The Return to Waiheke
The November temperature in Auckland is around the same as London. It’s been unseasonably warm in the UK so I’m making a smooth temperature transition, except once the 13 degree morning warms up in New Zealand the day gets hot. The flight via Singapore has been OK, there’s a brand new wing to the international terminal built to take the double-decker Airbus 380s. It boasts a 50 metre travolator. My New Zealand passport gets me through immigration electronically and my bags are some of the first on the carousel. Bio-security doesn’t want to scan my luggage and the sniffer dogs take no interest in me. I just miss a bus into downtown Auckland and wait for the next one. There are a couple of Italian girls smoking next to me. They show me some Australian money and ask if they can use it here.
‘No, but you can change it at the bank.’ I guess they are thinking of Euros across boarders.
The bus driver is in a hurry and bad-tempered. I’m struggling with two cases on wheels, ruck-sack and duty free bag. He wants me to hurry up and a young man helps me lift the heavy bag onto a rack. The driver is off before I’m settled, leaving a customer behind on the pavement. There’s been an accident on the way out of the airport and we take a diversion, which turns out to be slow. This explains the driver’s haste, as he’s behind schedule, but he’s also sweating and fills the bus with his body odour – yuck. From downtown Auckland, which all looks much the same, I get a taxi to Parnell and my cousin’s place to recover from the flight, connect with family and research second had cars. You have to have a car in this country.
In a pre-planned operation I’m met off the ferry by my friend Warwick and we pack my luggage into his little red car and drive off to Rocky Bay where two young Argentinians, also organised by Warwick, are waiting to unpack my store room. Everything comes out in reverse order. Under felt first followed by rugs, furniture, kitchen stuff and suitcases full of linen, pictures and some clothes. The Argentinians assemble the beds place the fridge freezer in its correct place and carry heavy wooden chests. This is definitely the way to do the unpacking as all I have to do is tell them where everything goes. Warwick is desperate for tea, so he unpacks the kitchen stuff and finds the kettle. I’ve brought sandwiches, a loaf of bread and butter. I end up eating most of the sandwiches as the others are really in to the bread and butter.
It’s an emotional reunion with this house, which in spite of being empty since July, is looking good. The native trees in the garden are all spring fresh is somewhat overgrown. My late partner died here and somehow that’s OK now after three years away. I notice that there’s an abundance of self sown parsley, possibly from tenant gardeners. There was always an issue with parsley germination in London so he would be pleased to see so much of it available. The Argentinians have almost finished when I find hidden behind the studio at the bottom of the garden, a rain sodden wardrobe, a boxer’s punch-bag and leaning against the rain-water tank and a large trampoline, all left by tenants. I get the lads to carry these up to the road-side where there will be an inorganic collection in a couple of weeks’ time.
They’ve gone and I’m left alone to unpack boxes and suitcases trying to remember where the wine glasses went and where did I store the towels? I need to catch the bus to the supermarket and as its Thursday I call in to the Rocky Bay Community Hall where there are stalls, tea and cakes and the local paper on sale. Dave, the chair of the local residents greets me like a long lost friend. There’s a bus waiting down the road and he says the next one is in an hour, so I run off, narrowly missing a small toddler weaving erratically across my pathway. I have thirty minutes to shop before there’s a return bus to Rocky Bay. It’s a steep climb back up the walkway to my road, carrying shopping bags and a rucksack. The halfway seat has been replaced but I don’t stop until the seat at the top. New Zealand sirloin steak for dinner is delicious and I’ve found some 2009 Mission Cabernet Sauvignon which has matured nicely whilst I’ve been away. I just need to find some sheets to make up my bed.
I’ve identified a blue Toyota Rav4 in Davenport which looks like it could be a good Waiheke car (they are ubiquitous here) and I’ve arranged to test drive it at 9am. This means getting the 7.15 bus to catch the 8.00 ferry into downtown Auckland which takes 35 minutes and then quickly walking to the next pier for the Devonport ferry. The reality of living on an island bites in. Everything revolves around the timetable and expeditions to the mainland have to be meticulously planned. I guess long time residents know the timetables by heart, but I still have to carry around fold up brochures which I take out and consult at regular intervals.
I’m given the keys and allowed to go off on my own for a test drive. I’m somewhat surprised, but then remember that this is New Zealand and anyway when I get going, notice that the fuel tank is on empty so wouldn’t get very far. I buy the car – the paper work takes ages – and head for the nearest petrol station 3 Km away.
Any visit to the mainland should combine at least two other tasks so first up is to call in on Mary at Point Chevalier. She’s home for coffee and wants my opinion on Sicilian Olives – the bright green plumb shaped ones – for one of her food jobs. She’s also got a load of bags full of second hand cricket gear donated by a local club. These are cluttering her flat and do I want any? She’ll take these on her next food tour to Sri Lanka and distribute them to poor local kids, thus decreasing future prospects for the England Cricket team. Next up is a swim at the Newmarket Olympic pool. It’s a hefty $8 to get in and I’ve remembered to bring, along my swimming gear, but not a padlock for the lockers, so I have to take my stuff into the poolside. As promised, I concentrate on my backstroke and also some breastroke. I’m looking for a café for lunch en route to the car ferry at Half Moon Bay. A supermarket seems a good idea to grab some supplies and a snack.
As I haven’t got a booking, its pot luck and I don’t get the resident’s discount on a single ticket. The three o’clock sailing is just loading up and I’m booked on the 6pm but by waiting in the standby queue get on the 4pm, arriving home in time to grab a few cans of beer and a pot of Sicilian Olives and walk down to the Hall for Happy Hour – held every first Friday of the month.
A garden festival with around 13 gardens open to the public is advertised. There’s always something going on here and I’ve got my eye on the walking festival next weekend. I decide that I need to get on with sorting my own garden. I make a quick trip to the Ostend Saturday market, but most of the vegetable plants look spindly, so I go to the hardware store to buy packets of seeds and compost. The back seats in my Rav4 fold down to accommodate. I plant seeds in pots and then clear some straggly small trees to let the light into the vegetable area. Hopefully this will help the Lemon and Lime trees to fruit. It’s all quite backbreaking work as I’m hauling compost from other parts of the garden to fill up the beds. A crop of spinach and emerging Jerusalem Artichokes are doing well along with the Parsley.
I need to check the sewerage system. Every house on the island has to dispose of their waste and collect rainwater from the roof. My system takes the contents of the toilet and feeds into a wormery, skimming off the liquids which are then joined by grey water from other parts of the house. This goes through two plastic settling tanks then a filter which has to be taken out and bashed gently against a handy tree trunk to get rid of solids. Further down is a concrete tank with a Heath Robinson arrangement of a kitchen colander and a sieve doing a final solid collection. The water then goes through 4 soak pipes which seep into the bush at the bottom of the property. It all seems OK and although it’s a fairly disgusting job, nothing smells, indicating that the worms haven’t died while the house has been empty. Of more concern are the foreign weeds encroaching. There are two young tobacco plants growing tall which I fell and there’s a tangle of scented jasmine – all very nice in a garden, but inappropriate here, climbing up the trees and creating a carpet on the bush floor. This will keep me busy for months.
I need to get a New Zealand sim card for my phone which means going into downtown Auckland before they close at 6pm. There’s a queue but a very helpful young man whips out my UK sim and fits a NZ one – simple. He does the paper work and tells me that I’ll get an alert tomorrow to go live.
It’s swimming training with Team Auckland Master Swimmers (TAMS) who in spite of this name are actually a gay group. I’ve got the time wrong and have arrived a few minutes late. It’s OK as they have just done the warm-up and coach Bret recognises me from when I was here earlier in the year. We’ve only got one lane of the pool tonight and there are some fast swimmers up the front. It’s a pull/kick set and we have to tumble with the float between our legs. That’s a bit of a challenge and I drop back just in front of Clive, who might be in his late 60,s or early 70,s. He’s been swimming for 4 years and has never been better. I’m rubbish at pull and kick so this should be good for me. Everything seems to be in blocks of 400m tonight and Bert hands out paddles, from their bin of equipment (stored at the pool). Last time I trained here it was fins but paddles on the hands are something else. I’m advised by Clive that you have to put your goggles on first then do the paddles. They certainly make me keep my elbows high and at times seem to have a life of their own but eventually I get the hang of it. There’s time to complete the warm-down in the hot pool afterwards – great for dispersing lactic acid. It’s a very short walk to the ferry but it will take me an hour to get home. Thirty-five minutes on the sea, five minutes walk to the car then twenty minutes drive.
I’ve been here a week and have been working away at the raised beds, recovering the gravel which has washed down from the drive-way and begun transplanting native grasses to provide ground cover from other parts of the garden to hold the bank together. My phone still hasn’t come on and I’ve spent most of the morning phoning Vodaphone and trying out the various automated options, none of which are quite appropriate for my particular problem. When I do get through to someone, I’m transferred to extensions which are never answered. I decide that the only solution is to visit the nice man at the store in downtown Auckland.
My friend Rangimoana emails to say he’s on the island, but has the wrong phone number. He’s with relatives and wants to come over. We have lunch, I’ve lit a fire as its cold and we’ve lots to catch up. As its swimming training day and I have to drive my friend to the ferry, I might as well go early and sort the phone out. It’s done in a flash by the nice young man.
Cynthia is the Thursday coach and she’s put on the white board 900m TT 21. I only notice the 900m and get a bit of a shock. We have three lanes tonight and I get put up to lane three, which is another shock. In the end we only do 800 as Cynthia has produced another gadget, a beeping capsule which I fit underneath my bathing cap just above my ear. She’s set mine on 30 and the leaders on 32. This means two strokes per beep and off we go, concentrating on maintaining a steady pace over 8 lengths, 7, 6 etc down to 1. Next we have to set the beepers to 21 and the TT21 for the warm-up becomes clear. This is very hard to go so slowly, but we are concentrating on reducing the number of strokes per length. I recall that Cynthia is very keen on DPS (distance per stroke). As we’ve been going so slowly, a soak in the hot pool suffices as a warm-down. I’ve remembered my padlock but have managed to lock my keys in the locker and so have to borrow the pool bolt-cutters, kept for just such emergencies. Thursday is pub night and we all pile into a bar for beer and chips. Dave the club secretary has been sporting the Out to Swim cap which he acquired in Cologne some years ago. Good to see that it’s still going and promoting the club on the other side of the world. Quite a few of this club have spent time with OTS in the past and Cynthia remembers Dermot.
Thursday attracts all the women in the club who are all very friendly and try to encourage me into open water stuff. They’ve just started their Saturday morning session on Takapuna Beach on the North shore. It’s almost impossible to get there for 8am from Waiheke Island, so I have a great excuse.
There’s a gap in the ferry service. The alternative is to rush my pint -so I wait in the cold.