Kiwi meets her Finnish pen pal after 40 years

By Kayla Dalrymple

Ritva Hellberg and Maxine Neustroski with one of the first letters they ever sent. Photo / Supplied, Liam Clayton
Ritva Hellberg and Maxine Neustroski with one of the first letters they ever sent. Photo / Supplied, Liam Clayton

After 40 years and more than 100 letters, two pen pals from across the globe have finally met.

Gisborne woman Maxine Bright was 10 years old at Cobham Primary School when she put her name down to have a pen pal.

Ritva Kapanen was the same age, all the way over the world in Turku, Finland.

The pair sent and received their first letter, aged 11, and, unlike many pen pals, never stopped writing.

Over the years they sent many letters. Ms Bright became Mrs Neustroski, Ms Kapanen became Mrs Hellberg and moved to Sweden to be with her husband. They both had two sons. Mrs Hellberg had a daughter too and became a doctor. Mrs Neustroski became a nurse.

The letters kept coming and so did the years. They agreed that when they turned 50 they would meet. In July and September of 2015, they both reached the promised age and a few months later Mrs Hellberg and her family arrived in New Zealand.

"It was a dream of mine to come to New Zealand," says Mrs Hellberg.

"I was nervous to finally meet her but it was quite amazing. It is so special because so much happens in life. I have had other penfriends but we have not continued."

The pair sealed their meeting with a hug, "as you do", said Mrs Neustroski.

"Everyone is just blown away that we made a promise and kept it for all these years. It is a bit like 'holy moly', have we been writing for that long?"

The Neustroskis were determined to cram as much East Coast fun into the Hellberg's two-week stay in Gisborne as possible.

They sampled beers at Sunshine Brewery, visited Tolaga Bay Wharf, conquered Panekire Bluff at Lake Waikaremoana, went to Mahia, did the Te Kuri Walkway and a wine tasting, watched Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale, ate fish and chips, hangi, paua, crayfish and even kina -- although Mrs Hellberg was not too keen on the kina.

"To be able to show her what we have here was amazing. We also had a pie and doughnut lunch to complete their Eastland experience," said Mrs Neustroski.

The two families also visited Morere Hot Springs and the Rere rockslide.

Mrs Hellberg was game enough to ride the slide once.

"We have snow where we are from, so we slide on the snow.

"The rockslide is exactly the same but you go under water. It is also easier to stop at Rere."

Another highlight was feeding the stingrays at Tatapouri.

"The stingrays were fantastic wild animals, not like a zoo. To be able to touch them was so curious and beautiful."

Mrs Hellberg said Gisborne proved to be a fantastic place.

"The people living here are very active and have an active lifestyle.

"Everyone is friendly and we have felt so welcome here."

The Hellbergs headed off yesterday to see the South Island before they head home.

As for the pen pals, Mrs Neustroski is already planning a trip to Sweden next year.

-Gisborne Herald

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