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.
Trubridge is on his back, with the aid of floatation devices, above the second-deepest saltwater blue hole in the world, which sits in an otherwise shallow bay off Long Island in the Bahamas. He is tethered to the line where, 102 metres, or 334 feet six inches below, tags sit upon a metal plate. Returning one to the surface will prove his feat was more than a figment of our imagination.
"You can do all the intelligence you like, but Muslims in New Zealand who feel they are Kiwis, in a sense they’re the frontline for us. Rather than pointing the finger, we should be embracing them. Because at the end of the day, if there’s an outlaw within their ranks, it will be them who find it – not me, poring over intelligence reports."
This is New Zealand’s third kauri bonanza: first the forests were felled, then the gum was dug up. What’s left is the swamp kauri, or ancient kauri, or sub-fossil kauri, depending on who you ask. And depending on who you ask, it’s a taonga, a precious and wonderful timber, a unique scientific resource and globally-significant record of climate change, a source of employment, the focus of illegal activity and the agent of destruction of Northland’s rare and vanishing wetlands.
Lowrie is precise and considered. Tamihana is a fearless gambler. Lowrie has his neat, conservative New York Yankees cap. Tamihana has his hair gelled into a mini-mohawk, a shark’s dorsal fin. Lowrie arranges his chips in an obsessive-compulsive, layered wedge: yellow on the bottom, orange on the next level, a small tower of mauve on top. Tamihana’s chips form a wall: a three-deep fortress that he leans over, eyeballing his opponents.
“There’s a perception an elective caesarean is very much a controlled environment, which it is. You can get your toenails done and be there for 10am. But a general obstetrician like me has seen enough women haemorrhage who could have died; we’ve had bladder injuries, sepsis [a life-threatening complication caused by infection], heart attacks... Caesareans are not without risk.”
The problem with having Sir David as an interview subject is that he's become an idea. He's been part of our communal family for generations. His picture could appear in the dictionary alongside words like 'energy', 'passion', 'positivity'. I wonder, are there aspects to the natural world he hates? He doesn't seem to understand. "What I mean is, have you ever wanted to strangle a lemur?"
He purses his lips. "Well I certainly don't like rats."