Pied oystercatchers float down from a sea of grey cloud and land softly on the shore of the Manukau Harbour.
The tide is covering the mudflats, so these waders fossick through a nearby field of wet grass, their orange beaks probing for worms instead of their preferred seafood.
A hundred metres away, Phil Henare watches them suspiciously through binoculars. The piece of turf on which they have chosen to dine happens to be right next to the main runway of Auckland International Airport. And as the airport’s bird ranger, Henare knows that when birds and planes take off together it could mean disaster.
At the other end of the runway, engines roaring, a Boeing 767 passenger jet waits for the all-clear.
“Birdman to Auckland tower,” radios the former army corporal. “Request permission to cross runway.”
“Cross runway and clear,” answers a voice from the control tower. Henare’s red ute speeds towards the oystercatchers. Behind him in the cab are gas bangers, thundercrackers, rifles and shotguns—devices he uses daily to chase thousands of starlings, bar-tailed godwits, gulls, harriers and ducks from the runway area. Scientific charts, stuffed in a folder on the front seat, detail the positions of the local worm and cricket populations on which these birds prey.
He steers a serpentine path around the flock, shepherding them away from the runway. Some fly off; others draw a few cracker shots before winging towards the airport’s bird sanctuary on the harbour’s edge. The air fills with the smell of aviation fuel, and in a thunderclap boom the 767 lifts off over our heads.
In this battle for air space, safety dictates that metal wins over feathers. An 800-gram gull can do nasty things to the insides of a jet engine, and keeping the birds at bay is a full-time job. Although the airport has been here for 25 years, many of the birds have been coming for generations. Some, like the bar-tailed godwits, just arriving from Siberia, will have flown further than this 767 will fly today.
If the runway has altered the birds’ lifestyle, Auckland International Airport has changed New Zealand even more. It opened in 1966, a time when the commercial use of jet engines was revolutionising the speed, range and cost of air travel. For New Zealanders—isolated from our nearest neighbour by more than 1500 kilometres of water, and almost as flightless as the bird we’re named after—the world began to shrink.
The airport maybe in Auckland, but its importance is national, and its activities dwarf New Zealand’s other international airports—Christchurch and Wellington. Buoyed by the development of Air New Zealand and the growth of tourism, it has become the nation’s gateway.
At present, 24 international airlines make around 18,000 overseas flights to and from Auckland each year. They carry three million passengers and 115,000 tonnes of freight worth more than $2.5 billion.
Three-quarters of the total number of visitors to New Zealand—more than 720,000 each year—come through Auckland International Airport, bringing with them $1.7 billion in foreign currency, and sustaining 57,000 jobs.
Walk through the international terminal any day and watch a nation in transition: the tearful start of a teenager’s first overseas journey, a Samoan family’s reunion, a stately reception for touring Japanese, a welcome home for the All Blacks. Outside the terminal, cargo planes leave, carrying race horses, cars and kiwifruit. We even air-freight heifers to the Queen.
The airport reticulates all its own water, gas and electricity. It maintains its own roads. People die here; others marry here. It has its own police force, police station and jail. There is a chapel for heartsick travellers, a day care centre and a radio station with news, music, and regular updates on the highway and runway traffic. “The airport is a city within a city,” says one of its newest citizens, broadcaster Philip Sherry, now a voice of the new station.
More than 7000 people work in this city and its suburbs: the domestic terminals and surrounding support industries.
Sprawled over 1400 hectares of former farmland, Auckland International Airport and its $400 million infrastructure bears little resemblance to ancient gateways or border passages. There is no towering city wall, no portcullis to raise, no symbolic sign such as Janus, the god of gateways, whose two–faced image adorned the gates of ancient Rome to mark the passage of old to new.
Instead, the airport’s design splits up the comings and goings: departures on top, arrivals down below. And while the airport’s modern maze of security and document checks has replaced the ancient guarded passages, it hasn’t diluted either the emotion or the atmosphere of a nation’s threshold.
“People look at those planes taking off and disappearing into the blue, and they think, ‘How can something weighing 350 tonnes with 400 people on it do that?’,” remarks John Goulter, head of the company which runs the airport on behalf of its owners—the government and several Auckland councils.
Flight still seems like a miracle. And an airport represents dreams—dreams of running away from the mundane, of finding love and adventure in far places where none of the daily worries ever intrude, where life is exciting and the sun always shines.
Once, the dreams had to do with great smoking beasts majestically pulling out from railway stations. Or passenger liners drawing slowly away from the wharf as streamers linking lovers and friends pulled apart. Now, the airports have taken over the romance People tune into the airport’s radio station just to hear the flight reports: Garuda to Denpasar; Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong. The destinations are the catalyst; you supply the dream.
“Give us a J, gimme an E, give us an S-U-S. What’ve we got?”
The Tongan reception committee’s voices rise above the noise of the crowd on this wintry morning. Fog has delayed the arrival of all flights, and hundreds of friends and relatives have been waiting for hours.
A small girl lies on the floor by the wall. She is slowly tearing the petals off a single red rose with her teeth. A besuited businessman holds a chocolate ice cream in one hand while he tells the cellphone in his other that a colleague’s plane from Los Angeles is late. An Indian woman pushes through the jostling bodies, her perfume lingering for an instant before it mixes again with the smells of cigarette smoke, brewed coffee and fried bacon.
It’s a jolly, restless scene, but underneath there is a palpable tension, a mixture of impatience and expectancy.
Elizabeth Lawrence is waiting for her sister Katherine and her new brother-in-law, John, whose plane has just arrived from London. It has been four years since she saw her sister.
“So much has happened since then—I’m divorced, she’s just got married… “What will the brother-in-law be like?
Anne van Leeuwen is holding a sign that reads “Welcome home, Hendrik”. From time to time she glances up at the arrivals board which tells her that her son’s flight from Hong Kong has landed.
He’s coming home, so, of course, she’s happy, but there’s a tinge of apprehension. “How he’ll fit back into Katikati after living in Hong Kong for a year, I don’t know.”
The snapshots from this part of the airport will nearly all be happy. A man embraces his wife, who has just returned from a Sydney business trip.
Their two small children cling to their mother’s legs. Japanese businessmen greet each other with formal bows.
For Elizabeth, the wait nears its end. She’s filled her children’s heads with stories about her sister and their childhood together, and it’s her daughter Jill who spots Katherine first, and jumps into her arms.
Elizabeth isn’t far behind, tears streaming. They hug and kiss, then stand back to look each other over.
“You’re so skinny!” Katherine exclaims.
“You look great, too,” Elizabeth smiles.
It’s not until they turn towards the door that they remember the new man, John.
Nearby, oblivious to the commotion, a young man in army uniform sleeps on his chair, his arms cradling a huge stuffed kiwi.
Meanwhile, young Hendrik van Leeuwen has arrived from Hong Kong. His mother is right. He has changed—most of his hair has been shaved off and he is sporting a mohawk. Katikati won’t know him.
Barrie Knowles has been watching these scenes for more than 20 years, often standing sentinel at the arrivals door in the distinctive lemon-squeezer airport security hat. “You get immune to the emotion after a while,” he says. Every nationality comes through the doors in front of him, but over the years he’s seen the patterns changing.
The most common visitors still come from Australia, the Pacific Islands and the United States, but in the past 25 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Asian visitors. In 1965, only 837 Japanese arrived here; last year, there were more than 66,000.
However wide New Zealand’s door opens to let bona fide tourists through, from time to time it must also shut to keep people or things out. Like a membrane which shields an organism from dangerous elements while accepting nourishing ones, the guardians of New Zealand’s gate—Customs, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Immigration, security and police—regulate what flows through the airport.
Customs, with its 133 airport workers, has the biggest profile. It collects more than $30,000 a month in duties, but its main concern is drug smuggling: heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, hallucinogenics, marijuana.
The smuggler’s fare has changed with the times, airport Customs manager, Dave Gillam, says. Once it was watches and cameras. Now, apart from drugs, it’s video equipment, computers—and birds eggs, which have become as lucrative as drugs. The eggs, which are in an incubation state, are brought in by women who carry them in body stockings or panty hose taped under their breasts.
Other types of contraband crop up from time to time. Gillam recalls one of his odder catches from some years ago: “This guy was wearing an overcoat, and it looked really bulky. A loose thread was hanging out, and I just reached out and plucked it.
“The thread came and came and came, and suddenly there was a rush and around his feet fell hundreds and hundreds of envelopes of false eyelashes. It was a fashion of the times, and would have been a controlled importation.”
Passengers from a Hong Kong flight have just come through to Customs, and Gillam makes his way into a Customs security room to watch from behind a one-way mirror.
A young officer stands over an Asian couple’s belongings, pointing out undeclared goods: three boxes of shoes, stereo equipment and a bag of food. Two others’ belongings are being searched for drugs. A young man in a white T-shirt shifts nervously as an officer examines the contents of his knapsack. The officer checks the knapsack’s frame tubing, searches the pockets of dirty jeans and upends a toilet bag.
Behind them, a red-haired woman in a leather jacket stares at the ceiling, her hands on her hips, as an officer half her age picks through her suitcases. When he sifts through a pile of underwear she scowls at him, but he shows no embarrassment. He removes the mirror from her make-up compact: she rolls her eyes and shakes her head.
“We have to look at every passenger as a possible risk,” Gillam says, after these passengers were cleared without incident. Customs searched more than 27,000 people last year—and made 127 drug-related seizures. Most passengers get off their planes and clear Customs in less than an hour, so that doesn’t leave Customs much time to sniff out drug suspects. If a plane has come in from drug source countries such as Thailand, South America, Malaysia or Indonesia, as many as a quarter of the passengers may be searched.
Dogs are used to check the service areas, the galley, the toilets and the seats of planes once the passengers are out. Surveillance cameras are trained on the baggage collection areas, watching for anything unusual—nervousness, fleeting contact being made between passengers, someone trying to hide something.
But the best means they have of detecting potential drug smugglers, Gillam says, is the departure screening. While the tears are still flowing and as passengers go through the departure gates, the checks have already started.
Passport checking and departure card collection are where Customs officers often get their first clues on a suspect passenger. They feed passport numbers and flight information into a computer. Overhead, the cameras are rolling, and in another room officials are watching the screens. Customs shares an alerting system with the police and Immigration. If any department has reason to believe that someone they are concerned about is trying to leave the country, they will put an alert message into this sytem. Should their name come up, the passenger will be detained.
Customs staff also look for suspicious travel movements. Suppose someone’s ticket showed that they were going to Thailand for a week or so, yet their occupation showed that they weren’t the sort of person who could easily afford that sort of travel, and suppose they were carrying expensive luggage—Customs would be interested.
The control room would be alerted, and asked to check the passenger for drug convictions or association with drug suspects. The passenger’s name would go on to the computer as someone to be scrutinised and searched on their return.
Customs officers also work as agents for the Immigration Service, regulating the passage of foreigners through New Zealand’s gate.
Some nationalities—Australian, North American, Thai, Indonesian—need no visa to enter the country temporarily, and although this freedom makes tourism flow more easily, it also opens the doors for people posing as tourists who plan to stay or work illegally.
The need to make a distinction between the different types of travellers is more acute these days, with so many New Zealanders looking for jobs, and a troubled economy pining for more tourist dollars.
For example, New Zealand granted visa-free status to people from Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu and Western Samoa from November 1986 to February 1987. In that time, 13,000 from these countries entered New Zealand. Half of them are still here illegally,” Immigration official Bruce Jenkins says.
There are now 20,000 overstayers in New Zealand, and there has been a dramatic rise over recent years in people trying to enter the country as refugees. This year more than 600 people have so far sought refugee status, compared with 145 three years ago. Most are from India or China. Under United Nations regulations, refugee claimants can’t be deported without a hearing.
International upheavals and social trends are an indication of who will be queuing at New Zealand’s gate. The 1960s and ’70s brought the hippies—Americans and Europeans looking for a green paradise. Chernobyl brought a second wave—Europeans escaping what the first lot had feared would happen. After the Gulf War a wave of refugees arrived from Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan.
“Each time there’s a disaster or war somewhere, immigration officials expect a wave of people from that area,” Immigration Service Regional Manager, Carl Andrews, comments.
In an airport Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) office, pawpaws, bananas, mangoes and oranges strewn on the countertop look like the start of a hearty international picnic. Ripe and plentiful, they’ve just arrived from the Pacific, along with blocks of French cheese, American beef jerky, macadamia nuts and two roast beef rolls from other flights.
To MAF, a smuggled grape is as dangerous as a bomb, and this booty is headed for the airport’s incinerator.
“There’s a misconception that quarantine measures are there purely to protect farmers,” says Neil Hyde, MAF’s border protection manager for the northern region. “But if New Zealand had an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, we would lose about $100 million a week in overseas income. Sixty to 65 percent of our overseas income still comes from our agricultural and horticultural products, and an outbreak would make the depression of the ’30s look like kindergarten stuff.”
Only Iceland and New Zealand have never had foot and mouth g disease. We have no swine fever, no rabies, and so far one of the more insidious threats to our agriculture and horticultural exports, the fruit fly, has been kept at bay—just.
The discovery of three male fruit fly larvae in an Otahuhu fruit fly trap two years ago provoked a military-like response from MAF. If more were to be found in any of the 20 traps around his territory, Hyde’s team, with other MAF people, would be in action “within minutes”. Hyde shudders at the thought of what could happen if the insect bred here.
“One grape might harbour 10 fruit fly larvae, and could cause billions of dollars of lost exports,” he says.
When passengers disembark, MAF officers inspect the plane for abandoned quarantine items left behind. One cruel example, Hyde says, “was a parrot we found stuffed in a seat pocket. The person had taped its beak to stop it making a noise, but hadn’t realised the nostrils were on the beak, and the bird suffocated.”
MAF officers search about 560 people a day—six times more than Customs. Each day they make more than 400 detections and collect over 165 kilograms of material. Items such as turtle shells, butterflies, clams and coral are taken under an international agreement restricting trade in endangered species. Others—carvings, bamboo hats and the like—are fumigated and given back.
Hyde says MAF is considering using high resolution X-ray screening to pick up biological matter. And they’re thinking about using dogs. On trials, he says, the dogs have sniffed out bags that had a banana in them 28 days ago. Very promising!
In one MAF building there’s a display of favourite oddities that staff have kept. There’s a cane toad playing a guitar, and carved emu eggs. And there’s a bottle of wine which, on close inspection, turns out to be pickled scorpions.
Like any city, the airport has its own jargon. This side of the departure gates is “landside”; that side is “airside”. The departure lounge is where the weepers go; the arrivals lounge is the meeters’ and greeters’ area.
In the first floor departure lounge, cleaning supervisor Martha Walker has been watching the weepers leave landside for airside for 14 years. She looks out at the hundreds of people waiting in the lounge.
“I’ve seen it all,” she says. “People fainting, heart attacks, children falling off escalators.” Emotions run high—and for some of the airport workers that’s one of the main reasons they choose to work here. High emotion equals an interesting workplace.
“I wanted a job at the airport—I didn’t care what job,” says one security officer. “Yes, people are sad out here, but mainly they’re happy—excited that they are going away on an adventure, happy to be coming home.” It’s a common story. Department heads frequently get requests from airport enthusiasts for jobs, and there are airport groupies—like the teenage plane-spotter who’s around the airport for a good chunk of every week jotting down the arrivals in his notebook.
Some people like the place so much, they get married here. The airport’s terminal manager, John Farrow, and his wife Anna decided to have an airport wedding last May because everything they needed was here—caterers, banquet hall, and, afterwards, the plane to whisk them off to Brisbane for their honeymoon.
It’s a late winter afternoon, and the faces in the departure lounge reflect the destination cities flip-flapping on the board overhead: Nadi, Tonga/Apia, Cairns, Honolulu.
A large group of Indian people talk quietly. They’re here to farewell the Ranchhodji family, who are taking their daughter Kali, a maths teacher, back to her home town in western India. Here a prospective husband has been selected for her consideration.
There’s a lot resting on the decision she will make. If she is happy with the match, she will probably marry there and return home with her new husband in a few weeks. If she does not agree with it, many people will be disappointed.
Dianna and Brian Ussher hover in front of the glass wall outside the departures gate. They won’t be seeing their son Shane for some time. He is returning with his girlfriend Corinna to live in her native Wales.
The family left Waipawa 36 hours ago to get here. They have given Corinna a whistle-stop tour of Auckland, and spent the last hour browsing in the airport shops—an experience in itself. Where else can you buy huge boxes of chocolate kiwifruit creams for $140, a 35cm—high sheep in All Black jersey, with optional football for $82, or a mini-marae for $1195?
“We’re not sure when he’s coming back. He might never settle in New Zealand,” says Dianna, holding back the tears.
It’s time for Shane to leave. He puts down his bag and walks into his mother’s arms. Then he and Corinna show their tickets and walk through the departure door. They’ve gone.
It can be a lonely journey down the long carpeted corridors, past the glittering duty-free displays, past the dispassionate eye of security officers.
“No-man’s land,” says the airport chaplain, Paul Blackbourn. “You’ve just said goodbye to your family, and suddenly you’re on your own. You’re still in New Zealand, but you’ve passed New Zealand’s border. You can’t go back. You’ve got to go through with it, got to get on the aircraft and leave the people behind. That can be harrowing for some people.”
Blackbourn took on part-time chaplain duties when the airport’s chapel opened in 1989 to help travellers quell their anxieties. He comforts passengers flying for the first time; those travelling to a funeral or away from a broken marriage.
The chapel is a simple, wood-panelled room. On the altar, a visitors’ book gives glimpses into the minds of those who have used it. “Please pray for my two-year-old grandson Nathan, critically ill in Sydney,” an Australian woman writes. “Thank you, Lord, for bringing us safely here” and “Trusting in God for the rest of my journey” express typical sentiments. It’s a place where some of the anxiety of travel can be released.
As she boards her plane, Kali is considering what’s ahead. “When I’m here with all my relatives I get really engulfed in it, and I think, I can do it, I can do it. But when I get over there and I have to say yes or no, and I know there’s no turning back on my decision…” She tails off thoughtfully.
In the gate lounge, Corinna wraps her arm around Shane’s waist to console him. On the observation deck, so close, yet so far away, the elder Usshers wait for the take-off that will seal the departure of their son. Like others here, they won’t be able to see him, nor he them, but they watch anyway, emotional streamers reaching across the gap.
Behind the emotion and confusion of the 8000 passengers who use the international airport each day lies the steady beat of a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year support community: the 7000 airport workers who run the airlines, clean the terminal, mend the runways, police the vehicle traffic, check the bags, serve in the shops and restaurants and monitor the air traffic.
Air New Zealand is the biggest employer, with a staff of 3500. Its engineering complex alone employs 1100 people and has its own bank, barber, football field, industrial chaplain and flight simulators. Because most of the other international airlines have small staffs, they sub-contract with the national carrier for various services: passenger services, baggage and ground control, mechanics and engineers, and catering. Some of these monopolies will change, however, when contracts with independent groups take effect next year.
The passengers are the most visible part of the airport operation. But while they sit in the top half of the passenger jets, sipping cocktails and comparing the service with that of other airlines, just under their feet are live cattle and deer, mussels and eels and fresh flowers. On cargo figures, this airport ranks as the third largest port in the country, shifting, among other things, around 20,000 racehorses each year.
As valuable as air cargo is, it’s passenger travel that drives the airport and creates its glamour image—an image the airport company tries to foster. The airlines sell the dreams, and the airport company reaps the benefit.
Last year the company took in $92 million from landing fees, the $16 departure fee, electricity, water charges, and terminal charges, and income from rentals, car parks and concessions.
During the same year more than 10 million non-passengers visited the airport, giving it one of the highest ratios of weepers and greeters in the world. They come to welcome or farewell the passengers, but they’re also drawn to the bars and restaurants, observation deck, indoor playground and outdoor picnic area. And they spend—big money. Last year the gateway’s concessionaires’ revenue topped $200 million.
“There’s nowhere else you can watch machines worth $140 million come off the ground at 170 miles an hour,” says John Goulter. “We’re the best show in town.”
The fact that big machines sometimes don’t fly or land safely, that they crash and people die, accounts for many of the jobs and responsibilities at the airport—from the rescue fire crews on the tarmac to the air traffic controllers in their tower.
“A zillion things could go wrong; fortunately they don’t all happen at the same time,” comments Kevin Berry, Air New Zealand aircraft maintenance chief. “But you don’t have the opportunity at 30,000 feet to move over to the side of the road and check it out. You don’t get a second chance in aviation.”
Considering the number of air movements, Auckland has a good safety record. There have been only three crashes since the airport opened, with the loss of five lives. The most recent was in July 1989, when a Convair 580 freighter plunged into the muddy waters of the Manukau.
“Local standby”, “Rubber found on runway”, “Upgrade to full emergency”, “767 and heavy”. “119 aboard”, “Request to do fly over”, “Full emergency”.
These are the snatches of information which pour from the radio in the ground control centre one morning in July. Air New Zealand flight 30 from Singapore is in trouble. If the tyre rubber found in Singapore is from the plane’s tyres, the landing could be in jeopardy, and so too the lives of the 119 people on board.
The tarmac is alive with activity. Taxiing and landing jets are cleared from the area. Executives in suits gaze into the clouds for signs of the approaching aircraft. Twenty fire and rescue vehicles race into position along the runway. Engineers have binoculars at the ready to examine the tyres during the flyover.
The plane arrives, swooping low over the terminal. Hundreds of anxious ears await the engineers’ verdict.
“Everything looks normal,” a voice reports over the radio.
Flight 30 proceeds to land safely. The tread has come off the tyre, but hasn’t hampered the landing. As with most full emergencies, there was no incident, but the spectre of major disaster always remains.
On average, five full emergencies and 10 standbys are declared each month. An engine, flap, or hydraulic failure would constitute a standby; multiple engine failure, fire warning or landing gear malfunction might initiate a full emergency.
Inside the mushroom-shaped air traffic control tower, between the domestic and international terminals, controllers talk to aircraft, pass data on flights and monitor landing approaches within 10 miles of the tower.
Most of the action, though, happens a floor below. Here, several more controllers watch over the rest of New Zealand’s airspace—halfway to Fiji and Australia, almost to Tahiti and, to the south, nearly to the Pole-8.2 million square miles altogether.
Controllers track aircraft from the moment they enter New Zealand’s airspace, keeping them on the proper path at a safe distance from each other (usually a length of five nautical miles and 2,000 feet vertically). Most of a flight is tracked by an oceanic controller via radio until it gets within 150 miles of Auckland and begins its landing approach.
The most critical work starts happening about 35 miles away, when the terminal controller assigns landing sequences to approaching planes.
Inside the tower, as two small green blips on a black radar screen seem to collide, Phil Peguero, the air control operations manager, watches closely. He says that Auckland’s biggest congestion problem is from small planes in the area, which take off and land at other nearby airports. Many fly without radio contact with controllers, and can show up at the same spot on radar as a 747 flying at a higher altitude. Until a new multimillion dollar system which can track a plane’s type and altitude becomes fully operational at year’s end, controllers must rely on experience to tell them apart.
Late afternoon sun pierces the bruise—black clouds, falling on the Manukau Harbour in spotlight shafts.
In his office at the north-eastern end of the runway, overlooking the harbour, Kevin Ryan commands the airport’s 42-member rescue fire staff and its high-powered fire and harbour rescue vehicles. He looks out across the water .
“It’s lovely,” he muses. “But it poses all the problems you can imagine for a rescue. It goes from full tide and stormy to the other extreme, where you have acres of soft mud that you can’t walk across.” The harbour’s changeable nature means that every possible crash scenario has to be anticipated and provided for, from big jet boats to handle stormy conditions, to zodiacs for shallow water and an air boat for the mud. Ryan and his crew have to know the tides and the moods of the harbour intimately.
Another who knows the ways of the Manukau better than most is Ian Montgomerie. Like the many species of birds drawn to its shores, he and generations of Montgomeries were attracted to the harbour long before the runway was built. As a boy, it was a place to play; as a man, the edge of his family’s farm.
In June, Montgomerie sold the land to the airport, ending his part in a long and bitter battle that was waged between the previous airport administration and its farming neighbours.
The present airport company owns 88 per cent of the land it needs for a second runway, and expects to have that runway operational by 2010.
As we drive through his dairy farm and vineyards and pass his neighbours’ farms along Ihumatao Road, nothing of this landscape bears the signs of an airport on its doorstep, nor the country’s biggest city 20 kilometres away. Tractors, flipping mud from a morning rain, outnumber cars. Cows stand in open fields, tugging on tall, wet grass.
For John and Dale Lambie, who live on a 60-hectare farm at the end of Ihumatao Road, the airport has been a big part of their lives as well. Inside their home, an aerial photograph of the airport’s property hangs on a wall, telling much of John’s life story. With his finger, he traces the site of the proposed second runway until it reaches the house he’s lived in all his life. He, too, has played at the harbour, made lasting friends here and been able to watch from his bedroom window as each batch of overseas visitors arrives.
His father, Hugh, who is buried in a small church graveyard across the road, played an active role in the airport. As chairman of the Auckland Regional Authority when the airport opened 25 years ago, he helped pave the way for its development.
Nor lie in its way. Ironically, when the new runway goes ahead, Hugh Lambie’s grave will have to be moved to make way for it.
John Lambie feels confident they’ll get a good price when it’s time to sell their land. And while he’ll leave a lot of memories behind when he does go, he won’t forget how much the airport and its dreams were part of his farming life.
“When I’m out on the farm,” he says, “I still can’t resist looking at those magnificent birds taking off. I’m watching them when I should have my head down digging a posthole. One whiff of that jet fuel and I think, ah… faraway lands.”