By

Bobby Hopkins

When I first came to Aotearoa (New Zealand) in 1983 it was a country that had not made much impact other than the 60 million sheep, Anchor butter and recently then Kiwi fruit. It still had a very pioneering aspect to life. It was the type of atmosphere I wanted and I looked forward to challenges and adventures. I guess the old saying is true “be careful for what you wish for” because that is exactly what I got! But perhaps that’s a set of stories for another time.

New Zealand then was a country with main road communications which was similar to a B grade road in the UK, most of the smaller roads were gravel (metal roads) and graders were common redistributing the gravel over the tyre tracks.

Holden and Ford cars with huge engines up to 7.2ltr were common, they were large, heavy and wide these were the norm.

The roads today are motorway style and sadly we have the appropriate amount of traffic jams, although the gravel roads are there but not so many, the Fords and Holden’s have given way to Toyota and Honda which actually start in the morning and don’t leak oil.

A travel idiosyncrasy is time and distance, in Wales you would say Aberdaron is 3 miles from Rhiw, here it would be ‘about 5 to 6 mins away’, distance takes on a time instead, so Gisborne is 8 - 9hours away from Wellington, this is a much better guide really because it takes into account the road condition and difficulty as well, where as 250 miles implies a straight line on the map and an implied 4 - 5 hour run.

Other odd stuff, yes the water does swirl the other way, very hard getting used to a scorching hot Christmas, looking at the stars, there are none of the Northern hemisphere stars visible so it’s a little disorienting for a while, ice cream is really ice cream (yum), Initially its hard to tell the difference between a Kiwi accent and an Aussi one… this is fixed early on, sayings are different… “She’ll be right” for instance can mean ‘every thing will be ok with the thing’ or ‘don’t worry’. We have an American friend who has decided to live here too, he had immense problems getting used to the saying “sweet as” meaning ‘it worked well’ or it’s a beauty!, he thought (because of the accent and the American translation of same) we were all saying “sweet arse” it took a little explaining, he was highly embarrassed and relieved at the real meaning! J

The other thing that impressed me when I first came is moving house… we are about to move house again, this is quite a common thing to do in New Zealand, it sounds like a rootless thing to do and I suppose that this could be true to an extent, however most like us move within an area to a house which suits your needs at the time, i.e. young kids larger house fenced garden; teenagers, bigger still separate bedrooms for them large garden, barbeque; kids go, town house, patio with entertainment area you get the drift.. Well there is one other thing you can do. If you love your house and have put a lot into it you move the whole thing to a new site, and during my travels thought the country I have seen many a full grown house, you know 4 bedrooms two bath etc trundling along on a 48 wheeler, it still is quite awe inspiring!

Some of these travels have taken me to some interesting corners of the country; one such journey was to Gisborne. It is the last large town on the North Island East coast, it is sub tropical there, they grow tomatoes all year, the waters are warm and the sea… well you get the picture. Not far from Gisborne is a small town called Ruatoria, we had just traversed the East Cape road and we eventually came out in Ruatoria looking for water, there was nothing for about 100 km. The main street of Ruatoria was devoid of life and the compacted mud/gravel street was covered in a light dusting of red dust together with the local pub and the hitching post and the three horses tethered to it, I fully expected to see John Wayne coming out of the bar at any moment with spurs jingling. Ruatoria has not changed much even today, great place!

Other dusty places was a new irrigation scheme (its not dusty now) in the South Island called appropriately enough the ‘Maniototo irrigation scheme’ the plan was to use the ground radar which I had introduced into New Zealand to find rabbit burrows in the dyke, and pin point them for filling otherwise the water would not go where it was supposed to. (Note here the rabbit problem in the south was unbelievable... another story there) We ran the dyke for miles with the 4x4 in low ratio first gear to slowly survey at just under walking pace, temperatures were in the 90’s+ and it was as dusty as anything you could imagine and we could sometimes see dust devils swirling a cone of dust on the plain with a hot dry wind blowing down from the mountains.

"Maniototo"

The area is about 2500 feet above sea level and flat as a pancake for 15 miles in all directions then a ring of hills surround the Maniototo which on this day were quite brown and burnt from the sun, still the company was good and we were having fun picking up the occasional chunk of gold which was showing in the crushed rock that had been laid on the top of the bank, not enough to retire on but enough as a few trophies of the day, oh! and yes it is the real thing. I tried to imagine if this were the case in the UK, you just couldn’t do it there would be a gold rush.  So there’s plenty there for every one, next time you’re in the Maniatoto have a look for yourself and pick up a small trophy but leave some for someone else though. Have fun!

But enough of the travel brochure thing, Maori of course is what New Zealand are famous for as far as culture, this culture is not to dissimilar to Celtic culture in many aspects, the land as the mother the sun and water as life etc, many legends show striking similarities of human frailty and learning through error. The Haka the All Blacks chant at the beginning of each international, this is a chant for freedom and seeking light and who will stop me!

Maori early last century had the ‘Maori not’ at school, and were subjected to similar sets of cultural mismanagements as the Welsh. Interestingly, the Maori pre school (Kohanga reo) Ko hang a reo  translates to ‘language nest’ has taken the Welsh method of re introducing the language to the kids, and has been very successful, the language is evident every where today, great!

I do look forward to visiting Wales again and seriously brushing up on my Welsh again (I apologise in advance) in the not to distant future this time with the family and we can seek out some of those friends, places and the dreams I still know, remember and imagine.

Cymru am byth

Robert Hopkins.  (Bobby Dolfor)

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It's over 20 years since we've seen Bobby, and until we had an e-mail from him about a month ago, we had no idea where he was. We are so glad to know that you are well, and that we can look back at our childhood. But more important that we can look forward to the future, and to meet again before long, and thanks for a brilliant article. Tony & Gwenllian.

 

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