I remember the facts – the sights – the smells – the sounds – the journeys – the accommodation – the meals – the schools. But I don’t remember how I felt. Years of travelling and living abroad have numbed my emotions. 1964. That’s half a century ago! I was 14 years old. We were staying just off Queen Street in the People’s Palace transit accommodation, having that day arrived by ship from England. The notice in the lobby told us clearly, “Vests and shoes must be worn.” My family had followed in the footsteps of many emigrating ‘Products of Mother England’.

PHOTO MAREE WILKINSON

What a great move it turned out to be. The family home was established in Mount Wellington, East Auckland, which proved to be a stable base for many New Zealand adventures. I have happy memories of holiday adventures to Tauranga and Mount Maunganui, staying in a bach on the beach front at The Mount. I recall a lightly populated, little-developed, beautiful surf beach, with lots of happy young people doing what young people love to do. Having fun in the sun.

At 17 years old, I made a coming-of-age, seven-week hitch-hiking, fruit-picking trip around most of New Zealand. My travelling companion was best mate, Abbo (known by others today as the eminent Auckland-based educational psychologist, Michael Absolum).
We started in Auckland, and got lifts down through Hamilton, Rotorua and Taupo. Next day, the ferry to Picton provided an unforgettable dawn arrival as we passed through the stunning, and beautifullynamed, Queen Charlotte Sound. An equally unforgettable eight hours in Blenheim followed, in persistent, heavy rain – and not a lift in sight.

We spent several brilliant weeks working on Otago fruit orchards, which financed the return journey via Cape Bluff and all points en route, back to Auckland. What a memory. What a country!

I loved New Zealand then and I still do. It has become, quite justifiably, one of the favourite places in the world for travellers of all ages and nationalities. They enjoy the unspoilt natural beauty, as well as the uniquely Kiwi culture and welcome – not to mention the world-beating outdoor pursuits. What’s not to like?

By the time this issue is published, I will be packing my speedos in preparation for summer in the Bay of Plenty with my daughter and her family. Not for me, the dark English winter.