North Island | South Island | Great Mercury Island
12 years ago, as a (great) favor to Will's father, Michael Fay welcomed a wayward 18-year-old into his home in Auckland for six months with a promise to Will's dad that, "We'll make a Kiwi out of your boy." Well, 12 years later, Sir Michael is still trying to knock the edges off the kid. Lady Sarah Fay, however, may have had more luck with Dana.
After Christmas, we flew back to the North Island and were invited out to stay with The Fays on Great Mercury Island. We had the time of our lives on the island in the fine company of Michael and Sarah, and their children James, Jessica and Annabelle, who — to Will's continuing consternation — have turned from the cute little kiddos he used to babysit into full-fledged, and extremely cool and charismatic, adults.
Great Mercury is a private island co-owned by the Fays and Michael's partner, David Richwhite, and his family. The 5,500 acre island lies six miles off the east coast of the North Island, south east of the Coramandel Peninsula below Auckland. It is one of the most unique places in the world. The island consolidates the best of New Zealand in one place: green hills covered in sheep and cattle; hidden turquoise coves with white sand beaches; sheer white sea cliffs (the highest in the southern hemisphere); towering pine trees; rain forest; jungle lagoons; waterfalls; and some significant archaelogical sites of ancient Pacific Islander settlements. The bays are full of enormous scallops, crayfish, and dolphins. It truly is a paradise.
Great Mercury Island is also the birthplace of New Zealand's quest for the America's Cup, which indirectly accounted for our presence on the island. Well, that, and a 12-year-old story that will never die about a young naked American in the Fay's hot tub. We felt like we'd landed in Hobbiton itself as we settled into the Fay's stunning Sardinian designed homes built into the Island's grassy hillsides above the harbor. The homes are impossible to describe here, but you may be able to see pictures of them in an upcoming issue of Architectural Digest. Suffice it to say that when you wake in one of the guest rooms, with the sea breeze billowing the curtains, you feel as if you've woken in a hundred different lands, and at home, all at once. Easily the nicest backpacker's we've stayed in during our trip.
Our three day stay on the island soon extended into two weeks. After our first night there, Sarah took a hard, mothering look at us and insisted that we stay longer to get some rest. Michael insisted that we stay longer and make some island babies. We spent the days "island living" — bouncing around the beaches, cliffs, and forests of Great Mercury Island in a Jeep, reading by the pool, and just catching up on some much-needed rest. We spent an entire day, from morning to sunset, playing with the dolphins in kayaks around the bay. There was never a dull moment on the Island. Lovers were engaged, rescues at sea were performed, and chefs were emergency evacuated to attend to their birthing wives on the mainland.
Will Baits His Own Hook
It's ironic that while we currently hail from the oldest fishing port in the United States, we had to travel to the bottom of the world to learn to fish! Will spent days pulling in set lines laden with Harpuka (N.Z. Grouper) and shark, reeling in rods with Red Snapper and Parrot Fish, and hauling crayfish pots. Under the patient tutelage of Michael (a man who baits his own hook) and Jim, the old-man of Mercury Bay himself, Will learned to filet all manner of catch, and shuck buckets of scallops in a stainless steel masterpiece in the Fay's boat shed called "The Operating Room."
Lady Dana in Training
While Will was wrist-deep in fish guts, Dana was attending Lady Sarah Fay Charm School. Though we think it may be a lost cause, Sarah did her best to shape up this haggard-looking backpacker by confiscating all of Dana's clothes (with promises to burn them later) and then letting Dana raid her closet. We decided to string a particularly offensive dress of Dana's up the flagpole in a graduation ceremony of sorts, and Dana got ready to continue her travels in a more fashionable style. (Though we're forever grateful to Sarah for her extreme generosity, this did cause us some problems when we later showed up in Australia at a Kings Cross backpackers sporting a Sarah Fay original — more on that in our next newsletter.)
We spent New Year's Eve on the island, and attended the Fay's annual party for the "boaties": a rip-roaring dance-hall night complete with flashing neon lights, dueling djs, hip flasks, cannon blasts, dances under a billion stars, and a 2 a.m. breakfast of bacon & eggs. Will stayed up and joined the younger Fays in welcoming the New year sunrise, one of the first in the world. New Year's Eve festivities were followed by a New Year's Day beach outing. The Fays and Richwhites loaded up various boats with their fifty-ish guests, dogs, and baskets and baskets of food, and ferried them to a white beach on the far end of the island. We rang in 2003 with a Gatsby-esque scene of women in white pants and straw hats sipping Pims under Pahutakawa trees on the beach. We met some really wonderful people from all around the world.
Our stay on the island was further extended by storms; though there are worse places to be marooned. After numerous hair-raising attempts to helicopter off the island in 55-knot winds, and one wet and wild monsoon party, we finally made it back to Auckland. Thanks again to the Fays for their incredible hospitality, company, conversation, and continued Kiwi parenting. You made our time in New Zealand unforgettable.
Auckland — Final Farewells
We were lucky enough to get to spend a few more days in Auckland with our friend Chris Bennett, who took us to our first cricket match (and to the airport - thanks, Chris!). It was really nice to spend more time with Will's father, John, who took us for a final farewell dinner in Auckland before we headed off to Australia. We spent our last dinner with him reflecting on our shared impressions of New Zealand... about the way the Kiwis are fiercely loyal people, about how you can look up Sir Edmund Hillary's number in the phone book, and about how very lucky we are.
is not a practice run."
they say, you're a long time dead."
something everyday that scares you."
Navidad, Fleece Navidad, Fleece Navidad, from the bottom of
"Dahling... you're not a grandmother yet, but you will be if you
don't stop wearing that hideous dress."
you know how many people would give their right arms to raid that
as gold, mate."
you're a cheeky buggah, aren't you?"
may we have these tall-poppies, and long may we be able to look them up
in the phone book."
not Middle Earth... that's the view out my backdoor."
— The following is a conversation with Scottie, a Kiwi friend of Chris Bennett's, who was one of the first men to ever walk into the North Pole unassisted (a freezing journey which took three months and a single pair of underwear):
"What did you do to celebrate when you got there?"
of Kiwi Colloquialisms: