Tawapou Farm Community Planting Day

Tawapou Farm is my ex-boss Tom’s family place. A few years ago they decided to put the land into a conservation trust and (over a decade or more) restore the native plants that had been destroyed by 100 years of cattle and pine tree farming.

Now, they have a community planting day every year to further that cause. Tom’s brother, who runs a large plant nursery on the property, does all the prep work (including killing off all the existing grasses), and they put out the call for volunteers. We were replanting between a pretty little stream and a new road they’ve put in to get to the children’s homes on the coastal ridge.

The Orca Research lady had first world conservationist problems… she had to arrange special permission to park down by the work site because there had been an orca sighting in the bay and she was on call to rush off and document any repeats.

Tom’s partner Isabella’s daughter with her beau… is this a pose they might repeat some day???

I don’t know how many people actually showed up today… maybe 80-100? But many hands certainly lightened the work. We planted over 5,000 shrubs and trees in under three hours.

After, we were treated to a great lunch and a long talk about bird habitat management (which mostly means killing rodents by any means necessary).

Kiwis feel about their gumboots the way many Americans feel about cowboy boots, and there many on display. And as with cowboy boots, some looked more authentic than others.

We are sore and that will get worse tomorrow. But it was a fun morning of community and I think it will be a long-term memory of doing something that feels unequivocally “right.”

And then, the long walk from the hotel to the bar… life is good.

Air time

One of the people who also arrived early for this morning’s flight to Christchurch was Gwen, pictured above. She’d been traveling for 36 hours following a cruise in Scandinavia. Missed a connection. A bit wired up. Lost her luggage.

She’s written a book about her life, reviewed above. Does a lot of motivational speaking. She took my card and said she’ll send me a copy, here’s hoping!

On top of Mt. Eden

We got out on the tandem on Anzac Day and rode up to the top of Mt. Eden. Actually we had to walk up the last part.

It was a gorgeous day, perfect for Prince William’s appearance at the big ceremony later. We rode by the venue, which was heavily guarded, at least by NZ standards, in the wake of the Christchurch attacks. Weird to see the relatively scruffy and usually friendly NZ police with rifles in a ready position. Probably even weirder for the cops.

HealthLink 25th Anniversary

I was selected to be the emcee for the big anniversary gala celebration we held a few weeks ago. My qualifications included my sexy American accent and the perception that I could hold my liquor responsibly enough to get all the speakers up and down in order and on time. Success, but I’m not giving up my day job. There are some professional photos and videos on the HealthLink LinkedIn page if you care to look.

Some of my team looking sharp. Our normal dress code is pretty relaxed so it was great to see them all dolled up. There are five countries represented in this shot, but if we had a tug of war, India would win.

The event was held in the grand lobby of the Auckland Museum, and every detail was planned by our marketing team… amazingly well done. We had a powhiri and haka done by the museum’s in-house Māori group.

The party was also a farewell for founder and former CEO Tom Bowden, who has become a great friend to us.

But it was also a coming-out party for new CEO Michelle Creighton, who was an inspired choice to lead the firm into a new era that will see greater competition and a need for lots of diplomacy.

Tom’s partner Isabella, his daughter Catherine, and Lee. It’s possible that one or two drinks had been served by this point, meaning that getting all three to focus on the camera was a challenge.

It was a great evening, I was proud to be part of it.

Singapore Gardens by the Bay

We had a nice tour of Singapore’s giant garden domes. I think they have to keep the plants indoors because it’s too hot outside.

Giant indoor waterfall

Cherry blossoms


All the pictures above are things you’d expect to find in a botanical garden.

More surprising … downright surreal in fact… was the All-Stars of Cosplay convention.

I am a little uncomfortable around a lot of this cosplay stuff, to be honest. But this family of tourists was all in and didn’t share my queasiness, and it was cool to watch mom and kid having such a good time.


On Saturday we went to our first netball game, between the Northern Mystics and the Southern Steel. This marked a trifecta for me of sports I wouldn’t have likely seen in the States: rugby, cricket and now netball.

Rules-wise, it’s a lot like Ultimate Frisbee. Or it’s a lot like basketball with no dribbling.

Although the players are pros, it can’t be a very lucrative gig with only about 500-700 fans in the stands.

It was fun to watch… the passing and teamwork are beautiful. But the action is quite jerky… running the ball downcourt is great, but the action basically stops when it’s time to score.

But maybe the best part was Lee brought the Mystics sunglasses we fished out of the bay one night on a walk.

Ngockin aroung Ngunguru

We are up north this weekend visiting ex-boss Tom at his family farm in Tutukaka. But the hotel there wanted way too much for a room, so we found an Airbnb in Ngunguru, the ngext towng over. Pronungciation has beeng a topic. There’s no hard G, so no gurus in Ngunguru.


Ngunguru sits on an estuary. There’s a few hundred houses, a mix of second homes, retirees, and some people who make the commute into Whangarei. Pretty sleepy.

The next morning we went for a walk around. Despite there being nothing to see, we saw a lot…

The jandal fence.

The time capsule.

A whole series of funny little ant-themed pictures on the sidewalk.

The blue car that drove off the road.

A funny sign at the golf course and sports complex clubhouse.

And more. Would you want to spend your remaining time here? I don’t think I would, but it’s always a nice surprise to find some of the “more than meets the eye” stuff that surely exists everywhere.

Happy New Year

Happy Year of the Earth-Pig!

(In an early recognition of the impending Chinese global takeover, I’m just calling it “New Year” instead of “Chinese New Year”)

Hot roddin’

Last weekend we loaded the tandem into the van (I can hear some people yawning already) and headed up to Orewa to check out the Te Ara Tahuna Estuary Cycleway and Walking Track.

The ride was lovely, although we got lost in subdivisions a couple of times (welcome to Orewa, where you can check out any time you want…)

But wait, there’s more! We were apparently the only people in New Zealand who didn’t know that Orewa over Anniversary weekend means hot rods. Lotsa lotsa hot rods.

I’m not really a hot rod guy, mostly for political/ snobbery reasons… those are, for the most part, not my people. But OMG the cars are magnificent. The giant engines, clean enough to eat off. You can reach into the metal-flake paint jobs up to your elbow. It’s all good: the ball fringe, the greasy food truck smells, the Betty Boop costumes.

And of course it’s almost all Americana. There were maybe 5 or 10% right hand drive cars… the rest was pure Detroit. There were more Mustangs and Camaros than anything else. We pulled in to the sounds of Johnny Cash, and later saw a very convincing Polynesian Elvis grinding away on the little bandshell stage, mopping his face in the heat.

Part of me does wonder, back to the political/ snobbery discussion, whether there’s a need for some additional work so that the next generation of li’l rodders is more fully empowered and socially tolerant than those that came before. But in the meantime, listen to that engine roar!!

Happy New Year

We set an alarm so we wouldn’t miss fireworks from the Sky Tower. Luckily all we had to do was go across the street!

Looked way better in person, especially through the binoculars.

From one of the first places to arrive in 2019 comes one of the last greetings you’re likely to receive: Happy New Year 🎊🎆!!!

Christmas dinner

We had a sumptuous Christmas buffet dinner with Alicia and Nat at the Stamford Plaza hotel. It cost a ton, but not actually compared to cooking. These cute gingerbread houses were out in the lobby.

Among several helpings of everything else, I did a thing I’ve only done once or twice before: truly ate all the oysters I wanted to.

The true meaning of the season

Boxing Day sales means no more huddling over the laptop.

The last TV we bought ourselves was in 2007. It cost three times as much, used more electricity, had a much lower resolution, no internet connection, etc. Moore’s Law is still in full effect, I’d say.

Poor Knights Dive

Merry post-Christmas! My present this year was a weekend of diving…

The first day’s dive was scuttled due to weather, more on the rescheduled trip in another post. So we drove at a leisurely pace up to Tutukaka for Sunday diving. We had a nice dinner and went to bed early. It’s just as well that’s what we wanted to do… there ain’t a lot of choices in Tutukaka once the sun goes down.

Tutukaka and the Poor Knights rose to prominence after Jacques Cousteau called it one of the best dive sites in the world. That must be 50 years ago, and as far as I can tell it was the last big thing to happen there. Other travel writers have generally agreed, but they all quote M. Cousteau.

The dive shop (Dive Tutukaka, highly recommend) was already in full swing when we got there: paperwork done, get your suit and fins, grab a muffin, see you on the boat in 10.

It’s about 45 minutes (22 km) out to the islands. We took a small detour to check out a large school of fish that had come up the surface. More fun to watch than the photo suggests… That rock in the distance is one of the Poor Squires, which sit close to the Knights. And where we did our first dive.

The weather was rainy on shore, but it lightened up as we got away from the coast. We did not need our emergency beacon, I’m glad to say, but our skipper told us about it in the safety briefing he delivered with the str-r-r-r-ongest Welsh accent I’ve ever heard.

The whole area is preserved, above and below the water. That whitish stripe between the cliffs and the green part is a colony of Australasian gannets, who enjoy the solitude and freedom from mammalian predators.

7mm suit plus a 3mm hooded vest… more Neoprene than I’ve ever needed before. Water temp about 16C, about 61F, and I was still chilly down there. All that wetsuit meant a lot of weight was necessary to sink below the surface, but then once you get down there the air bubbles compress and you can drop quite quickly. So overall I felt quite awkward in my gear.

Due to technical difficulties, I didn’t have the GoPro, so no underwater shots. Lots of fish, some bright things on rocks, a couple of rays and morays. Kelp.

We dove two different sites, both featuring an underwater arch to swim through. I struggled a bit… my first dive in two years, cold, quite a bit of swell, not used to the gear, fairly challenging terrain (diving on a wall with no visible bottom so constantly monitoring depth), cloudy day so dim underwater, etc. On each dive I was the first in the group to run out of air. There was lots of marine life, no complaints in that department, but overall I was glad enough to head back in afterwards. It felt a lot more like a technical exercise than a fun outing.

Now that I’ve got my first taste of cold (er than the Caribbean) water diving, I look forward to going back. Preferably on a sunnier day, maybe to an easier site, with my camera working, so I can commune with Cousteau about what a fabulous spot this is.

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