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Date: 29 Jun 2016 10:00:06
Title: Hello from Havelock North

Dear Family and Friends,
 
26th June 2016
 
It has been a while since since my last post! We have been chilling in our house sitting role here in Havelock North, Hawks Bay. We have just a few more days here, we plan to tour the Coromandel peninsula to the east of Auckland and north of here, then it is time for us to fly back to the UK. Of course we are looking forward to returning home to see our family and friends and it is the summer back home!! But it is also with some regrets too, it is a wonderful country here in New Zealand, people are friendly, there is space, room to breathe, the scenery is wonderful, majestic at times, the living for us, very pleasant.
 
I have just returned from a long walk along the river defence embankment that shadows the Tuki Tuki river and protects the adjoining farmland from flooding. Here in the winter sunshine with temperatures that would not disgrace spring or summer back in the UK, are the apple and pear orchards with the last of the unpicked summer fruit, bright red and yellow jewels that catch the eye. The smells of gently fermenting apples carry on the stiff breeze, those NZ birds (with blue black plumage, red beaks and feet, a bigger version of moorhens,) roam the orchards, their reeling cries or perhaps fermented apple drunken squabbles, echo across the plains. 
 
Imagine being able to grow persimmon (Sharon fruit), my new favourite fruit, oranges, lemons, limes, figs, olives and grapes in your own garden or having all this on your doorstep. For me being able to visit vineyards and olive groves for lunch is just magic. In this favoured climate, wine growing has gone from strength to strength, some of the earliest vineyards were planted in 1896, what foresight! The sauvignon blanc grapes produce good wines but the Marlborough sauvignons are better. Gisbourne is a centre for the chardonnay grapes producing wines of character. The local warmth helps produce some fine reds, cabernet sauvignon and franc, merlot and pinot noir, that excel in good years.
 
To say that it is a land of milk and honey is in a sense literally true. Cattle and sheep, graze the steeper pastures that rise abruptly from the plains they surround. The hills are a drab brown of winter and almost 2 years of lower rainfall, a stark landscape, the farmers are all watching the weather and praying to the rain gods.
 
Drive anywhere in NZ and you will see plenty of beehives in the fields and pastures, they are rightly proud of their fine honey, so many variations of floral bouquet, Manuka is perhaps the most well known. But like the dairy farmers, all is not that well. NZ biosecurity is obsessive about not bringing in any seeds, pollen, bee products, insects, even on your shoes, to preserve the native bee population. This is a war they are not winning as the natives are scarce and hives now have imported colonies.
 
The other dilemma is for the dairy farmers, many of whom borrowed heavily during the surge in dairy prices a few years ago only to have their livelihoods slashed when the price of milk and its products plummeted. We hear that some farmers, a proud group, who are no longer able to pay their loans, have been committing suicide in the milking shed after giving the girls their morning milking, knowing that the alarm will be raised by the milk collection driver. With a benefit of hindsight the farmer we were speaking to recounted how unsuitable land had been turned over to unsustainable cattle and dairy herds. Whatever the judgement here, there are plenty of personal tragedies. I for one want to be paying the farmer a fair price for milk.
 
So in support of local farming and for a feast of local produce, the Hastings Sunday farmers market is wonderful, inventive flavours, organic produce, home grown and roasted coffee. Just don’t expect supermarket prices.
 
In another snapshot of Kiwi life, cars here are much less expensive than in the UK with four door trucks popular whether on the farm or in town. In a nod to their fondness for pies and they are all award winning pies apparently, buy a new truck and you could win a year’s worth of pies. Well you can’t say fairer than that. But seriously if you were into doing up old cars then this could be seventh heaven, as no end of cars seem to be mouldering in fields and backyards awaiting a second chance. NZ’s proximity to Japan is well represented on the road, there are a huge number of Japanese models out there. Petrol is a little cheaper, diesel much cheaper although visitors do pay a surcharge of $6 per 100km on top of pumps prices.
 
 We have enjoyed some great cultural events here too. A local musical festival in Napier cathedral was really good. Novel for us at least, was the airline style training and safety talk that preceded it about earthquake evacuation.
We visited a jazz bar hosting a drummer, Bill, who had just returned from playing on Paul McCartney’s LA tour, a NZ string quartet, more jazz, a Lalique glass exhibition and plenty of local art! Phew even managed several visits to the local cinema although some showings were indifferent it was at least warm when the house was cold!
 
Talking of earthquakes, Napier was badly affected by a series in 1931 and had to be rebuilt. With wonderful foresight they created an Art Deco masterpiece. You see more Deco designs in nearby Hastings, both in the central shops and public buildings and in the houses too. More recently the Christchurch earthquake has caused existing public buildings to be reassessed for their safety. In construction you see a much greater use of wooden frames and flooring than in the UK and a rethink on steel structures. When I asked our friends whether they had experienced any earthquakes themselves they confirmed frequently. Napier like many other places in NZ lies within a fault zone and tremors are common. Apparently there was one shortly after we arrived here, at 03.30 and nope I didn’t feel a thing. I’m almost disappointed!
 
Most modern house designs are unexciting but I am fascinated by the love of corrugated sheeting, its everywhere. On the roof as you might expect, in fence panels, balconies, wall cladding, inside as a decorative surface and best of all as sculpture! Another oddity design wise is the preponderance of sheep sculpture. You would have thought they had enough in the fields but no there are concrete, driftwood, wire, wood and ceramic versions in their homes and gardens. Perhaps there’s comfort in these familiar rural images, happily there’s a lack of tasteless gnomes!
 
Living just down the road from the local fire station we have read in the local papers that these are all manned by volunteers who are called to service by sirens, familiar to the UK as air raid warnings. So it seems odd to hear these sounds very frequently, with over 200 callouts for annum. The nice thing is that the firemen and women’s efforts are celebrated locally along with their supportive employers. I guess with 4 million population in NZ this is a viable option, don’t think the same could be said for the UK. Not sure whether the same volunteering arrangement exists for their St John’s Ambulance service which provides all emergency transport.
 
Havelock North has many coffee bars and arty lunch venues, plenty of lovely dress and shoe shops, up market food retailers as well as regular services. It is a lovely town with little or no raw edges. Maori villages lie along the coast with less services or none at all.
 
Much is made of Maori culture, many place names have reverted to their Maori ones, the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 is still the basis for a return of settled lands to the indigenous peoples. When land is returned it often becomes off limits to anyone else, including most recently stretches of the foreshore. All this is happening right here in Hawk’s Bay and the eastern cape just to the north. Here in particular large tracks of coast are private and Pakeha, the white Europeans are not very welcome. There is much in settler history, in dealings between the British crown representatives and the Maori people that today we can not feel good about and have born bitter fruit.
 
29th June
The winter weather seems to have finally caught up with us, off bright and early tomorrow for the last leg of touring. We are hoping the rain and mist clear to allow a last good view of the scenery.
 
All our best,
 
Lynne and Alan

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