I should let you know that today’s reminiscence focuses on being a Kiwi music groupie, rather than upon the magnificent natural beauty of New Zealand’s North Island. I will be writing about the scenic wonders I visited over the next few days. I only went to a handful of them (Rotorua, Kare Kare, Waiheke Island, Cape Reinga, Ninety Mile Beach Sand Dunes) but I’ll never forget their grandeur. This journey took place over twenty years ago, and I thank God that electroconvulsive therapy/ ECT did not wipe out those memories!
After a perfect landing at Auckland International Airport, I experienced deja vu when I walked by its lovely gift store. I was tempted to stop in to buy more of the New Zealand milk chocolate (I wanted to actually taste it this time now that my cold was gone!) but I was distracted with finding the baggage claim. I made my way to a Auckland youth hostel and was lucky enough to register for a single room at a reasonable rate. After opening the door and throwing my heavy backpack on the floor, I promptly passed out on the bed.
The next day it was sunny and temperate, and I walked up and down Queen Street, one of Auckland’s main thoroughfares. Queen Street reminded me a bit of Santa Cruz’s Pacific Avenue in that there were hippies and street performers galore. I hit Real Groovy Records and bought a sleek, silver-colored, special edition Split Enz CD box set. I would never find anything like that in the States and the price was reasonable with my beneficial exchange rate. The set would be my most indulgent purchase while on the North Island and definitely worth it. After I left Real Groovy, I found a nearby bakery and sat down inside for a snack. On impulse, I looked through my box set and spotted a folded-up sheet tucked between the CD’s. I opened up this paper to find I had the original autographs of Enz band members Neil and Tim Finn, Nigel Griggs, Eddie Rayner and Noel Crombie. This was a true autograph boon as the band had broken up, and surprisingly it was included with the box set with no fanfare. I crowed with glee over my unexpected luck! I put away the box set in my roomy purse, and took out my well-thumbed North Island travel guide to review my itinerary’s must-see spots.
One of these must-sees not in the book included “Hang out with Auckland John”. Over the past few years I cultivated an internet and phone friendship with John Dobbyn. We “met” in a Crowded House fan club internet forum. John originally hailed from Seattle and worked at Microsoft. He immigrated to Auckland’s Microsoft branch to work there for a year. We arranged to meet up after I settled in Auckland so he could show me some North Island sights. I had corresponded with John for so long that I felt relatively safe in terms of meeting him in person. Now that I reflect upon my trip, I realize that it wasn’t the best idea to trust a strange man, no matter how comfortable I felt with him. I was very, very fortunate that he was a stand-up guy.
John was even more of a Crowded House groupie than I was, so we were quite the pair. He too had just gone through the end of a relationship, but we had a low-key, brother-sister dynamic between us that set me at ease. We drove to Te-Awamutu, the “Rose Town” of New Zealand located in the Waikato Region. Te Awamutu means “the river cut short” in Maori language, as it is the end of the navigable section of the Mangapiko Stream. Te Awamutu is the birthplace of Neil and Tim Finn of Crowded House/Split Enz fame. There is now a Te Awamutu Museum with a Finn Brothers exhibit, but unfortunately it hadn’t been created when we were there. (The Finns have been called the “Lennon and McCartney of New Zealand”. Like Sir Paul, they were awarded OBE’s by Queen Elizabeth II for their contributions to New Zealand music.) All I remember of our Te Awamutu sojourn is taking a picture in front of Te Awamutu’s entry sign festooned with roses, and another photograph in front of the obscure Te Awamutu Shell.
To our credit, we didn’t stalk the proud Finn parents who still lived there, thank God. If we did accost them, Neil may have written a song about us like he did about an American girl who stalked him in New Zealand. Neil wrote “Mean to Me” for Crowded House’s first hit album about his stalker, and it’s a great song. John and I drew the line when it came to stalking. However, later on after I left the country, John would cross the line from fan to actual friend in a most enviable way. Somehow John was able to contact Neil Finn in Auckland. I don’t remember how he pulled it off, but he impressed Neil with his computer expertise. This was the era just when the internet took off big-time. Neil, who had a keen interest in technology of all kinds, decided to get to know John and arranged for some computer help. He invited him to his home in Parnell, known as Auckland’s oldest suburb. John visited the Finn home numerous times for dinner, and he would tell me about Neil’s wife Sharon cooking lamb chops for them. I was wistful and a bit jealous, but at the same time I knew that I would never be able to handle having dinner with the Finns. It would be a bit like watching how sausage gets made.