Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In December my brother Tim receives an unexpected email from someone surfing the internet looking for the McGarva surname. It turns out that the correspondent and my brother´s (and hence my) grandfather are one in the same person: Robert McGarva. And so I obtain the email address of my Aunt Sue in Auckland, just a few weeks before we are due to arrive in New Zealand.

I send a few emails to Sue and she warmly invites Rachel and me to stay with her for a few days with her and husband Barry in north Auckland.

We arrive at Auckland airport wondering how we will recognise my long lost Aunt, since we haven´t seen each other before. Fortunately Sue has had a look at our photos on travelpod and knows what to expect (and lets face it - as a couple we are not hard to pick out in the crowd). As we come out of the gate she shouts out loudly to us and we turn to see a friendly face beaming from behind the barrier.

It´s not hard to see the family resemblance as my Aunt Sue looks and behaves like a female version of my Uncle Roy. She has the same bubbly emotional character and gives me more hugs in the airport than I´ve had from Rachel in the last week. We quickly decide to postpone our hire car rental as Sue and Barry are delighted to drive us around for a day or two in their brand new Kia Sedona V6. I hope that they didn´t specially buy it for our arrival.

We head north from the airport and Barry explains that he and Sue have their own Real Estate business in Milford called Profile Realty. We stop to take a look at the plush offices where there are over 14 staff working on a normal day. It seems quite a succesful operation, and Barry tells me that all the sales agents are on 100% comission-based pay. Typically the vendor of a home in a Auckland will pay 4% commission, of which half typically goes to the selling agent. I consider that listing and agreeing the sale of the most expensive house on Barry´s books, a 3.7M NZ$ (about GBP1.3M) mansion, could net the selling agent 74,000 NZ$ (about GBP 26,000) which is a tidy little sum. Then again Barry informs me that in some months only one or two houses are sold, and some agents on his staff haven´t sold anything since they bought the business a few months ago.

Sue takes us across the road to the local pub and buys us a beer to welcome us to Auckland. We share a few memories about Robert McGarva and it all seems very surreal to me to be talking to my Aunt in a pub in Auckland about my late grandfather. Sometime the story will have to be written down, but suffice to say for now it it far more traumatic, entertaining, and surprising than the plot of Coronation Street over the last 30 years.

Barry drives us through the suburbs of Auckland and gives us an overview of the housing scene in town. In one luxurious street lined with big-fronted palacial looking residences, the owners have clubbed together and paid for the electricity poles to be removed, and the cables buried, so that their view of the sea is unimpeded. In another area we see ugly six-storey high concrete blocks with rubbish strewn outside. However in the main, most areas seem to be relatively affluent.

Barry and Sue have just sold their own million dollar mansion to enable them to plough a load of cash into Profile Realty, and also in speculation that the housing market in Auckland may be off the boil and dropping. They have rented a brand new house in a new suburb which reminds me of the new housing estates happening all over the South of England. What is most striking is that the house is built on an area of ground no larger than most new houses in the UK - perhaps this marks the end of the assumption that you will get a much bigger plot if you sell in the UK and buy in NZ.

In the evening we go out to a pub-restaurant called The Copper Kettle. Inside its really bustling with people and shortly after we sit down a hen party arrives which increases the noise level considerably. I order lamb and Rachel has seared salmon and salad, both of which are really tasty and well presented. By the end of the meal we can hardly hear each other though as the band strikes up in another corner, and we decide to call it quits for the night.

The weather is really hot and humid and during the day it is cloudy, 30 degreesC, and humid. At night we find it hotter than Sydney and I sleep without any covers on, sweat wetting my body.

In the morning Barry makes us a ´long black´ with his espresso machine and as we laze outside on the decking, Sue suggests that we eat Yum Cha for brunch as its Chinese New Year. Rachel is delighted by the suggestion and we head over to a local Chinese restaurant by 11.30am. Even at that time of the day, the restaurant is already starting to fill up. Rachel makes her customary mistake of ordering too much food, but everyone enjoys the varied selection of dishes which are on a par with any Hong Kong restaurant. Barry takes home two large polystyrene containers of leftovers.

After looking around some shops, and driving back through the centre of the city, we are back at Sue and Barry´s house around 2pm and Sue suggests that we take a little rest before the guests arrive for the big BBQ at 4pm. Sue seems to read our mind: there is nothing more desirable than take a power-nap in the sapping humidity of the afternoon.

Later the guests arrive for the Barbeque: Sue´s oldest sister Angela, her husband Alan, Sue and Angela´s mother Vicky, who was married to my grandfather for 24 years, Sue´s daughter Holly (my cousin) and her fiance, and Sue´s extrovert friend Sylvia Tirakitemoana Arama, a Maori Princess otherwise known as Princess Pohhutukawa, a title bequeathed to her in May 1989. I see that her little red Toyota Starlet has the number plate PRINZS.

Alan is a retired Navy Wingcommander, and talks with a quiet but authoritative voice; his accent identical to Sam Neal´s the Kiwi actor. It turns out that his wife Angela is 66 and has just taken up tri-athlon as a hobby. I can´t help but be impressed as her firm skin and slim figure make her look 15 years younger.

I enjoy talking to Grandma Vicky - a somewhat mythical character from stories told by my uncle and my dad in my childhood. I didn´t even know she was still alive- but despite her 84 years she is sharp as a button and recounts in her Cockney accent every detail that I ask her about from the 1950´s when she immigrated from London to New Zealand with my grandfather. She tells me that I look and sound just like him, and she gives me two faded black and white photos of him.

Barry takes control of the Barbie and cooks up a great feast that everyone enjoys, particularly the fish which is cooked to perfection. Princess Pohhutukawa drinks a little too much red wine and after being the tactile life and soul of the party for about 4 hours, eventually knocks over a plant in the bathroom to Sue´s mild annoyance before falling asleep on the sofa.

Next morning we eat a breakfast and hitch a lift with Barry and Sue down to St Kentigern´s College in Pakuranga road where Rachel´s friend Jawad is living. We say sad goodbyes to Sue and Barry and wonder when we will see each other again. I hope that they can travel to the UK sometime to meet their family on the other side of the world.

Rachel´s friend Jawad welcomes us warmly into the flat adjacent to the school where he is lodging with friend Ross who teaches music. Jawad has been travelling for over 2.5 years and hasn´t seen Rachel in 8 years since they last met each other in Birmingham to go indoor climbing. They relax into an easy banter with each other though, and I have to admit Jawad seems like the most easy-going guy in the world. Rachel assures me he was just the same before he went travelling. You can read Jawad´s account of meeting Rachel on travelpod too:

Click here to jump to Jawad´s entry

Jawad drives us down to the Ace hire cars at the airport where we pick up our Toyota Corolla which we will need for the rest of the week. We say bye bye, but plan to try to catch up with Jawad before we leave Auckland.

You´ll see this entry is entitled ´Whanau´ - thats the Maori word for ´Family´ and describes perfectly what we have been able to do for the last couple of days.
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