Herald journalists have been spending time with party leaders for election series Leaders Unplugged: eight parties in eight days. Today, The Opportunities Party leader Gareth Morgan goes for a walk with Kirsty Johnston.

This story begins with a bit about a dog. I know what you're thinking - it's Gareth Morgan! It should be about a cat! But it's not, it's about a dog named Hank.

The dog greets us at the door of Ruby Morgan's home in Point Chevalier, Auckland. Ruby, the Morgan family's youngest daughter, is an ultra-marathon runner and so the deck of her renovated villa is covered in shoes. She goes through a pair every six weeks, pounding out more than 100km each week.

Hank is tall and lithe and brown. He leads the way down the hallway, tail wagging, past the washing hanging on a wire rack. Morgan is sitting at the kitchen table. Despite his considerable fortune, when he's in Auckland he prefers to stay with Ruby, 29, and her partner and their friends.


"It's a lovely environment to come and stay in," he says. "And it's nice to come and see my dog."

Hank, it turns out, is a contentious dog. A dog in dispute. He used to belong to Morgan's son, Floyd. When Floyd went overseas a few years ago, he went to Ruby.

"Somehow though, Dad thinks he's got a claim on him," Ruby says. Morgan argues his daughter "stole" Hank from him.

"Unfortunately, she's very persuasive," he says.

Morgan likes to stay with his daughter Ruby, right, when he's in Auckland. Photo/Dean Purcell
Morgan likes to stay with his daughter Ruby, right, when he's in Auckland. Photo/Dean Purcell

You soon get the feeling, that despite his uncompromising public persona, Morgan's family might be able to persuade him into just about anything.

There are four children - Sam is the eldest. "He's a bit famous," Gareth says. Sam started the website Trade Me, then sold it for $700m. After him come Floyd, Jessi and Ruby. They all have a strong entrepreneurial streak - Ruby, for example, works at a startup called Goodnest, a kind of Uber for home services like cleaning.

All four children were born in Wellington. Morgan himself is from Putaruru, but now lives with wife Joanne in the capital, and doubts he'll ever leave - particularly now he's got grandkids living "just up the road".

But he does enjoy Auckland's weather and because it's a nice day Morgan decides we'll take Hank for a walk. First, however, he has to put on a puffer vest. "I'm very vulnerable to the cold," Morgan says.


He's also recovering from the flu, which brought him crashing to a halt during a recent week in Rarotonga with the family, the last before the campaign really began.

"You know how it is when you stop work and you've been working hard - I spent all but the last day in bed. It was sad, it was a drag and I let everyone down," he says.

Ruby says it's okay, and gives him a little hug.

As we head down the road, Ruby explains how the first time her dad suggested a political party, he called it off. "Me and Mum were really relieved." That was predictable - while the boys in the family have a tendency to overwork, the girls are more about balance, Morgan says.

When he brought up the idea a second time, however, they whole family realised it was just something he needed to do.

"I didn't want to look back and say I should have done that." Morgan says. In the scheme of things, it wasn't too big a sacrifice, he reckons. "I'm giving up a year of my life. That's what I was prepared to do. I'm not worried about the money."

The Morgan family are a tight-knit bunch - youngest Ruby lives in Auckland but they regularly holiday together. Photo/Dean Purcell
The Morgan family are a tight-knit bunch - youngest Ruby lives in Auckland but they regularly holiday together. Photo/Dean Purcell

What about the trips around the world? Morgan and his wife travel extensively, mainly by motorbike. Currently, Joanne is overseas climbing mountains. Morgan tracks her progress online in between campaign gigs.

"I'm totally pissed about Joanne taking three weeks off," he says. "Because as soon as I see that scenery in Russia where she is right now I just want to go over there."

Morgan himself doesn't climb. Ruby recalls how once he got dropped in by helicopter "to say hi to Mum at the top", but that's his limit".

"It's a risk too far. I like risk but I like to be able to manage it," Morgan says. "On the mountain, anything can happen. Bang, and you're dead."

Despite this, the pictures his wife sends back make him very envious, and very keen to get on his bike for another trip.

I suggest he has a case of FOMO.


Ruby laughs and says "he won't know what that is". She explains it means "fear of missing out".

Morgan is delighted.

"Someone gave me another abbreviation the other day," he says. "L-O-L, laughing out loud."

Ruby groans. "What did you think it meant?"

Morgan: "I thought it was 'lots of love'. I realise now that people were taking the piss! I thought they were behind me!" He laughs, loudly, at his own joke. Hank, trotting back across the path, gives him a startled look.

Morgan jokes a lot. When Ruby asks what he's getting her for her 30th - it's just after the election - he says "political power".


"Like what's her name? Ivana. No, Ivanka! You'll be New Zealand's Ivanka Trump."

He's also happy to laugh about the thing with the cats. Morgan gained international attention in 2013 for his call to eradicate all felines in New Zealand to help the native birds. It caused such as stir that now when you Google his name, you'll still find dozens of images of his face morphed into a moggy. Morgan doesn't mind.

"I've been thinking that when we do our hoardings we might draw the ears on ourselves, to save people time."

In actual fact, Morgan would prefer not to have hoardings at all. He's costed them around $100,000 (National would have spent up to $400,000, he says) and deemed the exercise a waste of money. But his campaign team say they have to have them, so up they go.

Ownership of Hank the dog is under dispute. Photo/Dean Purcell
Ownership of Hank the dog is under dispute. Photo/Dean Purcell

Morgan's campaign team seem - like his family - to have a big impact on his life. He goes fishing for grouper with his campaign manager at weekends, in a 44-foot aluminum boat he says is the only one that stinks among the "gin palaces" at Wellington's wharf.

His team have also reined in his Twitter use. While Morgan likens it to a street fight, where you have to "give it back double", his advisers have ruled no arguing online after his first red wine at night.


That's fine, Morgan says, his followers now moderate the debates for him. "They're more diplomatic anyway. Whereas I'd just say "f*** off."

Suddenly, we realise we haven't seen Hank for a while. Ruby calls him, and we wait. The only noise is the quiet hum of traffic and the trickle of the creek.

Eventually, the dog emerges from some flax bushes, tongue out. Morgan gives him a pat and goes back to our discussion about his decision to run for parliament - which his advisers weren't overjoyed about either, he says.

"They told me not to do politics They were worried about my brand.

"But what's a brand? I'm a person. At the end of the day we're all dust."

And then we walk back up the hill, home.