report of a travel to the delicious islands in July and August 1981 (when it was
winter over there),
by a teacher of mathematics who gave a lecture at three universities in the kiwi country
20-th of May 1984
1. Dear wife, true to my once given word, I write an extensive report about my New Zealand journey. Maybe, we will live there in the future, and we wished to see already what sort of country it is. I remember exactly how you waved me farewell in the airport, with the customs. You had our little Frank on your arm.
I had a weak feeling of pain in my stomach, when the aeroplane began to move. It was the first time I was in such a machine. The aircraft run faster and faster on the runway. We were loose ... ! In little time, faster than you can imagine, the big bird of Singapore Airlines brought me over the Swiss Alps to Bahrein near the Gulf of Persia. There she took off again, and brought me to Singapore like the wind. Never was a night so short. Flying is so beautiful that you can't breathe!
Because you, Marian, was there in Singapore as a child, you know the colours and odours of
Singapore. There, three million people are living in a small country. Most of them came from China,
the others are from
Malaysia and Pakistan. In the old city district, Chinatown, they are selling sweet coffee at the street
corners, to many Chinese people dressed in underwear.
There are many open little shops next each other, a board with the name of the owner above each of them.
Little cocks are walking between the cars and the wagons on the streets, and at every
street corner restaurant, little chickens are hanging from the ceiling, prepared to be roasted.
At night too, it is pressingly hot. The tropical birds are crying and deafening my ears. Suddenly comes daybreak. Everywhere buses, full with people who are going to their jobs. They are staring without speaking, but answer kindly when you ask them something.
In Orchard Road are the modern warehouses. When you step inside, there is the refreshing coolness. They exist for the people with money, like me, but there are almost no western people.
The odour of curry and burnt fat expells the nasty odour of traffic gases. But the sea is near, and there are many parcs, so it is good to be in Singapore.
Because the water for drinking is reliable, I ate most of the times with the Chinese in a little street corner restaurant, or sandwiches and fruit from a stall. They see me, but don't notice me. Yet, sometimes we say a few words to each other. But these are forgotten within a few minutes.
I will never forget the Tiger Balm Garden, with the sculptures in stone, of which some are sweet and others are cruel. For, as you know, stone gives these sculptures eternal life. You can go there by bus, if you ask the way again and again. This year, the motto of the nation is: "Make courtesy your way of life".
Goodbye, Singapore, I'm going to leave you now. But after New Zealand, I will come back for a couple of days. Then, like now, in every little shop the owner will be sitting at his little table, and the meagre cats will be walking between the piles of merchandise.
As always, the shop owners will pull down iron blinds at the end of the day, to protect the shop against thieves. Farewell, city of extremes, city of sky-scrapers and colourfull kampongs.
At Changi Airport, I had a feeling of loneliness. I brought my luggage to the terrace, but everybody was there without luggage. When the hour had come, I went aboard the aeroplane, together with the stout New Zealand farmers. We were ready to leave.
2. At ten o'clock in the morning we were flying over Auckland. Because the sun was shining,
I could see that Auckland was an unmeasurably large camping indeed, full with little summer
houses. At about half past ten we began descending, and at eleven o'clock we were standing
in the airport without damage, and it was heavily raining.
Immediately after the arrival, adult little scouts came into the aeroplane with high
pressure tins to disinfect us. You have to give them your food, and they turn your luggage
upside down, for their agricultural herbs have to be protected against every infection.
I gave the form that I had to fill in to a custom-house officer, and he wished me good luck
in a way that did not suggest any sarcasm.
In the arrival hall I read the advertisements with Accomodations and Youth Hostels. One advertisement seemed very interesting: International Youth Hostel "Ivanhoe", not far away from the city center, only five dollar a night! A slow driver drove me in his slow bus to the city center. We were driving all the way along that wooden bungalows in which the Newzealanders are living all year long. The meagre little winter sun was shining on blooming roses and dandelions. I saw palm trees along the road.
There I was standing with my trunk under the sky of New Zealand, thirteen thousand miles from home. The business men were running past me, without understanding that I was a sort of alien among them. Fresh showers of rain were alternating with a friendly little sun. I did my trunk in safe deposit and stepped in the bus to Grey Lynn. There was a stubborn-looking lady driver. We stopped at the Grey Lynn Shopping Center, and here I had to step out of the bus. The simple shopping center made me think of the old American movies: publicity on wooden boards, and oldtimers on the road. This country, I thought, is thirty years behind modern life. And, in some sense, this is true enough.
Hotel Ivanhoe is lying at the foot of a hill. I got there going past some ramshackle and paintless little houses. The name comes from the road where the hotel is situated: Ivanhoe Road. The enterprise had been invented by a couple of youngsters. Barry, the manager, run away from his parents in Australia, and he set up the business in cooperation with a girl friend.
This girl was the first I saw when I was approaching the house. She wore a head-cloth, and was busy with bucket and swab. "Where can I sleep?", I asked, and she answered: "Anywhere!". The guest-chamber was a room with three sets of piled beds, where dirty clothes were laying everywhere. A Canadian carpenter was sitting there. He grinned at me, and said it was winter here. There was a little kitchen as well, where everybody could cook his own food. It wasn't really dirty there.
I understood that I had to pass the night there. I did my precious things in safe deposit at a bank in the row of shops, and bought bread, butter and jam for lunch and breakfast. The supermarket is here much the same as anywhere else. I don't believe they recognized me as being a stranger, just by observing my nose.
Because I could hardly sleep that night, I made a splendid walk under the sky and the stars of Auckland. I ascended to the top of the hill. When I saw all that scattering little lights of the thinly built-up metropolis, the tears started in my eyes . I walked through Karangahape Road and saw the saloon "girls girls girls" with many colours, unique in New-Zealand. There were young Maoris standing in the doorway, who laughingly invited me to come in, but in vain.
At daybreak I went back to the hotel, and haunted among the sleepers. I ate my breakfast together with Barry who gave me a cup of unsubstantial New Zealand coffee. He told me the story of hotel Ivanhoe. He was a jolly good fellow, so I gave him part of my sandwiches buttered with jam.
3. And now, let's go to work! I said "Good luck, Barry!", to the manager, who was sitting
in the doorway, and went to take my papers back from the bank in the shopping center.
I stepped into the bus to the city center, and got my trunk from the desk in the bus station.
I took what I needed from the trunk, and left it in safe deposit at a Mount Cook travel office.
Then I went by bus to the university and asked for mister Solloway of the teachers training college, just what we had agreed upon in our correspondence. But he was not there, and he had not even left a message for me.
I went back to the city center and walked to the Dutch Consulate. Mister Korstenhorst the boss of the consulate, was an amiable man. He welcomed me and repeated some things that I had already read in the booklets. To fortify his words, he exaggerated a bit. For instance, he said that New Zealand was very near to the tropics, and that the distance from Auckland to Christchurch was the same as from Amsterdam to Ankara. We were Dutch, so we had no pap in the veins, and we were not afraid to do a bit of work. We would not stumble over the doggy poop here, like in Holland. Whoever appreciates the little joys of simple life, would be happy to live in New Zealand.
The center of Auckland does not occupy a large area. There are high office buildings which look a bit like the Dutch "Bijenkorf" warehouse. The outer city districts form the city, where eight hundred thousand people live, one quarter of all Newzealanders. I spent the day with seeing the main shopping streets. You can see Maori people in all job levels, but they seem to have the exclusive right for cleaning the toilets. I was surprised to see that, in a certain house in Queen Street, people can sleep the night for one dollar, that is little more than two Dutch florins. I was curious and entered the house, but it was quite as I thought: junkies and criminals. At sunset I ate sandwiches with salad in a sandwich shop, took my trunk from safe deposit, and checked in at the Railton Hotel for twenty dollar. The Railton Hotel belongs to the Salvation Army, and there are bibles in the rooms.
Early in the morning, I walked with my heavy trunk from the hotel in Queen Street to Downtown, and took the bus loaded with other early people to the airport for flights within New Zealand. I bought a stand-by ticket for one half of the price and flew to Christchurch.
4. In the middle of Christchurch is Cathedral Square. The cathedral is one hundred and fifty
years old and dominates the square and the city. Here began the history of the South Island,
when exhausted people came out of the first ships from Scotland and England onto the maidenly
island. The graves of the Founding Fathers are on the square.
There is a clear river streaming through Christchurch, river Avon, and there are parks with statues of stone, and trees that are always green. Three hundred thousand people are living here in the capital of the Canterbury Plains. They look even more unearthly than the Aucklanders. This city touches my heart, because the past is still alive. Far away, one sees the snow-covered summits of the Southern Alps.
The museum can be found near the old buildings of the university. This museum gives a good impression of the era of the pioneers. The designers built a drawing room like one of the era, and a drugstore and a forge. Next the forge there is a real coach with stuffed horses. Puppets as large as real persons, in clothes of the era, are demonstrating an old history of a poison crime. Much attention is given to the abuse of alcohol. Welfare help was not given to people who drank too much.
On Cathedral Square there is also the little restaurant where one can buy bread and vegetables, and all sorts of meat and fish. Vegetarians like me can find there what they need, and it is near the hotel. Furthermore, one finds on the square the old Post Office, and the building of the Social Service.
Warner's Hotel on Cathedral Square costs thirteen dollar a night. My room has a bath and a framed text, the 'Desiderata Revised', where it says among other things: "Loud and aggressive people are better than soft apathetic ones." When I laid down on my bed, the receptionist came to ask whether he could use my bath. Like the 'Desiderata' advised, I indignantly said with aggressive voice: "no!". After that, I was treated with all respect in the hotel.
The miss behind the desk says "mighbe" instead of "maybe", and rolls the "r". That is the Scottish dialect of this countryside. She made for me the telephone connection with the Netherlands. Was you very much terrified, Marian, when I called you from Warner's Hotel at the house of your parents in Groningen?
5. Between the seagulls on the Square there is a call-box. I called dr Robinson of
Canterbury University, as agreed upon, and announced that I was there and that I stayed
in Warner's Hotel.
The next morning, I woke up early. I looked out of the window and enjoyed the early morning business on Cathedral Square. There was nobody wearing a coat. I still don't know whether there are persons living here who have a coat. I dressed and took the bus to the university.
The female receptionist brought me to the room of professor Petersen. He and dr Robinson cordially welcomed me, and they confirmed the agreements that we had made. As you remember, Marian, professor Petersen was the first who answered my letters. He wrote that he had been in the Netherlands himself, and that he had then made long trips on a bicycle. He is a large man with an imposing head: chinese eyes, bald, a little pointed beard. Robinson is smaller, a vivid man. The two of them received me kindly and politely.
You remember, Marian, that I exchanged quite a lot of letters with these two, and that professor Petersen suffered a stroke two years after, and that it took much time for him to recover. And you surely remember the beautiful Christmas poem he sent us.
They invited me to a party. Hereafter, professor Petersen showed me the library, and I gave him a copy of my thesis. We enjoyed the lunch in the lounge together with professor Gray, who told me some things about the trees in New Zealand. One sees which trees are exotic, because these trees have no leaves in the winter. When I left the university, walking on the path through the lawn in the direction of the bus stop, I gratefully thought about my new experience of friendship.
6. I spent a cold weekend in Christchurch. I read in the city guide something about the
traditional hospitality, and subscribed for a "meal" with a host-family. But the host lived so
far away that I could only get there with an expensive taxi, so I cancelled the appointment.
I read the newspaper in a lunchroom from where I could see the statue of Queen Victoria.
Schoolgirls in uniform passed by, and Maori women driving buses. In the paper I read how
progressive the New-Zealanders are: they don't send sport teams to South-Africa, because of
'apartheid'. But they do invite South-African teams in New-Zealand. The match between the
All Blacks and the Springboks was front page news for weeks. This was the kind of thing that
could entertain the New-Zealanders. Did they know that 'Springbok' is a Dutch word (meaning
I guess they think that the word has something to do with 'spring'.
I ate 'chips'n'vegetables between the seagulls in the park. Thereafter, I brought my wash to the laundrette. In all Christchurch shops the girls are kind, fresh and polite.
I decided to take a bus and go to Sumner, the village on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. When I read the names in the telephone book, I think there live many Dutch people in Sumner. The ocean is different from the Atlantic, more green than blue. There is a narrow beach with dark sand. The rainbow between the hills seems very near. Through the blue sky there are white clouds floating. Everywhere colourful flowers and green trees. Wouldn't it be delicious to live and die in Sumner?
7. Because I have a hardness of hearing, I spoke to one man at a time while drinking coffee
at the university, for instance with Kevin O'Meara about Galois-theory and with David Robinson
about his maths problems for the annual South Island Maths Competition.
When I was talking with professor Petersen about the Chinese in Singapore and their bad
pronunciation of English, I didn't see the Chinese mathematician who was sitting next him.
Until the professor gave me a sign with his eyes, and I saw the cold eyes of the Asiatic.
I apologized without delay.
By giving my lecture on Galois theory, I wanted to demonstrate that second-year students of mathematics can understand the subject, if we speak in concrete words and use the right examples. There were about twenty listeners, most of them scientific staff members. There were some students too. It was said that my lecture answered my purpose, but that I could improve my pronunciation of English. Galois theory is very apt for a lecture like this one. It is marvellous to speak to such listeners about such a subject.
Do you know that Evariste Galois wrote his theory in prison, nineteen years old, and died a few days later on in a duel?
In the evening of that day, I spoke with Robinson and two of his friends, comparing the education in New Zealand and in the Netherlands. New Zealand pupils do school exam in the fifth form, exam for university entrance in the sixth, and bursary exam in the seventh. People here are not afraid of a bit of competition, and there is no drawing of lots to decide who will be allowed to go to university.
8. But I think you'll want to hear something about the party in the home of dr Robinson,
for which he came to pick me up from Warner's, the next evening. This party was given because
Robinson would leave home next day to go to England for a international congress. I gave mrs
Robinson a book about the seventeenth-century Dutch master-painters, and played a game of chess
with the son of David Robinson. I recognized some of the listeners of the day before.
Professor Petersen was the talking center of the party.
It was not easy to understand the conversation. I remember parts of sentences like "he would be an engineer" and "I could not believe it, honestly!". Suppose I would have to teach in a High School, and some mischievous boy begins to jammer kiwi-English in a tone of indifference! A nice lady told me that in the country there were not enough teachers of mathematics, especially not in the exam classes. I came just in time. I should not be afraid of naughty pupils, for order prevailed and the pupils were not that bad. In schools for boys, teachers sometimes used the cane to punish them.
Thus we spent the evening drinking a bit and eating a bit, talking and playing chess. I remember there was a woollen carpet on the floor. Against the wall there was a map of England, with some places marked with a little cross. I was the last who left, because Robinson would bring me back to Warner's Hotel.
9. I need not say much about my visits to the Labour Office, the Education Department and the
Civic Center: "Work Permit" is the word which is used to lead beginning foreigners astray.
If you don't have a work permit, you won't get a permit for settlement, and if you don't have a
permit for settlement, you won't get a work permit. The Dutch consul in Christchurch gave me
a list of good and cheap hotels, which I gratefully would use later on.
I went to the university to say goodbye to professor Petersen, and received the compensation for hotel expenses. He gave me his book on sequences, and emphasized that I would always be welcome.
When I was back in the city, I met Jeff Cheyne, a youngster without work. He addressed me because he thought that I was a German. The German language is a hobby of his. We listened to the wizard, who delivers addresses on Cathedral Square about politics and unemployment. After that he proposed that we would drink a cup of tea in his house. He lives with five friends in a large empty house, with a telly that did work at that moment. Because Jeff had received his benefit from the Social Service that day, a pale hippy came to visit him and called him his blood brother.
10. The next morning I went to Dunedin by train. We left at twenty to nine. I read a book about Maori-kids and their problems at school, because of a "restricted code of English". Until Oamaru we travelled through the Canterbury Plains, thereafter through the beautiful hills of Otago. It must be marvellous to live in such a little house between the hills. In the East the white beach, and the sun rising above the ocean. In the West the mountains with the white tops, and all around the grass and the flowers. We arrived in Dunedin after six and a half hours of travelling, at a quarter past three.
Dunedin is magnificently situated at a bay. This is the city that became big in the nineteenth
century, since the arrival of Scottish goldseekers. In Warner's hotel they had warned me that there
would be snow in Dunedin, but the snow had already disappeared. It happened to be a bit colder than
in other years, and it turned out that many poor people needed blankets. People made a collection
of blankets, acting on the base of charity.
With two old ladies I attended the divine service in the Anglican st Paul's Cathedral. There were three pastors and ten altar boys, and all that for just three attendants. The altar boys were annoying each other while the priests were seriously doing their duty.
I put up at a guest-house where some old men were staying too. It would have been better if I had not put up there! It is impossible to sleep in a bumpy bed in a ruinous house, without a lock on the door and with rude people all around. It was dirty there. I slept for a little while, and then I arose in the middle of the night to go for a walk, just like in Auckland. Everywhere there were bottles of milk that the milkman had already delivered, even before the door of the merchant of arms. At daybreak I went back into the house. A timid man nervously sauntered to the staircase to see whether he was already allowed to go downstairs to eat his breakfast. In the lounge I ate the old bread and drank the cold tea, and I associated with a snivelling Maori. I told him a little maths joke, but he already burst out laughing awfully before I was finished. He entrusted me that he held the South Island people in higher esteem than those of the North Island.
I paid a visit to the Early Settlers Museum, which is full with photographs of the deceased citizens. This museum is situated next the railway station, and when you look through the long straight street at the horizon, you see the sun above the mountains.
Then I stepped into the bus that would bring me back to the city where I was the day before, Christchurch. Travelling by bus through New Zealand is very worth while. You go through the little villages and past lonely farms with hundreds and thousands of sheep. I saw a school bus in Timaru, and boards with texts like "Anne-Mieke" and "Yope Kalkstra".
11. When I was back in Christchurch, it was already darkening. I consulted the list
with lodging addresses of the Dutch consul and subscribed in a bed-and-breakfast that was run by a
friendly woman. Here I got finally a good breakfast. She had already prepared it the night
In the early morning I took the train to Picton. It was raining and the train was not as luxurious as the "Southern Express" which goes between Christchurch and Dunedin . After a trip of several hours we stopped at Kaikoura. But it was only a sanitary stop. We stood crowding before the desk of the little railway station restaurant to get the weak coffee and a sandwich with salad and cheese. Then we travelled again. In the afternoon we got to Picton. Picton is like a colourful picture in a photobook, like "The Beauty of New Zealand". But I had little time to look around, for the ferry boat to Wellington was ready to leave. Farewell, South Island!
The passage lasted three hours. Cook Strait is a wild sea-strait where you can only manage not to become sea-sick by sitting still in a chair all the time and keeping your eyes shut. Then I was standing in a stormy Wellington, where a heavy rain was falling out of the sky. A policeman showed me the way to a neat middle class hotel where I had a good sleep. But I still wasn't at the end of my journey, because the first place to go to was Palmerston North.
I travelled to my destination in a couple of hours. When I stepped out of the train I saw the country city far away in the flat land. I fell asleep on a little bench in the waiting room of the railway station. When I awoke it was evening again. The sky above the houses at the horizon was purple and red.
12. Palmerston North is a prosperous town with broad street and much glass. I subscribed
in a simple guesthouse for ten dollars a night. I slept there reasonably well, but I got an
awful breakfast. Do you like weetabix with water in the morning, with potatoes and tea and
I brought my dirty white trousers to the dry-cleaner and went to Massey University wearing my neat grey costume. Professor Hayman and his staff politely welcomed me, and gave me a room to work in. There I studied an article about Galois theory which Kevin O'Meara gave me in Christchurch. In the tea-breaks I talked with them about perfect codes and about the automath project that studies proofs in set theory. A staff member with a beard suggested that I could try Australia. I got very much applause after my lecture before thirty listeners, but I soon knew that they couldn't help me very much. I decided not to lose time, and said goodbye to these people who were friendly enough but kept me at a distance.
The next morning I omitted breakfast in the guesthouse, and I washed myself in the public toilet on the square before the city hall. Thereafter I stepped into a stately hotel to shave myself, because in the guesthouse the voltage was not adequate. I picked up my trousers from the dry-cleaner, although they were not clean at all. I ate in a house with "meals and take-aways" at the frontage, and then I went to the Railway Station. There I stepped into the luxurious "Silver Fern", where I got coffee from a quick steward, and it was strong coffee this time. I travelled back to Wellington.
Now I must tell you what I read in the newspapers. Somewhere in New Zealand there is a cat that steals underwear, gathering a large collection. And in the desert of Australia there was a toddler who trekked ten miles next a lonely road to call for help. He and his father had been driving in a car that slipped from the road. The father lost conscience, but the toddler kept calm. It was night, and he hid himself in the little bushes next the road each time that a car passed by. His father had told him never to go along with a stranger.
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click here to read my lecture on Galoistheory
click here for a Dutch version of this account of my journey