Photo of Mahinepua Bay, New Zealand, from cliffside cottage by Pat Butler
Our speedy decision paid off immeasurably.
He ended his email reply, “It’s about time you and Eric came back to Auckland.”
It was July 2019 and I’d written to Professor Emeritus Michael Corballis in New Zealand. While driving home after tennis, I’d heard his familiar Kiwi voice explaining the concept of recursive mind on CBC Radio’s “Ideas” program. I’d written to ask when he’d recorded the interview.
In the mid-1970s I worked part-time as Michael’s research assistant in the McGill Psychology Department. I ran experiments looking at brain dominance in left-handed people, among other projects. I’d also taken his wife Barbara to my squash club - she had a wicked serve. After my divorce, I’d fulfilled a bucket-list dream by touring New Zealand and the three of us reconnected in 2012.
When sailing to Australia in 2017, my new husband Eric and I had dined with this marvelous couple. Now, the concept of returning to New Zealand for an extended stay was too compelling to resist. Sunshine, natural beauty, and warm weather during January and February simply filled the bill. We quickly decided to stay for a month to make the long journey worthwhile, as New Zealand is 18 time zones away from our home in Toronto.
After locating three rental accommodations, I fired off our itinerary to Michael who was pleased that we’d listened to his suggestion. Arriving in late January 2020, we spent a week in an Auckland condo which was adequate but plagued by deficiencies. (I’d not read its single review.) Then we headed to the northernmost tip of the country to live in a cliffside cottage for two weeks.
Having lived in England, it didn’t take me long to relax when driving on the left. Aided by Eric’s detailed navigation, we drove without incident all the way to Matauri Bay, Northland. This took about four hours on a two-lane highway with frequent passing lanes. The speed limit is 50 kph in towns and 100 kph everywhere else. Driving at high speed on a curving two-lane road was somewhat anxiety-provoking, so from time to time I’d just pull off to let locals pass.
Owners Kathie and Garry invited us to harvest from their veggie garden even before showing us around the house. The furnishings were straight out of NZ House & Garden and the ocean view from the deck was breathtaking (see photo above). Far below lay their private beach, but the 140 steps down were too precarious for us to safely navigate – even using hiking poles for balance.
We were invited to enjoy their pool between the houses, so I swam at least once a day. Eric set up his portable easel on the deck and had trouble deciding which magnificent view to paint first. I had deliciously-long writing sessions, shifting locales to avoid the heat.
Every morning we’d say something like: “Another day in paradise!” while breakfasting on the deck and marveling at the view. Its beauty was constantly changing: waves crashing against the rocks varied with wind strength and tide level; shadows on the sloped vegetation varied as the sun crossed the sky (we faced north); the tempo of bird and insect chirps varied with time of day. It was a challenge to concentrate on a book while sitting outside – nature’s fluctuations were too distracting.
The full moon's reflection on the water in the middle of night was indescribably lovely. (It’s fun to note that the moon lies to the north when viewed from the southern hemisphere.) We had zero rain and very little cloud. Touring nearby beaches and villages gave us much pleasure whenever we wanted a change of scene.
Two weeks later, we headed to Waiheke Island and our final abode. Back in 2012 Michael and Barbara had taken me to their cottage near a crescent-shaped beach, a mere 35-minute ferry ride from
Auckland harbour, so I knew it would be heavenly place to finish our stay. However, as our taxi struggled up a very long, steep, switch-back road towards our given address I grew anxious. Uh-oh.
Owner Chrissy greeted us garbed in a pink tank top, short denim skirt, short blonde hair with plenty of hot-pink bits, and black/silver nail polish. She showed us around our ultra-modern hilltop flat over their garage.
Note to self: when a property’s photos feature an enchanting view, chances are it’s due to high altitude – which involves major hiking if going to the beach! According to Google Maps, this walk would take 25 minutes going down to swim and lots more going back up. Instead of renting a car we’d planned to use buses and taxis because Waiheke’s narrow, often dangerous, roads had reminded me of those in Bermuda – which did not appeal.
Our first full day on Waiheke was particularly special because we’d been invited to Barbara’s 80th birthday party at Poderi Crisci winery. Her friend drove us to this lovely property, reminiscent of wineries in California’s Napa Valley. The beauty of rolling hills of grapevines, sunshine, and red soil made me feel as though I were in a movie.
There were 13 adults in attendance and five sweet young girls. Four wines and sparkling water were served over the four-hour meal while the six courses arrived: oysters, mini-bagels, veggie antipasti with breads, cannelloni, beef tenderloin, and tiramisu. What an honour to be included in this principally-family event.
Back in Auckland we were delighted to lunch with Michael and Barbara on our way to the airport to fly home. (Being late February 2020, we were all blissfully unaware of the pandemic that was about to
impact all our lives).
Our hugs goodbye turned out be a poignant farewell: Barbara died in November 2020 (after a long illness) and Michael died in November 2021 (after a short illness). Thanks to technology we were able to watch each funeral live and hear tributes by family members we’d met at the birthday lunch in the vineyard.
Thank God I heard Michael on the radio and we made that speedy decision to “come back to Auckland” as soon as he suggested it. We cannot be together again.