Another Reunion

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

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Thursday, February 2, 2006

I contacted my Aunt Elizabeth a month or so ago by telephone and she invited Rachel and me to stay with her at her new place in Athenree in the Bay of Plenty.

My dad, aunt Elizabeth, and aunt Sue (see two entries previous) all have the same father, Robert McGarva, but different mothers. My philandering grandfather spent much of his life in New Zealand and that far-away side of the family have never met their Scottish relatives. So it is with curiosity and mild trepidation that I call Elizabeth and agree to meet up.

Elizabeth has given me directions over the phone and before we know it we have turned off the main road into a small village called Athenree near Kati Kati. We pull into a cul-de-sac and look for her house. One of the neighbours sees me and comments that ´you must be the relatives from Scotland come to see Elizabeth´. She points us in the direction of the next little house, and I see a lady waving enthusiastically from the drive. At first I am not sure if she really looks like a McGarva, probably because I´m expecting her to look like my Uncle Roy or Aunt Sue. After spending a couple of days with her I think that she actually looks more like my dad. She comments immediately that I look like my Grandfather.

After saying hello, Elizabeth takes us into the little bungalow, and makes us a nice cup of tea. It feels like visiting someone in Scotland as there is nothing particularly that marks out the environment as anything different from back home. She offers to do our large pile of washing and we hang up our damp camping gear to dry. Soon we meet her new partner, Steve, who arrives back from work in a Toyota Hilux 4WD towing a trailer with an assortment of lawnmowers on board. As a fulltime lawnmower man he has over 50 customers in the area. Ensuring that he cuts every customers lawn once every two works means he has to cut an average of 5 lawns per day. Rainy days means he is often playing catchup and placating concerned customers. This sort of work pulls in NZ35-NZ50 (about GBP 14-18) per hour; a reasonable paying occupation.

In the evening Steve fires up the Barbeque and cooks up some steaks for us. It seems that the Kiwis love their barbies just as much as the Ozzies. We have a chance to share some stories with Elizabeth, and she shows us some photos of Grandad. She has a book of his Robert Burns poems which apparently he treated like his Bible, and two hat badges bearing his numbers from the New Zealand and British Air Forces.

Next morning we go for a drive with Elizabeth around the local area. First stop is a business one, to drop off a lawnmower to a lady who´s own machine has broken down. We then drive down to the coast at Waihi Beach and enjoy a stroll along the bay. Much to Elizabeth´s consternation, the tide is so high that giant waves are sweeping all the way up to the grass at the edge of the sand. We try to walk in the narrow gap between the grass and the water, and both Rachel and Elizabeth get their trousers soaked because they are not paying attention to the waves.

We drive into Waihi, where we take a look into the tourist information centre which seems to be staffed by geriatric volunteers. We watch a video about the local open cast gold mine which I am surprised to learn has produced thousands of tonnes of gold bringing in millions of dollars over the many years of production. We drive up to a viewpoint overlooking the mine where we can see the gigantic crater that has been dug out of the earth. It is amazing how from the mainstreet of the town less than a kilometre away one is completely unaware of this industrial monstrosity lurking in the suburbs. I work out that it is hidden because the miners have dug the middle out of a hill, so that whatever aspect one takes of the area you cannot see inside, like a volcano, unless you climb to the top.

We take a couple of snaps beside the giant dump truck which has been parked up permanently beside the mine. Apparently this is a small one with only a payload of 75 tonnes, and wheels 3.2 metres tall. Further out of town we find a wild waterfall cascading down the hillside and we pause to take a few photos.

In the evening we go out to the Returned Servicemens Association (RSA) for a bite to eat. I am amazed at how big and busy the place is. It seems to be the social centre of the community for many people. Rachel and I are signed in as guests and we head through to a cavernous dining hall already full of people. We place our orders and receive an electronic buzzer to inform us when our meal will be ready. The menu reads just as one would imagine the menu or a typical English pub would be with the only exception that there is a wider choice of fresh fish. I start to think that perhaps New Zealand is closer culturally with England than even Australia. The food comes in big tasty portions and we enjoy the mealtime banter. The club has vast panoramic windows which afford a great view of the surrounding countryside and many of the guests sit on the verandah outside. Unfortunately not all the windows are open as one unobservant customer walking outside discovers to his detriment, bouncing his plate of sausages and mash off the highly polished glass onto the carpet.

Next day Rachel and I say sad goodbyes to Elizabeth and Steve, and set off back to the airport in Auckland, driving our boring underpowered automatic Toyota Corolla. We arrive in good time and call Jawad again so we can meet briefly before we fly off to another continent. After hanging around for check-in to open we are third in the queue, but unfortunately the two check-in desks are busy dealing with surfers carrying large boards arguing with staff about excess baggage charges. After a while a third desk opens and we dump our bags and head outside to meet Jawad, who has been patiently circling the airport every time he is moved on by security guards. We head over to a cafe not far from the airport and enjoy a bit of a chat before we head back to the airport for our flight. Jawad takes a photo of us at the departure gate next to the fattest Maori we have ever seen. We agree with Jawad that we will meet up back in the UK in the Summer.

And so we leave Austalisia and head off to a new continent - South America.
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