The bonds between a group of friends that were forged 40 years ago in Israel were renewed this past weekend in Whanganui.

Ten people who took part in the Bridge In New Zealand programme in the mid-1970s met for a weekend of reminiscing and catching up.

Bridge In New Zealand began in 1975 and ran for about 15 years.

Its aim was to give young New Zealanders who may not otherwise have the opportunity to travel overseas the chance to spend four months living and working on a kibbutz in Israel, as well as an optional eight months touring around Europe. The group that held its reunion was the second group, and went to Israel in 1976.


Penny Robinson was a young journalist living and working in Whanganui when she first heard about Bridge In New Zealand.

"One of my colleagues interviewed someone who was involved in Bridge In New Zealand, and she suggested that I apply for it. I thought, why not?"

Among the people who took part in Bridge In New Zealand were the former mayor of Waitakere, Bob Harvey; journalist and former head of the Whitireia journalism school, Jim Tucker; and novelist and publisher James McNeish.

After a rigorous interview process, Mrs Robinson found herself heading to Israel with 11 other young people. She paid $400 towards her expenses, and was matched with a sponsor who helped fund her trip.

Mrs Robinson spent four months in Israel and several weeks in Europe. She didn't spend as long in Europe as some of the other members of the group because her now-husband, Peter, had proposed just before she left for Israel.

"He told me I should definitely go. He didn't want me to have any regrets, which was very sensible."

Mrs Robinson lived communally with other volunteers on the kibbutz, and worked in the gardens and orange orchards. Trips to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were regular events, and they spent Christmas at Bethlehem.

The experience was life-changing, she said.

"My eyes were constantly being opened. This was at a time when overseas travel was much less common for young people."

While the group members' paths went in different directions once they returned to New Zealand, they have all stayed in touch with each other.

"We were one of those groups that really meshed," Mrs Robinson said.

They've had around four reunions, but this is the first time they've been together since 1996.

Mrs Robinson said the reunion consisted of "lots of eating and lots of chatting".

They all stayed at Hikurangi Stay Place, went sightseeing around Whanganui and had several meals together.