Herald journalists show a different side of our politicians in the series Leaders Unplugged. Here, Isaac Davison hits the cycleway with Sustainable NZ's Vernon Tava.
Vernon Tava is not a casual bike-rider.
The Sustainable New Zealand Party leader is wearing biking gloves and a retro Tour de France-like biking cap under his helmet when we meet in Auckland's CBD.
"Biking is my thing," he says.
He is riding a flash-looking, almost weightless road bike and I'm a bit sheepish about the rusty, 25 year-old mountain bike I'm riding. It's like driving a clapped-out Datsun next to a Porsche.
Tava has just come from court, where he works as a defence lawyer, so he's also in leather shoes, a floral shirt and work pants which he has rolled up so they don't get caught in his bike chain.
We head over the broad, pink-pathed cycleway at Spaghetti Junction which he had a role in getting built in his former role as a Waitemata Local Board member.
It's lunchtime on a sunny, winter Friday and he is thrilled to be on his bike in the middle of a weekday, between court appearances. He is grinning and a bit boyish, and remarks at all of the bits of cycling infrastructure - the paths, the crossings, the lines - like they are architectural wonders.
As we float above the congested traffic below, he lists the bicycles he owns.
He is riding a "nice, fast", road bike today. He has an old Avanti bike which he bought as just a frame and added parts to turn it into a single-speed "fixie". He has a folding bike, called a Brompton. And then there's the Gazelle, a elegant, heavy, old-fashioned bike with curved handlebars, fenders and a skirt over the back wheel: "A real showpiece."
He wants an E-bike too, but has no room for it in the central city apartment he lives in with his girlfriend.
Cycling is his relief from law and politics, which require long working hours. When he has time, he dabbles in cooking and, occasionally, sails on the Hauraki Gulf.
"I'm a standard-issue Aucklander," he says.
His parents moved from Sydney to Auckland when he was 5. They ran the family business, a fashion and jewellery company. The business was founded by Tava's grandfather, who was from a remote, autonomous northern Italian region called Trentino Alto-Adige. Later, I Google the town and it looks like a fairytale village.
Tava still has an Australian twang to his accent, and his Italian heritage lives on in his last name, his tanned face, and his enthusiasm for home cooking (he loves to make a Pomodoro sauce). He is also a practising Catholic, which rubs off in some of the work he does.
"If there's a common denominator to what I'm really passionate about - and it will sound a bit trite - is giving a voice to things that are voiceless." He defends criminals, vulnerable people, animals in cruelty cases, and nature.
One case sticks out in his mind. When he was working his first law job at the Community Law Centre, an 83 year-old woman crossing the road to buy a Christmas ham from the butcher when she was struck by a car.
The driver's insurance company pursued her for panel-beating costs. Tava urged them to show some humanity, and when they wouldn't budge, he told the Herald. Ten minutes after a Herald reporter called, the company buckled and apologised profusely.
"That's a simple one," Tava says. "Every day there are people ... with foetal alcohol syndrome, brain injuries, and they just can't front up in a courtroom and deal with the system."
After zipping down the bike lanes on Nelson St, weaving between road cones, we come to a rest at the NZME offices. We have been skirting around the elephant in the room: Is Sustainable Party of New Zealand still a thing? The "blue-green" party, which Tava formed after quitting the Greens, has been nearly invisible since launching last year.
Tava says the party was ready to announce candidates and run advertising when Covid-19 struck: "There's no point in pretending it hasn't been an extraordinarily challenging year."
He rolls up his trouser bottoms again. He's heading back off to Auckland District Court to act for a convicted drink driver - he wants to make sure he gets appropriate rehabilitation. He'll then jump in his electric car and head out to North Shore District Court.
Before he goes, I ask him why the hell he would give up a fulfilling job for politics.
"That's a really good question," he says, before giving a brief stump speech about making the country a better place.
"But if I don't end up in Parliament, I will be perfectly happy with what I'm doing."