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Kerikeri New Zealand – Birgitta Walsh
Birgitta Walsh

Kerikeri New Zealand


On one of your trips on the Queen Elizabeth we met a gentleman from New Zealand. He was part of the crew, his job was presenting the entertainers. During a conversation, Birgitta asked what we should see in New Zealand when we visit. He sat and drew a small map of the country and marked four places Akaroa: near Christchurch, Queenstown: at the  bottom of the South Island, Taupo: in the South central North Island and Paihia: in the Bay of Islands. Birgitta filed the map away for future reference. Later we were living in the Florida Keys on Sugarloaf key. We had just experienced Hurricane George which had done considerable damage to our home. We repaired it but then were unable to get proper insurance for it. We decided we had a major portion of our net worth tied up there and could not afford another Hurricane so we sold the place and took the money and planned a new home in Citrus Hills, Florida north of Tampa. My brother Jack and his Columbian wife Maria lived there. The plans were well along and the consturction would take several weeks so we decided to take a vacation in New Zealand. Birgitta dug out the map mentioned earlier and arranged time share exchanges using our New Hampshire condo and off we went.

Arriving in Christchurch, on the south island,  we rented a car and drove over the mountains to Akaroa a beautiful town settled originally by the French. The French settlers ran out of money and sent a delegation back to France for help.  The trip which took several months. Upon return the French found the British flag flying over Akaroa and their residents now outnumbered by British settlers. I do not have words that are rich enough for you to fully appreciate the beauty of this place. There is a large bay 50 miles across surrounded by mountains; the bay is the vast crater of a monstrous Volcano with the roads traveling along the ridge of the crater. The place we were staying only had 6 apartments and they were having a homeowners meeting while we were there. New Zealand’s time share version of RCI is DAE (Dial an exchange).

As always Birgitta made some instant friends and when they learned of our plan to fly to Queenstown told us that we should really drive. Revising our plans that is what we did. The trip was totally unbelievable we stopped several places overnight along the way, We took a helicopter to the glacier on Mount Cook and flew from Wanaka dodging the mountain peaks in a Cessna 172 to Milford Sound (the only real town in the vast National Park that encompasses the southern 20% of the New Zealand South Island) where we cruised the sound on a very old boat astounded by waterfalls that fell 1000 feet into the sound. We stumbled across the annual Wild Food Festival where a large variety of exotic food was served: everything from grasshoppers to ants and anything in between. All was on offer for your taste. Hundreds of people were there and they all had come to eat something totally out of the ordinary. I could write a book about that journey along the New Zealand West Coast. We were totally mesmerized by the beauty. Queenstown was a wonderland every view exceptional. We flew to Taupo with it’s volcanic lake with a slightly active volcano in the middle. Visited Rotarora where we were overwhelmed by the Sulphur Smell which pervaded the whole area. We walked amongst the bubbling lava fields and watched the direct vents from the center of the earth spew out their fumes and ash into the lava pools which had a temperature of over 1500 degrees. We saw erupting Geysers spray out the heated water. One Geyser has been active 24 hours a day since New Zealand was discovered. A steady flow of water, steam and some ash shooting a hundred feet into the air. Totally unbelievable. Our next flight took us to Pahia and Russell on the Bay of Islands where on our final day of vacation we purchased a home in Kerikeri: Matanui. We had begun a new adventure. One which lasted five wonderful years. 

Russell a short ferry ride from Piahia two hundred years ago was known only by its Maori name Kororareka a “hell hole of the pacific” a rough shore leave town for sailors, whalers and traders. Today it’s a beautiful tourist destination. Kerikeri, the site of the oldest building in New Zealand the Stone Store, is a place where you can indulge your senses and rejuvenate your soul. In it’s surrounding area is food of the “Pacific Rim,” New Zealand’s  most Northern vineyards, seafood and cafe’s which cleverly combine Mediterranean ambiance with the distinctive New Zealand flavor. The surrounding farms provide kiwi and an assortment of fruits which supply the world. It is here the first Maori people arrived in their large ocean going waka (canoe) traveling thousands of miles with only the stars to guide them. Some of the oldest traces of Maori settlements or Kainga can be found here in the Northland. Golden beaches, secluded coves, tranquil harbours and warm waters soon attracted settlers from a variety of nations with the British finally winning out with their ever increasing numbers. It is here in the Bay of Islands at Waitangi in 1840 the treaty between  the Maori and the British was signed. A treaty which granted the Maori the rights to the seashore in perpetuity which creates so much contention today. Governments have a way of forgetting or redefining promises made to indigenous people.

Our wonderful home “Matanui” not a numbered house but a named building was originally a three bedroom home. The previous owners added a new master bedroom and large bath to one end of the house and a very large hexagon structure with 270 degrees of windows and a beautiful domed ceiling to the other.  The home was transformed and now had a completely different character. You could lie in bed and look out and see the channel markers on the waterway which flows up into Kerikeri. The view from the new living room looked out over 40 miles of the Beautiful Bay of Islands National Park.  The pier in front of the home was a center of activity for swimming and fishing. The boat launching ramp busy every day. You could see the cruise ships on their way to Paihia. Fullers tour boats sometimes passed by on their way to view the Stone Store and a marvelous little miniature tug boat with tourists often passed tooting its horn at people on the pier. Opposite the home was a Maori Island where they gathered on the weekend in small boatloads sometimes singing and dancing into the wee hours the muffled joyful  sound so   pleasing to the ears. Our property was surrounded by 75 foot bamboo trees which made an inpenertrable fence and meant the house and grounds were only visible from the sea side. It contained Orange, Grapefruit, Apple, Peach, Avocado, Banana, Fig, and Olive trees. There was a large rose garden with vegetables and a grape vine which produced wine every year. Beneath the wine trellis was a large seating area for coffee or a shaded lunch. Birgitta loved to garden the daily activity kept her busy resulting in a steady flow of fruits and vegetable for our table.  There were two outbuildings a Barn like garage and a building which had served the previous owners as a homeopathic medical clinic. There was a large 8 person hot tub kept at 105 degrees F  in its own little hut with an ocean view.  After a few hours of gardening Birgitta would spend time soaking in the hot tub and I would dutifully deliver a glass of champagne or white wine so she could really relax and enjoy her soak. We spent 5 months in residence each year arriving in mid to late November and going back to the US in late April. The weather was near perfect. You opened the doors when you arrived and closed them when you left. The daylight hours were spent outdoors. Paradise realized…Some years we would spend some time in Australia or some other Pacific location. One year we rented a houseboat on the Murray River in Central Australia and with Birgitta’s brother Ulf had a marvelous time seeing wild central  Australia. Three of our years spent there we purchased a one year around the world airline ticket and circumnavigated the globe. Stoping in Europe on our way home. The US dollar was very strong at that time.

Alas, all good things come to an end. I had a problem with a Pulmonary Embolism  on a trip to Viet Nam and ended up in a hospital there with chest pains. The diagnosis said I should avoid long flights and we decided we could no longer make our annual pilgrimage to New Zealand. The 12 hour flights were just asking for a repeat of my problem. So we reluctantly sold our treasured home and moved on to the next phase of our lives. Once again we had done something that other people only can dream of. Our charmed existence continued until Birgitta was diagnosed  with Cancer and that of course is the subject of this web site. Today I am in New Zealand to deliver some ashes into the sea in front of the beautiful home that we treasured and brought us such pleasure. Next week I will be joined by my daughter Suzanne and her daughter Chanelle and hopefully by our friends Dorlie and Juergen Hacker as we add yet another site where the waters will continue to spread Birgitta’s ashes throughout the world. Her journey continues….

Kaeo the friendliest small town in New Zealand

I am the guest of friends high on a hillside overlooking the beautiful New Zealand brush. The Hackers, Juergen and Dorle were our best friends when we lived here. Juergen was the real estate agent who helped me buy and sell our Matanui home. They immigrated from Germany some 18 years ago. They are accompanied by Dorle’s mother who is now a relatively health 98 year old. They have completely and beautifully reconstructed an old house in the middle of over 300 aches. The place has a warm wood interior decorated with their unique art collected over the years. The front of the building nearly all glass with a view that goes 25 miles over rolling hills covered with bush and pine with a few homes visible in the distance.  The estate is self supporting and completely off the grid with power provided by solar panels and a wind generator. Water is collected by the roof of the home which stores it in water tanks. The Hackers were very active in the Kerikeri community but had decided 8 years ago to “drop out”. To dedicate the rest of their lives to their Kaeo wonderland. They are nearly completely self sustaining and have learned to garden, planting fruit trees and large beds of vegetables. They recently adopted a stray dog. Lucy who is 9 months old and certainly adds to the flurry of daily activities. They rise early and go about the daily activities of making a life for themselves nearly independent of the world around them. The area is blessed with silence and only the wind can be heard throughout the day. Occasionally the silence is interrupted by classical music which adds to the feeling of being in your own small universe. There are two small buildings on the grounds set up to house the occasional visitor. The last time I visited this place was 7 years ago as it began its rehabilitation to the place it is today. It was like I never left and I was greeted as a long lost friend. Housed in one of the small cabins the other awaits my daughter and granddaughter who will also be their guests and will be introduced to New Zealand on heir first visit. Last night  I learned that on Saturday there will be a Christmas Parade in town. Kaeo has 300 residents spread over the surrounding hills. It will be really interesting to see what passes for a Christmas Parade here in Kaeo. I will certainly take pictures to share with you. One thing is certain My Contessa would have loved to be here with me to share the experience. In a very special way she really is: I can sense her especially during the dark star filled nights. That radiant smile that brightens up the night sky.

I arrived here by boat on the Crystal Symphony after a 16 day voyage stopping only in Hawaii. I will be here on month to the day. I will depart on China Southern Airlines passing through China on my way to London on the new B787 aircraft the design of which makes it possible for me to take these long flights and avoid the potential of another pulmonary embolism. At Southhampton I join the Queen Mary on a voyage to the US and Caribbean for another 19 days and then I will return to Florida.

Khao Christmas parade

Today we watched the Christmas Parade. It  was led by the police and immediately next was a Scottish Bagpipe Band  of 20 people. Dressed to the nines in their wonderful Scottish Kilts they played Scottish music to the delight of the crowd. Several truckloads of children followed one of completely Maori 4-12 year olds in typical Maori costume. And a mixture of what had to be residents children with a few scattered parents throwing kisses and distributing candy to the adoring crowd. Several people walked along next to the truck floats and I assume their children were  there on the truck bed singing Maori songs in some cases. Santa had a place of honor and one truck had the towns beauties in regal costumes. The whole affair was a credit to such a small place and the cheering residents lined the streets and soon followed the Parade to the local College with its very large grounds where booths had been set up to sell some local goods and a large variety of foods. The days activities were all planned and it will be well into the night before the activity ends.

The big event was an auction to raise money for local charities. Entertainment was provided by a MC who alone on the stage gathered everyone to see what he could produce next. Six 5 to 10 year old Maori children performed a Haka which I would put against the All Blacks Haka it was certainly as entertaining. Juergen and Dorle introduced me to some friends and we made the rounds seeing almost everything. The most interesting was that most of the activities were for and by the young who were in constant motion greeting and meeting each other. Rural New Zealand at it’s finest.

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