At the mussel beds, empty beach stretches in both directions, a gentle curve snaking back and forward along the coastline. The high-tide line marks the entrance to a driftwood forest—bleached trees the only witnesses to the endless roar of the Tasman Sea. Against the melancholy isolation, the family looks like a band of survivors, the last people on Earth, a warm nucleus of home.
In 2009 I was working as a laundress in the rest home that housed the room my grandad was slowly dying in. This was my first ever proper job. I was 30. I took great self-punishing heart in the term laundress. I listened to the Nutters Club while I waited for the tea towels to dry and wondered if Mike King would be as fun now he was off the waste. After I got home I read a novel a night so I could leave my body and keep up with Kim Hill.
After their 10am briefing, the chefs had set to work, almost shoulder to shoulder in that Lilliputian landscape, and for 10 minutes there had been no sound. Nobody talked about cooking or romantic partners, nobody streamed classic rock from their phones, nobody discussed the latest Nigella or yelled, "Where's my f***ing lamb?" - nothing.
"It helps everyone focus," Sahrawat said, eventually, of the silence. His chefs didn't look up.
Jessica is 24, all baby-faced and boobs in a girly pink top. She struggles to remember the first time a man paid her to have sex but she remembers one time a man tried to suffocate her. She doesn't get nervous standing on Manchester St too often these days, unless it's a client that looks like that man. She doesn't take drugs and hardly drinks so the money goes towards the daughter she adopted out last year. Dyslexia and dyspraxia mean she's never held down an office job, she wants to spoil her daughter with toys and Manchester St is the only "office" she's never been fired from.
At the bottom of the drive his wife and my dog conducted a brief but passionate affair, while Paul and I shook hands, made vague promises of future contact, and said goodbye, most probably for ever. And I went back up to the house thinking thoughts. Trite ones for the most part, truisms you hear when young and never quite believe. Like how fast time passes. And more particularly how it accelerates to a blur, so that you can no longer remember who you met last week but you can still spell an impossible surname from 40 years ago. And also how we summarise a life with just two facts – how you made a living and whether you reproduced. The rest, the love and misery, the fear and laughter, is fiddle-de dee.
The case of Chris Robinson, the insurer IAG, and the burnt-out Kerikeri mansion is much stranger than a standard tussle between disgruntled policyholder and suspicious insurer.
Aside from the printer-ignition theory there's blackmail and bankruptcy, and allegations of conspiracy. There's a side-plot involving poisoned land. The IRA and a fake Irish priest make cameo appearances. It's a story whose various interpretations differ so drastically that someone, somewhere, must have told some lies.
It’s another level of remoteness from what Joy knew growing up, but she’s had it easier than her mother-in-law Heather, who arrived as a 20-year-old bride from Auckland to a house without electricity or telephone. Yet even with satellite internet, twice-weekly visits from the mailboat and a fast boat, living this far out still requires a healthy sense of self-reliance. Like her own mother, Joy has had to school her kids, years of correspondence lessons at this very kitchen table.
“That’s been the hardest thing about living here,” she says of educating the girls, both of whom are now in their 20s and have left home. “It was such a big responsibility, and you never knew whether you were doing it well enough.”
Whatever the story, each case touched a nerve. I can give a crime tour of Auckland, pointing out the locations of death and suffering. My doors are always locked. My favourite game to pass the time while waiting for someone's appearance is to remember the names of all the lawyers in the courtroom, and then name the clients they've represented. Occasionally I search for victims of crime online, hoping they're doing OK.
An unreliable, flickering inner mental video reveals changes to the gang of strangers since I joined them nine years ago. Bellies have swollen and receded, or just swollen, beards have grown, school kids have grown up, dogs have died. Although numbers have doubled, many have vanished. Some may have shrugged off the monthly-pass fare and relocated to Titirangi. Some may have simply lost their jobs. And I have, sometimes, seen the full-page obituary you get in the Gulf News when you die young.
"Young people here grow up real fast and nothing is happening,” said 20-year-old Kaitaia local Mariah Herbert who lost her sister to suicide in 2008, her friend in 2016 and has attempted to take her own life twice. “They see people getting really far in life and look at themselves and say, ‘I can’t do that’. You need money or to look a certain way to get somewhere.
“It’s about feeling useless or not wanted or feeling silent and like nobody sees or hears you. Suicide is the easy way out - or sometimes it feels like it’s the only way out.”
Their school looked familiar to me, but many things about this Auckland were not. In one shop, the students insisted I eat a stodgy pancake that looked and tasted like a doughnut. They showed me the red fabric and flowered cross that would lie on a Tongan coffin, and the blazer patches for the many different churches of the area. This Auckland has existed my whole life: I grew up in Te Atatu South, attending mixed-ethnicity schools – decile fives, these days – with Polynesian churches in the neighbourhood. From my Māori grandmother I inherited a fondness for plastic flowers, especially a lei or hair ornament. I thought I knew Auckland. But I knew nothing.
The next morning, Moss held a razor to his wife’s face, twice, asking, "Shall I shave you?"
Mary shrugged him off. "Don’t be silly," she said.
Her nonchalance masked a colossal unease.
For one year - an exciting, explosive, extraordinary year - Back courted Reiha's attention.
With thousands of text messages and thousands of emailed words, the 41-year-old competed for her time, demanded her attention and consumed her life.
And then she died.
She was 13.
At 7.30pm, my partner and I go for a stroll. The invite declares the party starts at 7.30pm, but she tells us no-one will turn up for an hour. A Previa van is parked at the bottom of the road. Half a dozen boys loiter on the van seats, guzzling from brown beer bottles.
"Oh my God," I whisper, "do you think they're coming?" My partner raises an eyebrow, as if to say, "Are you from the Mennonite community?"
Did she have any advice for her successor? “No.”
What about a successor in 20 years’ time? She couldn’t help herself. “Ask the artist who it’s for. The artist and the audience are of equal importance. I have no time for what I call art in the bathroom.”
Art in the bathroom. She means that thing you do when you stand in front of the mirror and sing with the hairbrush.
“And don’t do the same old crap all the time.”
I start to wonder whether Buckingham sees himself as a kind of latter-day Charlie Douglas. With so much of New Zealand already explored, perhaps finding a bird believed to be extinct is the equivalent of discovering a new species, mapping a new valley, naming a mountain range.
“Charlie’s a cult hero for me; I would have been his best friend, I think!” Buckingham tells me later. They’re both a bit reclusive, both bushmen, both bird-lovers and bachelors. “We have so much in common,” he says. “I was just born 100 years too late.”
Mahana was established on 1978 in the wake of Nambassa, one of the enormous hippy festivals held on the Coromandel Peninsula. The broader hippy movement was already rolling toward its conclusion, as several thousand gathered in the valley for a three-day celebration of free love, peace and music. A film about Nambassa, Dirty Blood Hippies, calls it New Zealand's "last gasp of the hippy dream". But the gasp birthed something. A group from the festival gathered. The root of all human problems, they agreed, lay in ownership of land. They decided to buy a section of land, and set it free
“It’s more than a church to Christchurch, it’s our McDonald’s golden arches, it’s our [city council] logo… it’s what Christchurch is known for throughout the world. It’s like taking down the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Auckland Sky Tower. It’s like saying we’ll take down the Eiffel Tower because it’s got a bit rusty and we don’t like it anymore.”
We would often run in the rain down slippery Waitakere tracks, jumping creeks in a single bound. Down Black Rock Dam to Piha, up the Pararaha Gorge. I was loving being a new father and now he was getting divorced. I thought Ford had made him do it and it would turn dark and end like Ford’s tales, in tears… It wasn’t easy but he and Robyn made it work. I played an old wind-up gramophone at the wedding while the great sprinter coach and Freemason Joe McManermin married them in the Domain.
Photo: Jon Baldock
Crow, who looks like he has just walked off a set in Guy Ritchie's London, bulky and bald with a brace of fat rings, wasn't born into porn. A former deep sea diver and merchant banker, he used to run a computer company with a sideline in adult games.
"And then the adult CD company passed the computer company for dead. It was like, 'Shit, I'm focusing on the wrong thing here.' So I got rid of the computer company, and the rest is history."
By February, Tyler's ashes are in a box on a small table and her life is slowly stumbling forward. Karen and S'ean were continuing to plan their March wedding. Tyler was supposed to be best man.
But for Karen the question remains - why? She looks into the distance.
"Are you happy? Are you getting help where you are that you couldn't get here," she asks.
Ingram says old boats have been going up to the Pacific "to die" for decades.
"They haven't got the money to buy proper ocean-going boats so they're coming down and buying 50-year-old cast-offs from New Zealand.
"Why are these fellas selling them? Because they're no longer efficient, they've reached the end of their working lives."
Photo: Bob McAuliffe
It was a pretty road that wound downhill from their home, through farmland and bush and scrub, to State Highway 1. But people often parked up there to wash down McDonald’s burgers with pre-mixed bourbon and cola, before ditching their cardboard and cans in piles on the roadside and skidding off, back to the main road. These people’s litter made Kathleen cross, and that morning, through mist and drizzle and windscreen wipers, she was furious to see a particularly large pile, dimly illuminated in the car headlights. She flicked them to high beam. Something moved. A leg.
I didn't go straight to the hospital. Through the afternoon and into the early evening, I sat with my wife and our new baby in the warm belly of Birthcare, just across the wide green barrier of Auckland Domain, separating me from the hospital where my father lay some indeterminate distance from death, moving either away or toward.
I wondered if I was a bad son.
Every night for a year, Robyn left the back door unlocked and the outside light on for Kirsa. In the early days, when the house was full of people, she slept on the lounge floor because she couldn’t face being in a warm, comfortable bed when her daughter might be lying out somewhere in the darkness. And each morning, Robyn would draw back the curtains in Kirsa’s bedroom to let in the light, and decide what clothes to wear to help her through another day.
Like the dirty morning smog and constant tooting horns, the Rugby boys blend into the streets. Against a background of concrete, colour, people and movement, they disappear.
This is where Lito Ramirez started out. This could have been his life.
How about a roadtrip story, a kind of nationwide pilgrimage to the places that defined the leadership of our surprisingly popular prime minister? Frame the big issues with geography. Talk to the people who were icons of his reign and ordinary folk too, then distil the essence of how Kiwis see him. Find out what's changed in Key's eight years. You can knock the interviews off tomorrow. Take a work car! Take a photographer!
So you want me to do a voxpop within driving distance of the office?
Why do I write this now? Because if I could turn back time, I would have dropped everything and spent every possible moment with Mum, before her brain began to shrink so much that she would no longer know us. We didn't realise the clock was ticking by the day, although we were warned. Her specialist, Dr Ian Hosford, told us that Mum could live for about eight years, before the disease would take her. We tried to bury our heads in the sand, to hope that the drugs she was prescribed - that made her vomit and gave her vicious diarrhoea - would possibly work.
This girl calls kapa haka her life. Most lunchtimes, she leads her peers as they practise their routines, and with her complete lack of fuss or instruction, she inspires in them something like unity. As she looks out past everything that’s concrete and she starts to sway, it’s as though she’s whispering to them, quiet now, begin.
The public toilet at Taupo Community Park shuts at 4pm each day. Until 5pm, if you have 50 cents for the loo or $2 for the shower, you can use the award-winning Superloo on Tongariro Street.
But after 5, your options start to lessen. The last easy option is the Ferry Road carpark toilet, which remains open until 7pm...
The toilet schedule is something you need to know when you are homeless in Taupo.