By REBECCA WALSH
When Harvey Cooke first started talking about UFOs to work colleagues, he was told to stop it or he could be out of a job.
He didn't stop - instead, he waited to be asked, and the questions came.
"There are always some people who aren't going to believe anything. They can't accept the story as it comes. If you examine all the silly suggestions made that UFOs (unidentified flying objects) don't exist, not one of them has an atom of fact in them," the 84-year-old told the Herald.
Mr Cooke, who is chairman of the Tauranga UFO Investigation Group, is among those who will mark the 50th anniversary of UFO research in New Zealand this weekend.
Boasting a membership of 30, the Tauranga group is one of the oldest in the country. It meets monthly to discuss the latest UFO news from around the world.
"People say, 'What do I need to become a member?' I say the only thing you need is an open mind. If you haven't got it, don't come."
The Tauranga man, who has made a couple of UFO sightings but "not good ones", acknowledges membership is falling, with many members now in their 80s. Still, he believes people are less sceptical than they used to be.
Flying saucers first sparked the interest of a group of New Zealanders in October 1952 and the research group Civilian Saucer Investigations was formed. At the helm was RNZAF Sergeant Harold Fulton.
The group made contact with their counterparts overseas, including Californian George Adamski, whose book Flying Saucers Have Landed told of meetings with Venusians and other space people with names like Orthon.
More groups were set up around the country, and while some accepted Adamski's approach, others found it harder to swallow.
Nearly half a century later, Auckland man Murray Bott started compiling an archive of New Zealand research into UFOs, from the "close encounter" with a spacecraft reported by a Blenheim woman in 1959, to the 1978 case where balls of light were filmed near Kaikoura.
Mr Bott, NZ's representative on American-based Mutual UFO Network, said his views on UFOs had evolved over the past 30 years.
He took a scientific approach and estimated 90 per cent of reported UFO sightings turned out to be natural or manmade objects, such as aircraft.
"I sift through the reports and try to look at alternative explanations," he said. "If you asked, what do I believe the odd 10 per cent to be, I'm open to the possibility."
By REBECCA WALSH