Archive for the 'Ben Schrader' Category

City editor goes bush

Fred at the summit

Fred at the summit (click for full size)

I marked last week’s launch of Economy and the City theme by heading into the bush. I’d been promising my 13-year-old son, Fred, I’d take him tramping for ages, but events and bad weather kept getting in the way. Guilt and a clear weekend forecast saw us brush the cobwebs off our packs, fill them with gear and food, and drive over to the foot of Mt Holdsworth in the Tararua Range.

We arrived around Saturday lunchtime. Throwing on our packs, we signed the intentions book, and hit the track. Fred soon asked me what the different trees were. I desperately tried to remember what Maggy (Te Ara’s botanist) had told me about the flora of the Tararuas while writing the Wairarapa entry, but to no avail. ‘They’re beech trees’, I replied lamely. I had more luck with the birds. Last time I’d heard no native birds – introduced pests eating both them and their habitat – but this time we heard grey warblers, fantails and even the screech of a kākā.

At Mountain House shelter we stuffed ourselves with chocolate before the final ascent to Powell Hut. In this section the bush comprises twisted trees laden down with lichen and moss. Descending cloud and rising wind added to the magic of the scene, so we pretended we were in Lord of the Rings. escaping the Dark Riders.

Eventually we broke through the bush line and got to the hut. Opening the door, we discovered the place largely occupied by Wellington Girls’ College students. For Fred this was no bad thing; but his interest drained as the girls texted each other, compared notes on male teachers, and screeched while practising dance moves on the bunks. ‘Why can’t they shut up?’ he asked. ‘That’s what 14-year-old girls do’, I said. He sighed.

Around 6 p.m. we prepared our bush tucker – spaghetti carbonara, salad and tea-dunking gingernuts. At 9 it was pitch black and our fellow trampers were hitting the sack. As the beep of new texts and giggles died down, the wind and my bunkmate’s snoring picked up. With the hut rattling and shaking I imagined Cedric the Ghost bursting through the door, axe in hand. I hoped he’d kill the snorer first. Eventually the crimson of dawn appeared.

After breakfast we decided to try and reach the summit before the descent. Battling the wind we clambered up the craggy spur to the top. Fred had only been this high in a plane and looking out towards Jumbo was elated by the expanse before him. A few snapshots later we hurried back down to the hut, picked up our packs, and ambled down to the Atiwhakatu Stream. It was hot in the valley, so we went for a reviving dip in the crystal river, before following it out to Holdsworth Lodge.

Driving home, we agreed we belonged in the city, but it was great every now and then to go bush.

The season to protest

The 1975 Māori land march or hīkoi – a defining moment in New Zealand history

The 1975 Māori land march or hīkoi – a defining moment in New Zealand history

Mid-November is the beginning of the festive season, marked by spectacular Santa parades through city streets. This year Santa is facing competition from a series of street protests. Last Tuesday some 6,000 motorcyclists rumbled into Wellington to protest substantial ACC levy increases. The ‘bikoi’ – adapted from the Māori word hīkoi – assembled outside Parliament to vent their anger and demand the government back down. ACC minister Nick Smith tried to placate the crowd by saying he’d review the proposed change, but was drowned out by shouts of ‘bullshit, bullshit’ from the (not so) easy riders. The (re)born to be wild opposition leader Phil Goff – who had recently purchased a Triumph motorcycle – was welcomed like a prodigal son.

Meanwhile, up in Auckland, Colin Craig’s hope for 50,000 supporters at last Saturday’s march up Queen Street, which he organised to call for the anti-smacking and other citizen-initiated referenda to be binding on government, fell shy of the mark – by around 46,000. With Craig putting $450,000 of his own money into the event, this worked out at around $112 per protester. And it seems that not all of the marchers were there to actually support the cause, judging by the some of the placards which said things like ‘Bring back dancing with the Stars‘ and ‘Carly Binding referendum‘ (Carly Binding being a former member of True Bliss pop group).

Prime Minister John Key was unmoved by the event, suggesting the anti-smacking law was working. Which begs the point as to whether protest marches achieve anything other than make the participants feel part of a common cause?

My first protest march was in 1973 when I marched with my parents in support of the anti-nuclear protest ship Fri. I mostly remember the happy, carnival-like atmosphere, a far cry from the anger and anxiety I experienced during 1981 anti-Springbok tour protests. The protest marches failed to stop the tour, so were they wasted effort?

I thought about these issues while writing a Te Ara entry called ‘Parades and Protests’ for the forthcoming Economy and the City theme. It became clear to me that while most protest marches are quickly forgotten, some – like the 1975 Māori land march – come to be seen as defining moments in New Zealand history.

But what do you think? Are protesters simply whingers or are they exercising an essential democratic right? Have you ever been on one? What was it like? Did it achieve the desired result? And why did Phil Goff buy a Triumph and not a Harley? Was it a personal anti-American protest?

New Zealand’s super city?

Super city from space

Super city from space

Recently, the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance released a report recommending merging the metropolis’s seven local authorities into one ‘super city’. It would make Auckland the biggest single municipal city in Australasia – just ahead of Brisbane – and end the ‘Auckland disease’ of fragmented and parochial local government. Well, perhaps.

Bickering has been a hallmark of Auckland governance since a welter of small councils were set up to govern the region following the end of provincial government in 1876. Rarely were these parts able to work as a whole. Projects benefiting the whole region – such as the harbour bridge – often got delayed or quashed by petty rivalries. In the 1950s geographer Kenneth Cumberland described Auckland’s local government as a ‘babel of disputing tongues … a comic opera of overlapping and ineffectual agencies we miscall “authorities”‘. In the 1960s these numbered 32; reforms in 1989 culled them to the present seven.

But it seems even seven is too many. Proponents argue a super-city council would stop infighting by working for the common interest. But in a metropolis that rightly prides itself on being New Zealand’s most cosmopolitan and diverse, agreeing on what these common interests are is going to be a challenge to say the least. New voices may well join Auckland’s babel of disputing tongues.

Meanwhile, the prospect of what the Otago Daily Times has called a ‘city state’ in Auckland raises the question as to whether we should embrace or fear the proposal. Will the proposal work? Might it mean Auckland dominates the country even more? Is that a good thing? Is there any alternative? And should other cities such as Wellington or Dunedin follow Auckland’s lead?

Taupo cycle ride: more challenged than most

Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge

Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge

Last Saturday, alongside nearly 11,000 other lycra-clad bodies, I queued up for the start of the annual Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge – a 160 kilometre ride around the lake. I wasn’t in peak condition – I’d been off work with sinusitis earlier in the week, and my training had been sporadic.

But it was a beautiful morning. Looking across the azure waters of Lake Taupō towards the snow-clad volcanic peaks of Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe and Ruapehu was elating. After an hour’s wait, it was our group’s turn to start. The hooter blew and we were off. Crossing the Waikato River, the bunch headed up to Wairākei, before turning off towards Kinloch.

I’d begun with a friend, but he fell back and I found myself next to a South African, an Australian, and a wiry 10-race veteran from Palmerston North. I was wearing my London A to Z shirt – with a map of the West End – so I got the inevitable ‘At least you know where you’re going’ witticisms.

As we rose and fell along the rolling landscape I was feeling great. The snake of cyclists stretched as far as I could see, and locals lined the road cheering and clapping as we passed. It was like the Tour de France. I could have been Lance Armstrong!

It was too good to last. Turning south on the Mangakino road I hit a pot hole or rock. One of my water bottles fell out. ‘Leave it’, people shouted, but I knew I’d need it later. The temperature was forecast to hit the mid-20s. Back on the bike, I raced to catch up. But it seemed harder than before. I looked down to notice my back wheel rubbing on my rear forks.

A quick examination revealed my wheel was buckled. I repositioned it and loosened the brake blocks. My friend rode past in a large bunch shouting, ‘Are you alright?’ ‘Yeah,’ I lied. I hopped back on, but it was no better. So I dismantled the back brake and that seemed to help. At the Kuratau interchange, I thought of packing it in. But I couldn’t face the defeat. I thought of Ed Hillary; he was no quitter. I decided to keep going until either me or my bike bust.

Up the tortuous Wairau Hill, a purple-faced man in striped pyjamas passed me. ‘Do you know you have a buckled wheel?’ he said. He was the first of many who ‘helpfully’ informed me of my plight.

Past Tokaanu, past Tūrangi, past Motuoapa, I finally hit the lake front again. There was just the gut-busting Hatepe Hill to confront. Fortunately, my (hill-climbing) Wellington legs came to the fore, and I puffed my way up the slope without having to stop or walk.

From there, it was a glide down to Waitahanui. In the distance was Tauhara hill, beneath which sits Taupo. The end was nigh. To the song of my squeaking wheel, I crossed the finishing line in just over 6 hours. It was longer than I’d hoped, but I’d knocked the bastard off!

Te Ara goes to town

The Wizard – an essential part of Christchurch's city life

The Wizard – an essential part of Christchurch's city life

Progress on Theme 5 of Te Ara – The Economy, Business and City Life – is now steaming ahead. The city part will feature entries on such topics as street life, city language and fashion, parades and protest marches. The first bunch of the 100 planned entries are now entering Te Ara’s ‘furnace’ to be carefully shaped and polished before being officially launched in late 2009.

In the meantime, you can find fascinating insights into the economic, social and cultural life of cities in the Places entries on Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

It is perhaps no surprise to learn that property has been the basis of Auckland’s economy since 1840 – the first land sales bringing in a massive £555 per acre! Where there’s a bubble, it inevitably bursts. A long boom in the 1880s ended with a dramatic crash. The ‘father’ of Auckland, John Logan Campbell, was one of the few entrepreneurs to survive. He’d wisely diversified his property interests by moving into booze.

Wellington never went ahead until it was made the political capital in 1865. This reliance on the state sector makes the city susceptible to politicians’ cost-cutting knives.

Until the 1960s Christchurch was a farming town, experiencing the same booms and busts as its hinterland. Even now, its anniversary is not celebrated on the day it was founded, but on the first day of the annual Agricultural and Pastoral Show.

Auckland is sometimes derided for its flashiness and lack of culture, but the arts have always thrived in the city, which boasts annual festivals like Pasifika and artists like Che Fu.

With its susceptibility to earthquakes and wild weather, Wellingtonians like to think they live life ‘on the edge’. Coming into Wellington airport, passengers can sometimes be forgiven for thinking they’re about to fall off it.

Featuring cultured parks and fine buildings, Christchurch is said to be the most English of New Zealand’s cities. It has been suggested that it has an inclination for eccentricity – among its most famous residents are The Wizard and Mabel Howard, who will be forever remembered for her whopping bloomers.

We’ll be posting regular updates on our progress as we make our way through The Economy, Business and City Life.