Tomorrow night the All Blacks play the Springboks at Eden Park. EP is to NZ what fortress Loftus is to the Bulls. The ABs have won their previous 30 encounters at EP and the last time the Springboks won there was before the Second World War. But despite the odds most New Zealanders look forward to the test and all agree that the Springboks are the only side in World rugby today that the ABs really fear.
These two rivals have equal amounts of determination and respect – which accounts for the sell-out stadium and the AB fever which has gripped Auckland. For most people a match such as this involves some form of festivity. Rugby matches at this level (and for Super 15) are always played at night, usually at 19:35 local time. So we will be gathering with some other expats and each will decide who to support and what to wear. There is no animosity either way. Etienne is a rabid Springbok supporter, as is Jules. Karen is not always sure who is playing whom. I am truly on the fence and want to see a good, hard game. I’ll be dressed in grey.
But rugby, albeit the most popular religion in New Zealand, is not the only sport grabbing headlines. Few South Africans will be aware of the tension building up in San Francisco bay where the 34th Americas Cup is being contested between New Zealand and the USA.
Yachting is not high on the SA sporting agenda but here it is very high – for several reasons. It is the premier yachting event in the world. The format is unusual (to the untrained eye – like mine). There is a pre-amble called the Louis Vuitton Cup during which various nations battle it out to decide the ultimate winner. The winner actually wins the right to challenge the USA in the Americas Cup. I thought it was many nations over a long distance, but in fact it is always only two and the course is relatively short in nautical terms – a race is completed in about 20 minutes!
The trick is that there are many such short races all around the same course usually just off shore of a big city. The Cup is decided in a tournament of 17 races – so the first to gain 9 victories wins. And they win not only the coveted trophy but also the right to host the next event – in four years time. This year the Kiwis have been spectacular and currently lead the Americans 6 to -1. Yup the yanks started on -2 because they were penalised for cheating. But the deficit cannot just be blamed only on the loss of two crew members (another penalty) it is really about tactics and boat design. Many millions of dollars goes into these yachts and they resemble a Formula 1 racing car in many respects. There is usually very little contact with the water and the speeds are around 100km/h – which is fast for a yacht. So it looks highly likely that Team New Zealand will win and that Auckland will host the cup in 2017 which is estimated to pump $500 million into the city’s economy, something which it really needs. More cause for celebration.
Sailing is part of the Kiwi way of life. Kids start very young and the environment lends itself to water sports. Auckland is not called the City of Sails for nothing – there are MANY yachts around here. Not large fancy ones as in Monaco, but real sailing ones. Kids spend many weekends getting coached on yachts and this accounts for the country’s unusual record in the Cup. We also won it in 2000 – the winning yacht is mounted outside the Maritime Museum at the waterfront.
A bridge too far
The reason Auckland needs the money is because there are ambitious plans to improve public transport. By SA standards the transport is brilliant but by international standards it leaves much to be desired. There are legacy issues, like five privately-owned bus companies competing in various parts of the city, making a single ticketing system a problem. Then there is the link between the city and the North Shore currently serviced by the Auckland harbour bridge which has already been extended to double its capacity. The new plans will see rail and commuter tunnels go under the sea to alleviate congestion.
All these plans are the mastermind of Auckland’s Mayor – Len Brown. The other activity reaching fever pitch is the local council and mayoral election. Len is the first mayor of a newly unified Auckland which, until 2010, consisted of five separate councils (hence the five bus services). He is fighting for survival based on a number of development plans and promises and chances are he will be re-elected. He is usually to be seen walking up the main street sipping a coffee.
It also means there are local elections. So each town/borough/group of suburbs has a town council which determines how money is spent locally (parks, sports fields, libraries, community centres etc.) Then each of these councils has at least one representative on the main Auckland council. I have already written about our local guy Dick Quax. Again, on the weekend when nominations took place, Dick and all the other contenders were on the street talking to people.
The local MP (Jami-Lee Ross) was there too and after the outing, as the town quietened down on the Saturday afternoon, we were in the parking lot of a shopping centre when the local MP and his choice candidate walked back to their cars to go home. No cavalcade, no body guards, just two regular people. The MP got into a 2004 Nissan Micra and drove off. Not even a single blue light – not even a Merc!
The municipal elections illustrate why we think NZ is great and why some people think it is a backwater. The ballots are posted to each registered voter. You then have about a week to complete the ballot and post it back. No finger prints and no long queues. Quaint!
But it does not mean that the election is taken lightly – the council uses the opportunity to train the next generation in the skill of being a discerning voter.
It turns out that our man Dick and his running mate were unopposed so they will automatically be in the council for another three years! As the poster says (and to the delight of a 13-year old mind) Dick stands up for Howick!
KiwiSaver is one way the government is encouraging young Kiwis to save for their retirement, knowing that in a few years the longevity of the population will outstrip its ability to pay pensions. In typical nanny-state fashion it uses subsidies to encourage saving. If you do nothing more than open a KiwiSaver account (no deposit necessary, just open an account) the government gives you $1,000 (R8,000) in the account. So we opened accounts the moment we set foot in the country. In addition the government contributes an additional 50% of anything you put into the account, up to about R4,000 per year. A 50% subsidy is just unheard of. Needless to say we have all been contributing as has our employers (by law) and the government has been giving its share too. After two years the four of us have accumulated nearly ZAR200,000. It cannot be touched until the account holder turns 65 so it is a real pension, but there are loopholes for people who are buying their first home and when there is real financial hardship.
As you probably know the company I worked for, Pearson, has closed its New Zealand office and is using a local agent to conduct its business. It means that as from 1 September I am unemployed and looking for jobs. Although I got a good pay-out and a bonus (plus I sold all my Pearson shares) it still means we are being very careful until we have two salaries coming in again. IT does mean I have more time on my hands – to write blogs and to walk the dog. The DOG?!
Yup we have a dog called Spud – and the reason isn’t very hard to see: like all decent dogs in Auckland he has been desexed. He is also very friendly and we believe is predominantly a Staffie with an indeterminate cross. A South African couple gave him up for adoption after 9 months because they were finding it difficult to secure rental accommodation with a dog and three small children. All is going well, for now. I am at home a lot and can give him the attention and exercise he needs. He gets on very well with the kids and is well socialised.
Council license fees cost around R670 per dog per year which is why there are no strays. This fee can be reduced down to R440 if you submit to a premises inspection, prove that your dog has been neutered and if the dog does not attract any citations (for disturbance or for straying).
Most dogs cost a fortune here (not only in upkeep but just to purchase). A popular mongrel here is a Poodle/Labrador known as a Labradoodle. They are friendly and love water but shed very little hair in the house.
A mongrel such as this with a good temperament will cost around R7,500 – no kidding, and people are prepared to pay that price. Spud was “free to a good home”. Every time he steals food or crushes a flower Karen stares him in the eyes and says in a threatening tone “S P C A” – which he seems to understand. Other than getting us out of bed very early in the morning his prime function is to burn Etienne’s calories – which he does with great affection.
Karen spotted this little article in the local rag. Where else do you get croquet at secondary school!?
I recently had a pair of trousers dry cleaned – don’t you love the name?
And here’s an interesting comparison about house prices in Auckland. They are just shooting through the roof and we are very lucky to have bought one, small as it is. To understand the relative values multiply a Kiwi Dollar by eight to get ZARs (current exchange rate). We live in the Eastern Beaches.
We have also discovered a shop that we really like – called the Bin Inn. It sells everything in large containers – you bring your own smaller containers and decant. No more plastic waste. They have everything from organic potato flour to dish-washing liquid. Such a modern idea? No, they have been around for decades, in fact so long that they have gone out of fashion and back in again. This is the first branch in Auckland for many years, but there are apparently 24 branches across the country.
And I’ll leave you with something that came through recently about church billboards – warnings apply.