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Aotearoa, rugged individual
Glisten like a pearl, at the bottom of the world
The tyranny of distance, didn’t stop the cavalier
So why should it stop me? I’ll conquer and stay free
– Split Enz, Six Months in a Leaky Boat
23 February: 09.20
My time in New Zealand is nearly over. Aotearoa. The land of the long white cloud, thankfully no longer under a COVID-related long dark cloud, though the devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle and its aftermath is terrible to behold.
Nostalgia is a bittersweet emotion, a simultaneous tug of pain and fondness for days, people and places gone by. As always, I am sad when I leave this beautiful and bountiful land, a place to where my visits have been far too few over recent years, due to a combination of unforgiving workload, the pandemic and ‘the tyranny of distance’ as Kiwi rock group Split Enz put it in their song ‘Six months in a leaky boat’ referred to above.
I’m in the domestic terminal at Christchurch International Airport, the city’s bright, neat and efficient gateway, about to board Air New Zealand 580 to Auckland Airport and then on to Hong Kong via Cathay Pacific Airways.
After enjoying a farewell airport coffee with my namesake Martin Braithwaite, a friend of some 40 years standing, at Underground Coffee Roasters, I popped into the All Blacks store operated by Lagardère Travel Retail , and snapped up a couple of souvenirs at the same company’s nearby Relay shop.
Kiwis like to call New Zealand ‘Godzone’ (as in ‘God’s own country’) and my three and a half decades away has not softened my concurrence. It’s been a splendid few days in the company of my closest pals, with plenty of opportunity to chat about old times while supping on fine New Zealand wines and enjoying local foods.
Kiwis tend to have a quirky, wry and often self-deprecating humour, something in plentiful supply yesterday when I visited Fush, a simply outstanding local fish & chip diner on the outskirts of Ōtautahi (Christchurch) in a suburb called Wigram.
Fush? Let me explain. Foreigners like to mimic the way we Kiwis pronounce the letter ‘I’ as a ‘U’, so that to the non-Kiwi ear ‘Fish and Chips’ sounds like ‘Fush and Chups’.
That aural perception prompted the naming of surely Ōtautahi’s best fush and chips – sorry, fish and chips – eatery. Best not just in quality of food – though surely it is right up there – but in terms of principles, innovation and sheer bloody goodness.
I dined there yesterday and was delighted to see the entire menu printed both in English and Te Reo Māori (the Māori language). No tokenism here; the owner Anton Matthews (Te Rarawa) is Māori and a firm believer that his language can only be preserved by being adopted in daily use and championed relentlessly.
In Te Reo Māori, Anton explains, everything goes in pairs. Mana and manaakitanga cannot exist without each other, and they need to be understood together, because they complement each other.
What does Mana mean? Wrap up prestige, authority, control, power, influence, status, spiritual power and charisma in one word and you’re getting somewhere near it.
Manaakitanga? Simple, says Anton, it’s all about what you give. A concise description of how Māori communities care about each other’s wellbeing, and how they nurture relationships with no expectation of reciprocity.
Take a look at the Fush website and tell me that the words below aren’t the best articulation of the critical concept of Sense of Place (add in Sense of People) you ever saw. If I was Christchurch Airport (or any New Zealand airport for that matter), I would be reaching out to add Fush to my food & beverage offer as fast as I could.
Unfortunately my successful request for a window seat has not resulted in the astounding south to north view of the country that this route often offers. Today we are indeed the land of the long white cloud. Make that long white clouds plural as what looks like acres of cotton wool stretch out below me.
Air New Zealand’s stirring inflight safety video carries a compelling reference to Māori culture too. It begins with a renowned Māori storyteller Joe Harawira (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Maniapoto, Tūhourangi) sitting with a group of tamariki (children) in front of the marae.
Joe tells the story of Tiaki who boards a waka rererangi (a canoe in the sky) and visits four Māori guardians of this world – Papatūānuku (mother earth), Tangaroa (oceans, lakes and reivers), Tāne Mahuta (the forest) and Ranginui (sky) during his journey across Aotearoa. Tiaki means to care for the country’s people, place and culture.
Toitū te marae o Tāne, Toitū te marae o Tangaroa, Toitū te tāngata (If the land is well and the sea is well, the people will thrive).
“Are flying waka real?” a child asks Joe at the conclusion of the film. “Of course they are,” he replies. “They’re just a bit more flash these days.”
In fact, the airline’s drop-down video screens provide interesting viewing throughout the flight. In between a rolling quiz to help pass the time (nice touch) there is some striking advertising. One in particular caught my attention. It’s for Strange Nature, the Sauvignon Blanc-based gin that I had bought upon arrival at Christchurch Airport.
The brand’s principal shareholders are the Giesen brothers,among the country’s most-renowned winemakers. The gin was created as an offshoot of the Giesens creating an alcohol-free Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Why waste all that beautifully fragrant alcohol? And so Strange Nature was born. Clearly here’s a start-up brand thinking big. Watch this space.
I’m in the slightly underwhelming Air New Zealand Koru lounge at Auckland Airport. In fact, delete the ‘slightly’.
The facility features lovely views out onto the airfield and over Manukau harbour but a distinctly average line-up of food, wines and spirits in a location that should serve as an outstanding showcase of the country’s wares.
‘Aged cheddar’ eh? Where has it been aged other than (hopefully) somewhere in New Zealand? What about the Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar? Besides the unlabelled, unappetising presentation, where is the sense of provenance, place and pride here? Why not showcase and champion some of the great local cheeses, oils and vinegars from this region?
Fush this is not. Come on Air New Zealand, your inflight video shows you care about culture. Yet the Koru Lounge suggests a lack of national pride. Be joyed about the responsibility and privilege that being the sign-off to Aotearoa brings and shout it out loud.
I’ve only popped in temporarily as I need to charge my phone, all that photography in The Loop (Aer Rianta International/ARI) and Aelia Duty Free stores having drained it. Auckland Airport currently operates on a dual retailer model but that will all change in September when Aelia Duty Free (Lagardère AWPL) assumes sole occupancy.
Good luck to the fine French/Aussie travel retailer though I am not alone in reflecting what a brutal game the airport concession business can be. ARI lost its place despite providing an outstanding environment, offer and service and having reopened in April 2021, consideably earlier than Aelia, as the government eased its previously strict COVID-related travel constraints.
As is my want, I chatted with some of both retailers’ teams. Within the vibrant and colourful The Loop store, Michaela (“I’m Michael with an A”) from the superb Jo Traikos promotional agency was doing a marvellous job promoting Absolut Passionfruit vodka (in fact I met Jo herself last week at the Sydney Airport/Heinemann Australia store inauguration).
We had a nice chat and Michaela told me how much she loved her work. It showed. ‘Brand Ambassador’ is one of the better job titles in our industry and in Michael with an A, Jo and Pernod Ricard Global Travel Retail you have one of the best in class. And, hey, that Absolut Passionfruit with lemonade was pretty good too.
Crossing ‘over the road’, as it were, to Aelia Duty Free, I bumped into Assistant Manager Kin Chan. Before I let on who I was, Kin told me expertly about my Hong Kong wines and spirits allowance, pointed out a great New Zealand 30 Year Old whisky called The Otago and was just the kind of engaging human personality that makes such a difference to our industry compared with the bleakness of the online experience.
When I returned to the store, phone charged and ready to do some purchasing, I was assisted by Mr Kim, originally from Seoul, South Korea, a kindly man who has worked here in duty free for two decades. His wine knowledge was excellent and his recommendations sound but I already knew what I wanted.
My heart is with the people of Hawke’s Bay following the devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle (the region’s vineyards have taken a horrific pounding) so I chose a Te Mata Awatea Cabernets (the plural denoting Sauvignon and Franc) & Merlot 2019 and a Tiki Single Vineyard 2018 Chardonnay both from the region. I added a Mount Difficulty Central Otago Pinot Noir 2020, a wine that long-time readers of this Blog will know carries particular resonance for me.
Thank you Mr Chan and 감사합니다 (Gamsahamnida) Mr Kim for your time, good company and service. Aelia Duty Free is in very good hands arguably where it matters most, on the front line.
I’m onboard CX 198, a 36,005 feet above the Tasman Sea precisely nine and a half hours out of Hong Kong. A working day for me in my Interim Cathay Pacific Bureau. Bound for home in a giant canoe in the sky but with a big slice of my heart left behind.