This year has seen dizzying highs, devastating lows, Mother Nature at her most furious, a mesmerising court case and panic as Marmite production ceased. Rebecca Quilliam reminisces

The year could not have got off to a worse start with a hot air balloon crash in the small Wairarapa town of Carterton. Eleven people died when their balloon became caught in powerlines and caught fire on January 7.

The town and the country wept for the loss of lives, from a crash the cause of which has yet to be fully explained by investigators.

At a memorial service, Prime Minister John Key said something had gone terribly wrong on that fine, crisp Saturday morning. "There is no fairness in what happened - a morning which started so happily and peacefully ended in terrible sadness."

A further blow to the country hit in March with the death of eight people when the boat they were on, the Easy Rider, sank in the Foveaux Strait, off the coast of Stewart Island.


Tragedy rounded off the year when a deadly tornado hit West Auckland this month, killing three men.

The twister struck suddenly and wreaked havoc in suburban Hobsonville, leaving millions of dollars of damage in its wake.

Mother Nature again reminded us of her awesome force as Mt Tongariro erupted in August and November. It was the first time the mountain had seen action in more than a century. Nobody was hurt, but in November, trampers were sent fleeing from the mountain as black smoke, gas and ash spewed 4km in the air.

This year also finally saw the findings of an inquiry into another disaster. The royal commission of inquiry report on the deaths of 29 West Coast miners at the Pike River mine was released last month, nearly two years after a series of explosions tore through the underground tunnels.

After enduring weeks of intense hearings, the bereaved families were finally told the deaths of their husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and uncles were entirely preventable.

Another hearing that gripped the nation was the Ewan Macdonald murder trial. The month-long event dominated the media and watercooler conversations as the not guilty verdict was absorbed.

Few other murder trials have received such saturation coverage and public scrutiny.

Tragically, the trial's superstar, defence lawyer Greg King, died suddenly last month.

His performance representing Macdonald was lauded by experts as a "masterclass".

The country's mood improved with a visit from the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

The royal pair visited Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch - and Feilding.

They gained almost rock star status, and were mobbed by thousands as they travelled down the country.

And in a happy finale to the end of the Queen's jubilee year, her grandson Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge announced a new royal heir is on the way. The baby will one day head the Commonwealth.

Wellington undertook a fantastical transformation in November, changing its name to the Middle of Middle-earth and being home to hobbits, wizards, trolls and all manner of creatures.

About 100,000 people jammed into downtown for the world premiere of Sir Peter Jackson's latest piece of movie magic, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A 500m red carpet was rolled along Courtenay Place, where the movie's stars paraded for two hours to squealing fans of the JRR Tolkien-inspired films.

And the end of the year brought good news for those who have suffered for months without the popular yeast spread Marmite. Manufacturer Sanitarium's Christchurch factory got the all-clear from quake damage and the company said production should resume soon.

So for the New Year, a toast to toast - and Marmite.