On The Road Again

February 22, 2019
Iain MacLeod

As you read this I will be 10 km up in the air on my first big trip of the year to Asia and South Africa. As much as I enjoy the prospect of meeting new people and providing a strategy to help them join us in New Zealand (or Australia) it is bittersweet. I am always sad to leave home, especially for two months as this trip is and even harder to leave a very long hot summer behind. As I drove back to Auckland on Tuesday morning from our beach house, past a deserted Langs beach, a gentle swell breaking, I felt a real sense of sadness that I was leaving what is quite possibly one of the prettiest stretches of beach in New Zealand and undeniably our own little piece of paradise.

Our home away from home where we now spend four days a week, working as well as unwinding, is everything I love about living in New Zealand. The beach lies 160 km north of Auckland and is a very easy 90 minute drive. Our three bedroom ‘board and batten’ cottage looks out over Bream Bay and we enjoy panoramic views across the Pacific Ocean to the Whangarei Heads. Local farmer’s markets, great restaurants and cafes give us just enough civilisation, but we enjoy peace and quiet. Less than 15 minutes drive away is our native forest block which, as regular readers know, we are ridding of introduced predators as we ‘give back’ this 22 hectares of forest to nature.

Even on the beach property where we have 6000 m² of land, I have been busy planting native trees for the past 15 years. These trees are now home to a variety of native birds which every morning wake us at dawn to an increasingly loud chorus of song. The more birds we have, the more what is growing there changes, as the native birds drop the seeds of the fruit and berries they eat causing their preferred trees to grow in place of what I might have preferred. It’s a wonderful process to quietly observe as the years roll by.

A very warm ocean current flows down this eastern coast of the North Island having worked its way across the Tasman Sea from Queensland in Australia. That water is always warm at this time of the year but over the last two summers the temperatures in the Tasman Sea (on the other side of the North Island) have been between 4 and 6°C warmer than the historical average. Even in winter it doesn’t get colder than 16 degrees (far too cold for me but plenty of hardier souls with wet suits are out surfing).

This already warm current is becoming even warmer and while there are a number of explanations including the cyclical nature of El Nino know and La Niña patterns, the fact that 90% of the heat being released into the atmosphere (for whatever reason right now) is being absorbed by the oceans. As a consequence our ocean is getting even warmer and while at this time of year it is usually around 23-24°C the last two years it has been pushing 26° by early March. That is warm enough to support a lot of tropical species of fish which are now being caught in the area.

Just like last summer, this one has been really dry. We have had virtually no rain for over eight weeks. We don’t have good soils up there and the underlying substrate is clay which by this time of the year has had almost al its moisture sucked out of it so it almost sets like concrete. Summer 2019 is on track to be the driest summer since records began over 70 years ago. Historically, in January we can expect around 70 mm of rain which is usually received thanks to weakening tropical cyclones that charge down from the Pacific, dump 20 to 30 mm of rain in a couple of hours and then move off. None so far this year and the cracks in the ground are in places wide enough to lose a small child down (okay, not quite, but 3-4cm across).

Air temperatures range between 26 and 30° through January and February and often until late March so we’ve probably got another month of what is truly subtropical weather with overnight lows between 18 and 21°C.

By the time I return to New Zealand in April the hottest part of summer will be behind us and no doubt the weather will be coming more unsettled as summer wanes and autumn starts to slowly drift north from the South Island where by then it will have well and truly arrived.

The humid temperatures we tend to experience at this time of the year will start to abate to the low 20°s and the rainfall will become more frequent. In this part of the country we are very much a winter rain, summer drought climate and I can’t help observing over the last two decades “up north” that we are increasingly moving into a pattern of rainy season (winter) and dry season (summer).

Just as our summers are long, hot and dry, equally predictable are the rains that will arrive from May, and by October I will be thinking I need to put drainage in and will have long forgotten about the thousands of litres of water I needed to irrigate my fruit trees, vegetable patch and native seedlings just to keep them alive through this long baking summer. To keep my veggies and fruit trees alive again this summer I will have used up thousands of litres of water. By the end of next spring, I’ll be wondering how to get rid of all the water and to stop my trees from drowning.

We are truly blessed with the seasons we have – not too hot and not too cold, four months of summer, 2 months each of autum and spring and four months of a very mild winter. Although in Auckland and Nothland through winter it does get wet and by spring I am usually well over it. Those coming from the likes of Singapore and Malaysia, and even Hong Kong, love the climate. The British think they’ve moved to the tropics.

As I leave summer behind for another year I am comforted knowing I am about to meet a whole lot of wonderful new people and provide them with a plan to get here and enjoy what we enjoy. Families for whom this country will soon become a home; not just a bolthole from a possible trouble spot, but somewhere they too will raise children and enjoy a pretty special and chilled way of life.

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