This is a story about how my family became connected to a New Zealand family 54 years ago, and about my long-awaited visit to Auckland.
When my father was a young man in the 1960s, he attended university in Lincoln, a town not far from Christchurch in South Island. One fateful summer in 1963 when Dad worked in a tomato glasshouse on Waipuna Road in Auckland, he stayed with a Kiwi family for three months. This arrangement then blossomed into a strong friendship that has lasted for more than five decades.
The matriarch of that family, whom my siblings and I fondly call Aunty Pat, had been writing letters and exchanging family photos with my parents for years after my father graduated and left NZ (thankfully, we have kept up with the times and now use Facebook). She used to send my siblings and me birthday cards every year too. Thanks to my elder sisters who learned it from Aunty Pat, I also knew the lyrics of the Kookaburra song since I was a little girl (they made me sing it to them).
My family have since reciprocated the hospitality and welcomed Aunty Pat and her husband the late Uncle Leo into our home in the early ’80s where they stayed for a month. They actually observed Ramadan with us that time. My dad even brought them back to his kampung (village) in Perlis to meet his family.
Uncle Leo was a new Dutch immigrant to New Zealand in the 1950s when he met Aunty Pat, whom he married and raised nine children with. Before he migrated down under and after Indonesia declared independence in 1945 from the Dutch, the United Nations sent Uncle Leo to Indonesia as a peacekeeper. Unfortunately, that also meant he was constantly being shot at by the locals!
Perhaps because of his time in Indonesia, Uncle Leo loved to eat sambal oelek, wore the sarong and could eat rice with his hand like a native. He kindly connected us to his family in Holland and we stayed with his brother during our family trip to Europe when I was just a year old. Uncle Leo passed away in 1999 so I never saw him again. Aunty Pat survives Uncle Leo along with her children, many grandkids and growing number of great-grandkids.
Now I have not seen Aunty Pat since 1981! So this year, I decided to finally make that maiden trip across the ditch (from Australia) to New Zealand to visit Aunty Pat (who is now 83 years young) and also to go on a driving trip with my parents in South Island.
The flight from Sydney to Auckland (across the ditch!) is about 3 hours
After some planning with my dad, we finally booked in our holiday for February and spent a few days in Auckland before we descended south for our week-long drive.
We met up with some of Aunty Pat’s children too who all knew my father from his days of staying with them (Mike calls my dad “big brother”). Chris and his wife Michelle had once stayed with us in Malaysia in 1988 and it was literally a 30-year reunion for me and them. This nice couple liked to play with me and my younger brother back then and I remember them giving me a bunny rabbit plushy as a gift before they left Malaysia.
Now, Chris has kindly invited me to come back to NZ and stay with them at their beach house in Bay of Islands to go swimming with dolphins – I might just take that offer up one day!
Since we spent most of our time in Auckland playing catch up with local friends, we had limited time to spend touring as tourists. Aunty Pat’s children Jan and Mike drove us around wherever we wanted to go, we were very grateful. So I covered what I could and visited four places: the Sky Tower, Auckland Museum, Auckland Zoo and One Tree Hill.
The Auckland Museum is situated near the Botanic Garden and is a 3-storey building. At the time of my visit, there was a National Geographic exhibition of contemporary photos which I thoroughly enjoyed. An exhibition of Anne Frank was also ongoing.
The lady at the ticket counter advised us not to buy water at the cafe (which cost $5/bottle) but instead pointed out to us where the water coolers were. We bought cultural show tickets along with the admission so that I could watch some Maori singing and dancing by the museum’s performers. The show was relatively small with only five performers, but they were very informative and entertaining. It included a Hakka performance, a battle ritual that involves the warrior men slapping their body parts and dramatically sticking out their tongues.
Video : Maori cultural show at the Auckland Museum
I was surprised to learn that Sky Tower in Auckland is slightly taller than the Sydney Tower (built in 1982), but then again the Sky Tower is newer (built in 1997) so I would think the Kiwis made it a point to beat the Aussies!
I went to the viewing deck and marvelled at the aerial views. There were segments of glass flooring that would make your heart drop if you stood on it and looked down. The mind does funny things sometimes.
Mom said the whole floor of the deck used to be glass when she last visited in 1999, so I’m not sure if they changed that in recent years because people were afraid to walk across and enter the gift shop!
Video: Me at the Sky Tower Viewing deck
I did not do the Sky Jump (or the Sky Walk for that matter, time was limited) which is a popular attraction there, I just didn’t have the stomach for it. (And I had also just eaten and didn’t want to spray my lunch all around Auckland.)
We visited Auckland Zoo on the morning before our flight to Christchurch. I had hopes of an encounter with the Kiwi bird and other native animals but alas, I was to be disappointed. Since we went in the morning, many animals were still asleep so I didn’t see very many.
We went looking for native birds in the New Zealand section but it was all very dismal. The safari section that had African animals like the giraffe, zebras and ostriches was probably the most exciting, and even that our visit got cut short because it had started to rain and everyone was running for cover.
The zoo is working towards reducing palm oil consumption as indicated by their signboards. Deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia for palm oil estate development has caused many animals such as orangutan and Sumatran tigers to lose their homes.
NZ ice cream maker Tip Top has stopped using palm oil in their products as a stance against this practice and you can find their ice creams being sold here (I had a nice chocolate orange one). Auckland Zoo recommends checking product ingredients for sustainable palm oil before purchasing anything as part of being a responsible and conscientious consumer.
I hope Malaysia and Indonesia will do more to address this conservation issue.
One Tree Hill
It’s a hill with a memorial obelisk at the top, Cornwall Park is just next door to it. Popular with runners and walkers alike for hill workouts. The tree that makes up its namesake is no longer there, apparently.
The morning before we left for Christchurch, I met up with Shamini, an ex-colleague from Cyberjaya who now lives in NZ with her young family. We went for a nice morning walk with her baby in the pram and she treated me to breakfast after.
Video: Walking Up One Tree Hill
The distance from the bottom of the hill to the top was about 2km. I saw many sheep in the fields as we ascended, it was thrilling to finally see these famous New Zealand sheep! The aerial views from around the obelisk were breathtaking too and it was a gorgeous day.
I made a point to visit this place because I wanted to take a picture where my dad was many years ago:
With that I concluded my very short visit to Auckland. It was a whirlwind yet meaningful occasion for me to see Aunty Pat again after so many years. I hope to return someday to visit this very nice NZ family again and also to explore more of their beautiful country, particularly North Island.
May the friendship between my family and Aunty Pat’s last for many more generations to come.
This is part 1 of a planned 7-part series of my maiden trip to New Zealand. Connect with me on instagram and stay tuned for more stories!