New Zealand: Invercargill

Written by Harold McNeill on January 31st, 2012. Posted in Travelogue


South Tip of the South Island

While in Switzerland, Lynn and I struck up a friendship with Karen and Nobby, a couple who hailed from Invercargill — the very southern tip of the South Island of New Zealand (next stop Antarctica). Some weeks after the meeting in Switzerland, and just by pure chance, we ran into Karen and Nobby again in Venice, totally unplanned, in the midst of a crowd that must have numbered in the hundreds of thousands.  Can you imagine the coincidence?

Meant to be we figured and that we had best accept their invitation to visit their plantation in New Zealand! Well, that future came much sooner than expected when Lynn and I made the trek to Invercargill in late November, 2009.

So where does one start to tell the story of our visit with Nobby and Karen? Well, I suppose, I will do what Nobby would do in such a situation – just “tell it as you see it”. At one moment, Nobby is overwhelming a conversation with some witticism and the next he is in an engaging in conversation that demonstrates a wide knowledge of the world and of many interesting subjects.

In recent years, Nobby and Karen became incurable travelers heading to places where others fear to tread – like a recent trip to Egypt that turned into a trip on a rickety old bus across the Sinai Desert to Israel; all without the benefit of stamping a passport for fear of facing reprisals at one end or the other. Apparently the folks in those areas don’t always see eye to eye, except perhaps in hand to hand combat.  Or a close call when Nobby found a poison dart stuck in his backpack. (Karen assures us it was not her!)  Nobby thinks it must have been intended for Karen, but knowing Nobby, the dart was probably on target – we suspect his early life as a CIA agent is catching up with him.

Well perhaps not CIA, but for sure “Special Ops” as Nobby did a tour in Viet Nam attached to the US Military with the NZA (NZ Army Nobby says, but sounds very suspicious to me). We sense the man has no fear and firmly believe the credit for Nobby having survived this long in their world travels is entirely due to Karen.

Now on to other members of the extended family with its roots back several generations in the Southlands. At the time of our visit, Karen’s son, Shaun, and his wife, Roshni (from Fiji) were living with Nobby and Karen while they worked at getting their own home built on a nearby acreage. Two delightful young people.  Nobby and Karen are most fortunate to have a large family (many living within 20 km of their home) and we had opportunity to meet many of them.  Those we met are just  like Karen and Nobby, caring, welcoming, friendly folks.

One branch of the family (Karen’s Son-in-law) is firmly connected to the past century in an unusual way. It seems that the illicit distilling of that demon whisky during prohibition (a 50 year period in the early last century) helped many Irish families through some very difficult times. As in many other countries prohibition created an opportunity that was just to good to pass up. To find out more about his family we stopped by the “Whiskey Museum” in Gore which is dedicated in large part to the McRae family (Karen’s son-in-law’s grandparents).  (Note: Gore and Clinton are two towns near each other .. a third town called “Bush” changed their name a few years back. It is now called “Athol” – no kidding look it up).

Back at the Clarke home almost every evening we managed to get into a card or board game of some sort. The competitive nature of everyone at the table made for a lively evening (no holds barred). We sometimes had a round of that demon whiskey (Old Hokonui – in remembrance of the McRae Clan) just to steady our nerves during the intensity of the games!

Karen and Lynn picked up right where they left off in Switzerland and Venice in that they could wile away hours just chatting about “girl things” (we guess) while sitting around at home, shopping downtown or taking long walks.

Nobby and I would take off and hit the local pool hall or do a tour of some of his other haunts. After the first round of pool, things got very serious and Nobby even offered to buy me a drink (10 am no less) hoping beyond hope, I guess, that it would take the edge off my game. (which I must admit was not all that great but level with Nobby – did I say that right). I suspect Nobby is usually more selective in his pool challenges. It totally threw him off when one of his many friends (a woman of course) came over to say “hi” and told me how much she liked my “Canadian Accent”.  Ah, always nice to have one up on Nobby.  I had to let it go at that!

Having been deeply involved in community affairs throughout his career in social services and family counseling, Knobby knows simply everyone and always has an opinion (a strong opinion I might add) on any subject that may arise in conversation. I loved it, for, as many of you  know, I can BS with the best of them- and Nobby is one of the best.

Well the week in Invercargill, in weather that was just short of being miserable (not unlike Victoria in the mid-winter), turned out to be another highlight in the many highlights of our time in New Zealand. We met so many more wonderful folks and did a lot of crazy things that will provide many memories when we go home. The many friendships we made will last the rest of our lives.

It was a great way to begin the process of wrapping up our time in NZ, visiting with this wonderful couple and their extended family- living at the far end of the earth.  We will hopefully run into Nobby and Karen, or some of the kids, on our future travels.

Written in Victoria





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  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold