On a road trip to settle his youngest son into university and as he prepares for an empty nest, Andrew Dickens is proud of his country - and his boys.
I had a road trip last week, up and down the North Island. From Auckland, to Napier, then onto Wellington. From Wellington it was back up State Highway 1 to Turangi and then back into Auckland where we were welcomed by a 15km jam as motorists overreacted to roadworks. Welcome home.
It was great to see the country, and the country is looking great. The Waikato is booming, but starting to brown off. Even that wasn't a patch on Hawke's Bay, which is dryer than I've ever seen. Field after field of grass burned beyond brown, but to an unearthly blonde colour. On the top of Te Mata Peak we could see the charred ground of the Waimarama fires. As the people of Christchurch will attest it's a scary and worrying sight. But three cruise ships were in port, and the Art Deco weekend was about to start, and the place was humming with activity and business.
Wellington seems to be buzzing as well. Wasn't it John Key who said the town was slowly dying? Maybe he should have got out more. But Wellington - your road congestion in the city is getting crazy. The Auckland disease is spreading.
Turangi was also thumping. We got the last free room in town as the fisherpeople descended in force. Turangi is a hidden gem in plain view. Hurry before the prices go mental there as well. Turangi was special for Helen and I as it was one of the few times we had a night in a town without one or the other of the lads tagging along. It was easy and free and something that will happen more often. But more on that later.
My feeling throughout was that the country is in a purple patch. Well done us.
The reason for the road trip was to set up my youngest son at his university hostel. I'm pleased to say that after a week he's rocking it. His room is customised. He's sorted the menu and the shopping roster. He joined the avalance of students trekking to the Warehouse to buy clothes horses and mirrors.
I'm very proud of his capability. He seems emotionally happy but we'll wait to see if the three-week slump kicks in. It's a real thing. As the excitement of the new wears off, the homesickness kicks in and the uni work escalates. But he's back for a couple of weeks in April and we'll top up his cuddle tank then.
With all the attention on Ben moving towns, an important day for my oldest Jack has been a bit submerged. Today my first born boy turns 21 and is officially a man. A big, strong, kind, gentle and clever man who's never been trouble at all. I'm very proud of him. He's battled dyslexia all his life but is now in his final year of a chemistry degree at Auckland Uni.
And that's the thing. Next year Jack might fly the coop as well, leaving Helen and I in our big boisterous family home with just the dog for company.
The big change is looming and I feel like Ben did on his trip away from home. Excited, and also sad. The kid years are ending and they've been the best and most rewarding of my life. But time marches on and again I'm reminded that change is constant and life is a journey.
Who knows where it will take me next? Bring it on. Watch out world, the Dickenses are coming.
- Andrew Dickens hosts Andrew Dickens Sunday Cafe on Newstalk ZB