Kinloch: the man gap is thriving

By Jennifer Watts, NZ Herald

Remember thigh gap, the social media-fuelled craze a few years back when women starved themselves and then, with careful angles, photographed a supposedly sexy gap between their legs?

Well, I found man gap. It’s thriving in Kinloch, a small holiday town on Lake Taupo’s northern-most bay.

Kinloch is a little bit special. While the tourist mecca of Taupo is only 20 minutes away, this place clings to the vibe of a classic Kiwi holiday from decades past.

There’s a rare simplicity here. A casual friendliness, and a lack of officialdom that can so often tie up and drag down bigger tourist hot spots.

There’s free range kids and happy dogs, walking tracks and Great Lake Trail cycle routes, generous two scoop ice creams from the corner dairy, fish’n’chips to salt’n’sauce and eat on the foreshore with one of the best views you could wish for. There’s a homely burger called the Grand Loch, and for something posher, wood fired gourmet pizzas.

Here the streets are quiet, boundaries are fluid and neighbours yell “Good Morning” to me from their deck, several doors down. It’s a place where you can leave doors unlocked and curtains wide open. Where I get up at midnight to steal a leftover barbecued sausage from the fridge, and through the range slider see my neighbour at the back doing the same.

And we have man gap, that deliberate hole left between shrubs along the fence line, where men meet to chat, wiling away an hour or more between mowing the lawns and tidying the yard. It’s a chat gap that would be plugged in big cities, a concern for privacy resulting in fully fenced borders, anonymous neighbours and a loss of community.

Not in Kinloch. This town is home to around 700 permanent residents, a figure that swells dramatically when holidaymakers flood in. Kinloch was originally a sheep station, with the town laid out in 1962 by then Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake.

It developed as a holiday destination, the older part, where our family holiday bach is located, built around the lake. The popularity of this place can be seen in the new sub divisions crawling up the hills behind. What these properties give up in walking distance to the shore, they gain in stunning views over Lake Taupo with often snow covered mountains, sentries on the horizon.

The town’s central location pulls people from all over the North Island, hot summers and chilly winters offering a goodie bag of seasonal sports, speed and adrenaline as deep and high as the lake and volcanoes around.

At the Kinloch turn off, cicadas greet you from the boughs of tall poplars lining the main road in. You’ll pass the beautiful Jack Nicklaus-designed Kinloch Golf Club, and a more modest public course up the road.

A right turn leads to the marina and lake, and also a tiny shed, sitting right on the pebbly shore. Inside you’ll find a book exchange and toy library, a treasure trove of beach toys and fiction, free for all.

Kinloch’s sense of community is a grassroots jewel and the Kinloch Community Association works to keep it shiny. Summer concerts, market days and sporting events, including this weekend’s Kinloch Triathlon-NZ Sprint Champs 2019 and ITU World Champs Qualifier [Feb 9/10], help raise money for all things local.

It’s in Kinloch that you can experience the Kiwi summer ritual of scorched feet on hot sand, a mad hop to the cool lake water, soothing city soles. Here even uncertain swimmers can wade in the water, safe from ocean currents and free of salty critters.

It’s here where birds nest in mailboxes and sing from high in the tree tops against clear blue skies. Where modern political tight right and hard left rules to live by fade and then are superseded by an old rule, to live and let live. Be kind because strong communities are a strong antidote to the world’s ill-wills.

Our own neighbourly man gap is used to exchange news and tidbits, the ladder and tools, spoils of a good day fishing, wine, smiles and the latest tennis score.

Property renovations have come and gone and still the man gap remains. It may never get its own hash tag, but I’m more than a bit okay with the memories being made across that bit of fence in Kinloch.

No Perfect Day

By Jennifer Watts, NZ Herald

Here I stand, Mother of the Bride.

The hat I’ll wear is because someone said “no hats” and while middle age has caught up with me, a smidgen of rebellious teen remains. The sensible shoes are insurance against the champagne and the midi length dress is a nod to age, thanks wrinkly knees.

The colour I’ll wear, plum, will not clash with the bridesmaids, emerald green, because I am a good and gracious guest, especially so when it’s my first-born getting hitched.

I know I look forward to the day because when I think about it, my heart can’t contain the tiny bubbles of joy, they feel like fizz. They bust out, these bubbles, and race through my veins, round and round, leaving tracks of nervousness, excitement and delight.

It makes me want to squeeze the arm of whoever’s nearest because they need to know:

“My daughter’s getting married!” and also: “I am the only person in the whole world, ever, to experience this!”

I’d like to shout this at the top of my voice. Of course I don’t. Being MOTB carries with it a mantle of decorum which I’d like to cling to, at least til cake cutting time.

Besides, I know where I stand, my place in time, a mere one of billions that have gone before and will come after. There is nothing extra special about anything that happens in my life apart from that I’m uniquely living it.

I do anticipate this wedding day way more than I did my own. I was not quite an 80s bride, but the puffy sleeves and mere three choices of bridesmaid dress colours had me stuck right there. I condemned my bridesmaids to bright pink, exact replicas of my own dress only shorter, because, well, that’s what you did in 1991.

Nowadays, the choice facing brides and grooms is massive, almost overwhelming, sometimes distressingly so. Good decision making isn’t necessarily about the breadth of options available but the focus required to cut out all the noise and stick to plan.

I’m reluctant to offer advice. My only titbit is about letting go of the lofty ideal of a perfect day.

The quirks of guests, the mistakes that are inevitable when coordinating an event for 100 people, those very flaws which some will call imperfections, are the very things that can make for one special day and one perfect memory, if you’re willing to roll with them.

It’s unnecessary advice for my eldest daughter and future son in law, both relaxed, “she’ll be right” Kiwi bods. They’ve made the occasion easy on the rest of us.

Perfection will trick you into thinking its visual, or at least tangible. It will try and tell you its there in how the flowers are arranged, how the table is set up, the colours you’ve chosen and food and venue.

Real perfection is found in all the mishaps, accidental and even the intentional, the flaws, wrong turns, poor timing, spelling mistakes, speech blips, little moments that make up the real memory of the whole day and will have the couple looking back thinking, “What a perfect day”.


‘Murica, you’re not all bad

By Jennifer Watts, Orlando Sentinel;


America, I got you quite wrong. 

I’ve had a lifetime being force fed a culture by the entertainment industry, and I thought I knew you. Then I landed here as a temporary resident.

Big, boisterous America has a stage presence that’s both a gift and curse.

Its reputation for obsession of self, stuff and shallow stardom doesn’t often fare well in the eyes of others.

To the world I say, don’t be quick to judge a country you’ve only seen from afar, or visited for just a little.

From the very first “Welcome Ma’am” at the border, I’ve been embraced with a friendliness that’s disarming in its generosity. I’ve been moved by a thousand everyday kindnesses that Americans happily throw my way.

Packing up a life and moving it across the other side of the world is daunting. My home, beautiful New Zealand, is a galaxy away. Getting anywhere from there requires a big plane and lots of time zones. Moving to America has been exciting, tempered with my share of loneliness and confusion.

It’s been made so much easier by America’s deep history of embracing strangers from afar. That very trait is the lifeblood that makes America the best kind of place, a great place of freedom, opportunity and invention.

In America, a person can be anything.

This land welcomes the dreamers and thinkers, right alongside the movers, shakers and doers.

These shores are a beacon for people escaping their own country’s limitations. The iconic American Dream isn’t mere fable, for Lady Liberty welcomes newcomers with the promise that hard work and good intention will bring health and wealth and bright futures for generations to come.

My kind of America now, not the one I grew up viewing from a distance, is a place of open minds and thoughtful actions, of endless optimism and plenty of choices.

I’ve discovered that America is not scared to do things big, and it’s also excellent at the many little things, and it’s those little things that make up a big part of my daily life here.

Those times when new friends offer me a ride, because they recognise that having me drive on the opposite side of busy roads is challenging, and possibly a heath hazard to them.

It’s the times when they’ve helped me with the peculiarities of tipping, not customary where I come from. Figuring out the who, when and how is a blur and it only takes a slight hesitation for my friends to whip the check out of my hand and write in the figure for me. Apparently, I’m a good tipper.

It’s telling me when I use a word, commonplace in my home country, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Words, and there are more than you’d think, that have completely different, sometimes inappropriate meanings in this new land, all tangled up in accent and pace.

My kind of America is new friends showing patience when I repeatedly get life mixed up: the pennies, dimes and quarters, the local tricks for surviving the Florida summer, the warnings about hurricanes and impressive lightning strikes, and the insects, black bears and alligators.

The kind of America I have experienced is one that is fearless and bold, the people exuberant and eager, quick to share their opinions and dreams and also keen to hear mine.

I see a nation where people embrace self-belief, aim for the extraordinary, bringing the impossible within reach. It’s why America’s history is rich and its future is promising.

The world could learn a lot from getting to know Americans, rather than listening to what they think they know about America. One of the things I love most about Americans is that they’re not very worried about what the rest of the world thinks of them.

I won’t mistake different for bad or worse, I won’t let what’s familiar color my perspective and I will remember that the onus of adjustment is on me, the newcomer, not the other way round.

America is difficult to ignore or forget. Eventually I’ll leave these shores and when I do, I’ll remember everything that is good, and I hope you do too.



Motherhood, you wench.

By Jennifer Watts, Orlando Sentinel

I got the crib well before time and prettied it up with lace and ribbons. 

It sat centre stage in the nursery with lots of fluffy pink things, a pile of carefully folded soft cloth diapers and a quaint, recycled rocker that I pictured myself settling into for long, pleasurable hours of night feeding.

Well. Baby.

Along came Emma, a first-born who was kind enough to give me one week’s peace, lulling me into a sense of post-natal bliss that had me thinking “This is easy”.

Oh motherhood you wench, you age-old trickster, delivering us women hysterical highs and lows, making us laugh and cry, joy and pain in equal measure.

I didn’t have a name for it, and Google was itself a couple years off being born, so it was six weeks before I discovered the very little word for my very big problem: colic. And with the unreasonable screaming came a bonus: projectile vomiting, destroying carpets, clothes and cleanliness wherever we dared venture.

And then came advice. Desperation for solution made me an indulgent listener and avid reader, too eager to try everything I stumbled upon.

I learnt the hard way: advice is only good when it works. The rest of the time it’s a cruel task-master eroding our confidence and building confusion.

At its simplest, motherhood is about keeping a little one alive, until they grow into something bigger and can go fend for themselves in the world.

Asking plenty and of many is the premise of today’s social masses; it’s also the thief of our belief in ourselves and our abilities. This drive for knowledge and advice is killing our greatest asset, that instinctive feel you have for what’s right for your own baby.

Nuggets of gold are what we pan for when we reach out online.What we often find is advice that’s well-intended but outdated, irrelevant or plain useless. Or worse, we get petty judgement disguised as poorly-worded helpful advice.

I suspect that for all the advice we now have access to, motherhood hasn’t changed much, ever.

Here’s what my world looked like in the mid to late 1990s:

A daily grind filled with tasks so tedious that I wished away the one thing that’s truly irretrievable – time.

Some distressing hours that I knew would pass but in the moment felt like they would never end.

Sanity stripped bare by raw sleep and burnt hormones, mixed with a level of tension I couldn’t get rid of no matter how many times I told myself to relax and enjoy.

A busy kind of boredom with 100 things to do, that individually lack depth yet collectively, I now know add up to the essence of motherhood – protecting, nurturing, preparing new lives to set the world on fire.

Here’s what hindsight looks like for me in 2016:

Seeking perfection in motherhood is pointless because it’s an intangible that looks different to everyone. Take that track and you’ll be lost in a maze with no end.

While it is good to treasure the wisdom of a select few sometimes, it is always good to back yourself first, to have confidence of your rightful place in your child’s world as parent.

You are their everything and while that’s scary in its enormity, take heart – no one knows your child better than you do; chances are you are doing a wonderful job.

Feel your way through the messy, tough days and know that those are the moments where solid parenting is born.

Remember that how you start out isn’t necessarily how it’s going to end. Despite the odds of background and example, with little support, I muddled through the early months, did my best with the early years and found myself growing in capability as the girls did. I even started enjoying it.

I learnt not to fear what’s around the corner. I found out it is curious toddlers, chameleon-like children and teens who will frustrate and delight. There is nothing you can’t handle.

Cherish the moments that are easy to enjoy, and don’t let the tough ones cast a shadow over the rest. Handled well, it’s those tricky times that are going to shape you into the kind of parent your child will want to become.

And I have discovered there’s no better compliment than that.


Orlando massacre: Kiwi in a strange land

Dominion Post

Jennifer Watts is a former Hawke’s Bay journalist, who now lives in Florida. She shares her thoughts on the Orlando nightclub massacre.

OPINION: While a madman with a gun opened fire inside the Pulse Nightclub in downtown Orlando I was tucked up in bed enjoying the bliss of air conditioning and sweet dreams, 25 minutes up the road.

The club was busy and the weapon high powered, a combination that left 49 people dead, their own dreams incomplete and unfulfilled, stolen in a nightmare that included long minutes of active shooting and then a three-hour stand off.

Countless others have had their lives shattered after the death of loved ones in an act of home-grown terrorism, the largest mass shooting in modern US history.

There will be many more survivors, those who escaped the club, who face living with the memory of what happened and, more traumatising, the thought of what might have been but for a few centimetres, a slower run, the unlucky wrong place at the wrong time. Survivor guilt, and the close “what ifs” will be heavy baggage for many, the weight of it extending to their own family and friends too.

I’m a recent transplant to Florida, my husband and I having relocated here as temporary residents from Napier six months ago.

Florida has been hot, humid and a heap of fun. This state is home to an eclectic mix of cultures and lifestyles, friendly people and loads of them, massive highways, natural wonderlands and extraordinary tourist meccas like Walt Disney World.

Americans believe that anything is possible. There is an unshakeable spirit of limitless opportunity and potential, a remnant I’m sure from Wild West days when those early explorers looked out over unknown, endless plains where the chance to create the brave new lives of their dreams lay.

That American dream is a little bit addictive and the very best thing I have discovered from inside the contiguous 48 so far.

Coming from the outside, though, I’m well aware the US doesn’t fare well in the eyes of the world. It’s an easy place to pick on. There’s a reputation for obsession of me, money and material that’s partly true and fully ugly.

America’s obsession with themselves and their rights, often without their responsibilities attached, makes this prediction easy: nothing, absolutely nothing will change to prevent the next mass shooting from happening.

This is despite frenetic media coverage and analysis, networks vying for viewers with repetitive breaking news alerts and commentators from agenda-driven politicians to powerful lobbyists to raw survivor stories. It’s a circus which, with my compulsive need to know, I’ve invited into my living room, relieved sometimes by reruns of Seinfeld and other times by the off button.

Why would a young man, born in a country where he is free and anything is possible, choose to take a semi-automatic weapon into one of the most popular nightclubs in downtown Orlando, with a cold, merciless heart and murder on his mind?

The truth, I suspect, is a volatile mix of poor mental health, complicated religious beliefs, a confused man with easy access to weapons and a simmering rage with himself and the world.

You can’t build a wall long enough or high enough to keep that kind of danger out.

I’ve always known that Florida, as beautiful as it is, has a terrible tacky side full of excess and colour that especially won’t appeal to fundamentalists with a narrow view on what the world should look like.

Weighing the risks of dangers like terrorism when you leave the relatively safe shores of home is something we all should do. Letting fear of what might be mark your future path is something I won’t ever do. I will remember everything that is good about America and I hope you do too.


The affair is over cos I found someone new

By Jennifer Watts, The Adelaide Advertiser


My dear Adelaide, the affair is over. I came, stayed, played just shy of 3 months. You had me in your grasp at day two and I loved you every day after.

But if we’re really going to talk love, I need to know why you’re only ever the bridesmaid and never the bride. Honey, you’re not even the bridesmaid, more like the cute flower girl or distant cousin. An after-thought tacked on to the end of the table because there was space available.

The flashy business hub of Sydney; the artsy feel, eateries and creative soul of Melbourne; the golden sun, sand and surf of the Gold Coast; the continuing lure of money, mystery and mines of Perth. You’re standing in the shadow of your bigger sisters. Not for me, not anymore.

My love started, as often love does, with a stunning first impression. An airport that was spacious and clean and easy to get around and get out of. A friendly taxi driver happy to chat late at night to a couple new, and temporary, to the city. The beautiful inner city lights of St Peter’s Cathedral and Adelaide Oval, all blinged-up prettily as we made our way to North Adelaide. You started well and got better.

The next day we woke up together unseasonably hot, in fact the hottest October on record was about to start. Did I need the 8 merino tops, wool poncho and woollen – well anything – that I found when I unzipped my life-packed-in-a-suitcase? No.

My utter lack of research about you before arriving only added to our amore since you went on to surprise me at every turn, something that tickled my fancy most days.

Oh I admit for one brief moment I thought you were inland but looks – especially too-brief glances at Google maps – can be deceiving. There you are poised on the coast of that deceptive blip called the Gulf of St Vincent and further afield, the delightfully named Great Australian Bight. I know where you are and I will never lose you again.

I discovered a fabulous public transport system which is just as well because while you are very, very walkable, my sense of direction is very, very poor. Figuring out the free city connector buses, which run both clockwise and anti-clockwise, was challenging. I was the person drawing circles in the air with my finger as I pondered the bus timetable. I was also the person turning 180deg to figure out clockwise and anti, which apparently is no help.

That’s ok. Everybody brings weaknesses to a relationship and while yours is lack of confidence and self promotion, mine is sense of direction and anything that requires a degree of logic.

We went on to play some delightful games of hide and seek, where (and here you proved peculiar to many modern cities) you went and hid all the funky bars and eateries, and then I went and tried to find them.

Down hidden alleyways and strange laneways that looked like dead ends, I found inconspicuous, some times (designer) graffiti-lined doors which I felt required a secret knock to open.  Even the lovely Palace cinemas in Rundle St East took me around the block once before I found the laneway that led to another laneway that led to the entrance. And then I found the short cut from North Terrace. Proof that: being new in love sometimes makes you blind to the obvious.

Some of the politest beggars live in your arms. I’ve been thanked, blessed and wished a good day, when I’ve given nothing but a glance. And requests for loose change have been refreshingly specific. A woman with her worldly goods stashed into two plastic bags asked me for $7.50.

“Why $7.50 exactly?” I asked.

“That’s how much my sandwich and drink costs for lunch.”

Well, when you put it like that, here.

I wasn’t discouraged when I heard her work her way down the queue of people at the bus stop. Ask and you just may get.

Adelaide you gem. You’re lots of things: coastal and metropolitan and old-city all at once. A delightful mix of quaint and hustle bustle. Old world architecture that leaves me feeling like I am walking down the streets of the 1880s, mixed with cool-banana bars, whole foods cafes and a groovy-gritty metro feel that leaves me no doubt that it’s 2015. You have a vibe that rises above the ordinary.

Problem is, I fall in love too quickly. And then it’s painful leaving. My final day with you was a sometimes wistful, slightly manic walk round the central city, doing what I could to burn lasting impressions. I won’t forget you.

On yonder now, abroad for a few years to the Land of the Free – and of the Easily Offended, and of Legislative Nightmare (read: long queues), and of Sugar, Fat and oh heck y’all a bit more Sugar wont hurt. Oh America, you polarising chick, my love-hate affair with you has begun.

Pictured: Me, friend, and bubbles at 2KW rooftop bar, Adelaide. We found you.


Hoarder, no! It’s just stuff.

And I’ve collected a lot of it in the 8 years of being back in home town Napier, New Zealand. It’s a tad perplexing because I’m not a hoarder. Ohhh but wait one closet-filled moment — is that what all hoarders say?

Four and 1/2 dinner sets, two and 1/2 pot sets, a 12 piece cutlery set of which a quarter belongs to other people. The figures are mind boggling, I know. How did I get half of anything? And how did I get a set of toddler cutlery when I haven’t had toddlers for nigh on 16 years?

I had to psyche up for a full day before tackling the plastics cupboard. It’s located in that awkward corner, the one with useless, dark spaces under the kitchen bench. My arms can’t even reach the furry back corners which are home to little creatures that scuttle and rhyme with rockcoaches. Let’s not mention them while in the midst of selling the house.

In this plastics cupboard, I have a beautiful red quality (read: expensive) Tupperware lid, with no matching container base. I blame the youngest (who’s now 19 and out of home so not even groundable). That container is somewhere in the school yard, buried alongside years of odd socks, pens and permission slips gone astray. There’s also a missing drink bottle lid to my favourite eco friendly squashy gym bottle. Meanwhile, lurking on the other side of the plastics cupboard are more than 20 cheap takeaway containers, ALL with matching lids and bottoms. Go figure.

I’ve never been a hoarder – yet my linen cupboard is full of towels I just don’t recognise. Key in my investigation, has been a name written in bold marker in the corner of some of these towels – now mine by default.

I’ve had a permanent “left overs” shelf in my pantry – a corner that’s home to everything that anybody has ever left at our house. Stuff stays there about a month then moves either: to my own stock (that explains the cutlery draw and linen cupboard) or to the charity pile. And sometimes to the back seat of my car where it can stay for another month while I remember – and then keep forgetting – to return it to its rightful owner.

I’m preparing for another overseas move, packing my life into two 23kg suitcases, 7kg carry on and a very large handbag. On our last big move from Melbourne to Napier, I had a good tidy out, keeping the hub and two kids, ditching most of everything else, and gaining a fluffy ginger cat.

But then people give us stuff, I buy stuff, people leave stuff, I accidentally take stuff from other peoples places … well, it all adds up. One time I bought a top from an op-shop which I adored, got home to realise I’d dropped this top off at the charity bin not too long ago. Worse part? I’d ORIGINALLY brought it from the op-shop. Oh, I don’t want to talk about it.

There’s a cathartic feel in lightening the load of stuff. There’s something meaningful in realising there’s no real value in the stuff itself –  the real value is in the memories the stuff help creates.

I’m walking around our Napier home one last time remembering it as a place that gave us 8 years of amazing memories in those busy, bumpy years of raising teens. I don’t want them back (neither the teens nor the years) but I do want to remember the moments they gave.

Hello abroad … oh look it’s Adelaide.