Sarah and I spent the night before our departure from Utah on the floor of the Salt Lake City Airport. We were getting good at this, as we'd already spent a night sleeping in Denver airport on our way there. A fairly boozy dinner and a couple of more beers at the SLC bar drifted us off quite nicely, and it was soon time to groggily awaken to say goodbye.
We were both flying to Los Angeles, but on separate flights. And Sarah was heading onward from there to Paris, while I was returning to New Zealand (however briefly).
Why, you ask, was I making a return trip across the Pacific? Well, before we departed on our holiday, I'd had my application for a grant of New Zealand citizenship approved. But to make it official, you must physically attend a citizenship ceremony within one year of being approved (or, as I flippantly put it, shake hands with a mayor and say you love the queen).
I flew from LA to Auckland and spent a day and a night there. My awesome friend Julie happened to be visiting from Christchurch, so she very kindly picked me up at the airport and we spent the day visiting various beer-related venues before I met up with mate's Brendon and Kim with whom I'd be spending the night.
Eaaaarly the next morning it was off to Christchurch where I had a lovely breakfast/brunch with a couple more friends before meeting up with Sarah's mum Olwyn. As my citizenship ceremony was actually being held at Akaroa, 90 minutes drive from Christchurch, and as we were meant to be there by 07:30, we'd decided to make a little holiday of it and spend the night near to the site at Barry's Bay on Banks Peninsula. We stayed at the lovely Half Moon Cottage, a pretty, cozy backpackers with a very nice rambling garden. Dinner was (appropriately Kiwi) fish and chips at the Akaroa chip shop.
My ceremony was to be held on Waitangi Day at the Onuku Marae. Waitangi Day is New Zealand's national day, which commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, largely regarded as the country's founding document,, betwee various Maori Iwi and the Crown. Onuku was where the treaty was signed by three chiefs representing a huge swathe of the South Island, and was the site of the official commemoration for the region. So the whole affair was a pretty big deal.
It was a cold and grey day (the only one I experienced in my two weeks in NZ) that began with a Powhiri (official greeting ceremony) and the commemoration proceedings, with several speeches, including one by the Governor General and another by the former head of the South Island Iwi, Ngai Tahu, on the past and future of the treaty and the relationship between Maori and the Crown which was one of the best political speeches I've ever heard (probably at least in part because he's a retired politician and can say what he wants without having to worry about pleasing enough people to get re-elected).
As I said when a news reporter asked me later, doing my citizenship ceremony there and then gave me a strong sense of the history of the nation and and an even greater feeling for what I was becoming a part of. There were about fifty of us there becoming official Kiwis originating everywhere from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. My pink floral suit was a big hit, with the Department of Internal affairs reps asking for a photo with me and the Christchurch mayor (dressed in her mayoral robes and chain) joking that she felt overdressed when she handed me my certificate.
Afterwards Olwyn and I joined everyone else for a fabulous BBQ put on by the local community before we headed back to town for our own little celebratory dinner at her new home.
I'm very happy and proud to officially be a Kiwi, and it was great that I had Olwyn there with me to celebrate the special day.
The next afternoon I headed up to Wellington for a bit of a visit with friends and the old home town. My friends Steph and Jonny who (yet again) kindly welcomed me to their home had a BBQ, lots of good beer and several good mates waiting for me shortly after I got off the plane.
And soon after that I was off over the hill for a weekend of wine, cheese, boardgames and fun in Martinborough with my former brewery mate Annika, her partner and my good friend Dylan and fellow Canuc-Kiwis Dave and Gina.
After Martinborough we made a quick overnight visit to Dylan and Annika's “country home” near Masterton where Annika and I brewed a beer together (first one in ages for both of us!) and I planted the native tree (a Ribbonwood) that I'd been gifted at my citizenship ceremony in their expansive and lovely garden.
Back in Wellington on Monday I arranged my first NZ passport (big ups to the NZ Passport service for probably being the most helpful and efficient government department I've ever dealt with anywhere in the world). I spent the remainder of the week catching up on developments in NZ brewing and Wellington friends. Fortunately lots of the work in the brewing and hospitality industries, so doing both of these at once in the middle of the week was actually quite simple.
The final night before my departure was spent with a big crowd of mates at the Yeastie Boys pub quiz, where our team triumphed and I swapped shirts twice to leave with Sam's fabulous Gunamatta t-shirt, which will motivate me to slim down a bit on my travels, as Sam is rather smaller than me!
My final 36 hours were spent in Auckland, again with Kim and Brendan. I had lots of fun talking to one of Kim's school classes, just blethering away about engineering, brewing, walking Te Araroa, travel and life generally. And a further great time at a Wellington Phoenix match with my hosts and mates of Brendan's visiting from Aussie for the match.
They had their own plans the next day, so after brunch we said goodbye and I concluded my visit to NZ in a very appropriate fashion with the Auckland City of Ales beer festival before heading straight to the airport for my return trip to LA.
In a surprisingly chilly Los Angeles I got to spend a few days with my good friend Nick and his son Sebastian. Nick and I spent most of our time playing boardgames, which I won't bore you with the details of, but a few non-gaming highlights included a fabulous lunch at the Mexican seafood restaurant across the street and my bemusing Nick by insisting on taking regular public transport (not even the express bus!) to and from the airport.
Back at LAX it was time to cross another continent and another ocean to be reunited with Sarah, this time in Barcelona, Spain.