives for Kiwirail

As I have written before, I am fortunate to be presented with different opportunities every one in a while.

Miss B has a best friend, Master B (no relation), who she met in Kindy.

As their friendship blossomed, we got to know his parents.

As it turns out Mister B is into model trains, like I am, but the cherry on top was with his job as a driver for Kiwirail, he offered to take me on a ride in the cab of a freight train one day.

This was a dream come true!

I’ve been a train nerd for some time and how can you not be?

I mean, come on, they are SO COOL!

A thousand or so tonnes of steel and cargo, pulled by a thousand-plus horsepower engine, rolling along long, snaking tracks through New Zealand’s gorgeous countryside is appealing to admirers of engineering, physics, environmentally-friendly logistics AND aesthetics!

I had previously travelled on the commuter trains in Wellington and Auckland, but the last time I had been on a train in Hawke’s Bay, was taking the Bay Express down to Wellington in the mid to late 90s, shortly before the passenger service was terminated.

 

A few weeks ago he asked if I was free to go for a ride in the cab of a freight train to Woodville on Waitangi Day.

Was I?

Hells, Yeah!!

He said there was a catch – He would have to pick me up at 4am.

This was no catch – For more than a decade my (non-writing, but paying) job has seen my alarm go off at 3:30am six working days out of ten.

With the excitement of the trip ahead of me I had been waiting outside, staring at the stars, for 15 minutes by the time he arrived to pick me up.

In the cab of DL class locomotive number 9135 we leave the Napier yard not long after 5am and after rumbling through a slumbering central Napier, the throttles are opened and we started out along the Hawke Bay coast and over the Tutikuri and Ngaruroro river bridges at the (appropriately named, given the day) Waitangi Wetlands.

Turning inland at Clive we go through the revitalised industrial and logistical hub of Whakatu before running right through the centre of Hastings.

As we exit Hawke’s Bay’s major urban areas the train doesn’t immediately speed up a whole lot, as rail repairs and recent hot temperatures mean the pace is kept relatively slow in case rails have buckled, or moved in the heat.

But that’s fine, because it’s safer and means I get to take in more of a view few get to see these days.

One thing that stands out is all the cool old stations in places like Opapa and Ormomdville.

Where small settlements were set up around these refueling and watering posts and local produce, goods and livestock would have been loaded and unloaded as little as 40-50 years ago, there are often just the station buildings remaining now.

Crossing the braided Waipawa and Tukituku rivers is also very cool.

.

Occassionally I look out the back window of the engine and watch the train’s wagons snake around curves behind us.

 

After several more hills and bridges, rivers and sidings we reach the Ormondville Rail Viaduct – A rather impressive (and slightly more than impressively high) structure.

For safety’s sake we cross it at 10km/h, but given its height, narrowness, and the fact it is taking the weight of our several-hundred-tonne train (and us) I am quite happy to be safely across it as quickly as practicable.

Not long after that we are heading towards my destination of Woodville.

The train will carry on to Palmerston North, but as I am not qualified/certified to go through the tunnels of the Manawatu Gorge in an engine, I must wait here for the driver to return.

I end up having a decent wander round and seeing lots of little bits of this town many just pass through and, since the closure of the Manawatu Gorge road, many have bypassed altogether.

Today, despite several more empty shops than last time I passed through, the town still seems quite busy – Likely with people on their way to see Phil Collins at Napier’s Mission Concert that night.

As we drive back to Napier I get to reflect on what a great experience this trip had been.

It’s always important to be open to new or different perspectives. Recent events in my life have certainly made this awareness somewhat stronger, and riding in a freight train has certainly been that.

It would be great to see more trains operating in New Zealand again, especially when every wagon represents at least one less truck on already busy and often fast-deteriorating roads.

And, as I stated at the beginning of this piece, I am fortunate to be presented with different opportunities every one in a while.

Something In The Water

NCC workers keeping one of the city’s biggest stormwater drains clear.

During last week’s rather atrocious weather across Hawke’s Bay Napier’s continuing water woes became even more evident, with Napier City Council issuing a notification for residents to refrain from taking baths, or flushing toilets for 36 hours on Wednesday the 5th of September, as the city’s wastewater system failed to cope with the amount of rain that had fallen almost continuously for 24 hours.

For the second time in less than 18 months, Napier City Council released stormwater and sewerage into Napier’s Ahuriri Lagoon, otherwise known as “Pandora Pond” after more than 90mm of rain fell in 24 hours between Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th of September.

That’s almost twice the average for the entire month!

Similar events occurred last April when the tail ends of Cyclones Debbie and Cook successively hit Hawke’s Bay hard and the City Council discharged 2.5million litres of wastewater into Pandora Estuary.

In both cases warning signs were erected around the estuary and immediate areas warning against swimming and the collection of seafood due to the public health risk of possible contamination from sewerage in the water and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, the region’s environmental watchdogs were alerted.

Pandora Pond – Looking a bit murkier than usual after the heavy rains

“But how does sewerage get in the stormwater?” you might rightly ask.

It’s to do with infrastructure, namely pipes.

Ideally rain falls from the sky, onto your roof, into your spouting and into the stormwater system via gutters and stormwater drains / creeks and eventually into rivers / lakes / out to sea.

Unfortunately some spouting goes into the wrong drains around the house – Wastewater drains from bathrooms, showers, laundries, which gets treated with sewerage from.. um.. “other drains”.

During severe weather events, such as the one we’ve just gone through, having the wrong pipe going into the wrong drain can greatly increase the amount of wastewater in the system.

But Hastings and rural Hawke’s Bay had more rain than Napier did – at one stage I saw a reading of 191mm for HB, 66mm for Hastings and “only” 43mm for Napier in the 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday.

So how come Hastings only started to feel the effects of the severe weather a day or so later, with Porta-loos distributed to some residents in the suburb of Akina, as their stormwater and sewerage systems stated to struggle?

From the makers of “Highway to Hell” and “Stairway to Heaven” comes “Driveway to Puddle”!

It could be something to do with Napier being coastal – The seas were certainly huge for most of the week and it would be hard for the water to drain out to sea when the sea is doing its best to get onto the land.

Marine Parade’s walkway was a mess on Thursday after high seas accompanying the storm battered the coast

It could be the fact we’re the lowest point above sea level in Hawke’s Bay.

Water naturally runs downhill and it might take a day or so of heavy rain for natural drains to back up the height difference between Napier and Hastings.

Or it could be that the city’s pipe infrastructure just isn’t up to it.

It has been known for some time that Napier’s water infrastructure was aging badly and in need of repair soon, if not overdue.

This has been the problem with Napier’s drinking water – It isn’t Hawke’s Bay’s aquifer quality being sub-par – The water down there is just as clean and pure as usual, it’s been council infrastructure – Bores, pipes and reservoirs letting the side down .

You might remember during the region’s contentious amalgamation debate and vote three years ago that Napier’s infrastructure was a rather large sore point.

I was strongly opposed to amalgamation, seeing the way it was promoted merely as a cynical attempt to sell off and/or privatise council departments (like water) and assets.

Amalgamationalists claimed Napier’s pipes were in a bad way and would likely cost many millions to repair / replace, while NCC’s vanguard staunchly defended its underground assets.

“Napier is very well positioned to meet any future infrastructure related growth or renewal challenges.”

“The short answer is Napier’s infrastructure, I can assure you, is in excellent shape.”
Napier Mayor, Bill Dalton. September 2015

It looks like council hierarchy might have, yet again, spoken too soon.

Even the NZ Auditor General’s office piped up, so to speak, on Twitter after this week’s rain referencing some 2016 stormwater analysis.

But the most odd pronouncement over the issue must go to the regional paper, Hawke’s Bay Today’s, new editor, who wrote on the weekend after the deluge that “A Wee Bit of Wee Never Hurt Anyone, We Hope ”.

That was just outright bizarre!

Has he not heard of Giardia? Campylobacter?
Has he not simply tried searching his own paper’s website for the words “Havelock” and “Gastro”?

His newspaper did win an award (albeit under the previous editor) for being “news central” for the Havelock North Water Crisis two years ago, after all.

Or maybe he just needs to talk to the mother whose child got sick after swimming in Pandora Pond.

Again, his newspaper reported on the incident.

Whichever way you look at it SOMETHING needs to be done – And QUICKLY!

After last year’s rain event and stormwater release the Regional Council said the deluge was a “Once-in-Five-Year” event, but had since scaled that estimation back to once-a-year”.

To its credit, Napier City Council has put aside over $20 million for refurbishing its water systems in the coming years, but after almost back-to –back yearly events, could it be too little, too late?

Our climate is changing (whether radio host Leighton Smith believes it or not) and the weather is getting more severe, more often.

Sea levels are expected to rise and Napier’s population is expected to grow by at least 2,000 households in the next ten years – Increasing the demands and challenges on infrastructure even more.

If we don’t do something to counter its effects fast, we face severe safety and public health issues and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s environmental regulatory department and some regional councillors have already aired concerns and displeasure with how Napier City Council management has dealt with these recent events.

Perhaps we could delay some of the council’s glamour projects, like the $45 million seafront Aquarium upgrade until we have the city’s water supplies going in and out the right ways.

After all, who will visit the refurbished aquarium if we’re all too sick, or washed away to get there?