A few tips for your visit, Mr ObamaSave
By Toby Manhire
Dear President Obama
Haere mai. Aloha. Karibu.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you on behalf of every New Zealander alive and dead. We've been furiously dusting and vacuuming the place since word broke mid-week of your imminent arrival. When they said a "very, very important person" was coming, we knew immediately it would be you and Michelle and Sasha and Malia.
I mean, how many VVIPs are there? It couldn't be Adele, because she was just here. Same goes for Oprah and Bieber. So it's definitely the Obamas. Our PM was quick to "rule out" any chance that you were the VVIP, and that prompted speculation that it might instead be some kind of rendezvous among the countries in a spy network called "Five Eyes", but, come on, as if anyone would really give a spy network such a sinister and Orwellian and silly name.
And Bill English, who is the leader of the National Party, did after all rule out becoming leader of the National Party. On top of everything else, a tall man with a baseball cap was spotted yesterday in an Air NZ premium economy queue at LAX. Only hope you didn't get one of those United codeshares.
So we're on to your double bluff, mate, which reminds me you must try the oysters.
There's no pulling the wool over our eyes, which reminds me you can't go past merino clothing for attractive and practical souvenirs. Chances are you're reading this now while you wait for your connecting flight in Auckland. The best coffee, for what it's worth, is down at the regional departures end.
Did someone in an Immigration uniform at arrivals demand to see your Kenyan passport? Classic prank from former All Black captain John Key. You're going to love it here: we don't know how propitious are the circumstances, Barack.
Unfortunately, here in New Zealand ("Little Australia") we don't currently have an American ambassador, owing to the last one being withdrawn and I guess the new President, who seems fine, has a lot on his plate, but if you need a mattress to crash on, a shoulder to cry on, or someone to blow on your pie, just bowl on up to anywhere, really. The key's under the mat.
There's heaps to do. You are going to love Queenstown. A city of contrasts: from the vertiginous mountain ranges to the placid lakes. The heritage trails to the bright night lights. The multi-million-dollar mansions to the people living in their cars. Something for everyone: bungee jumping, jet-boat rides, dwarf tossing.
If you do get a chance, try to visit the northernmost of New Zealand's main islands. Called "the North Island", it has recently received positive reviews on the website Google, the three most recent, which I quote here in full, being, "Exotic", "Love it", and "Local, ordinary, needs more mountains".
Highlights include the Ohakune carrot, which is like a carrot, but as much as 60-70 times bigger than a carrot, the Te Puke kiwifruit, which works along a similar principle, and Paeroa's Lemon & Paeroa bottle, which again is a great deal larger than an ordinary bottle, but which does not contain any actual lemon or paeroa, and indeed neither does actual Lemon & Paeroa these days, but I can see this may be more detail than you need for the moment.
It's getting close to winter now, so we can't recommend swimming in the waterways until things are expected to brighten up, around 2040, but pull do up a chair alongside the Whanganui River - it loves a good old chat.
If you're going to talk to the river, you'll need to school up on the political headlines.
Mostly it's been pizza, really. But there's also the pay deal for workers in care homes - it's a big boost and something the Government has passionately supported ever since it passionately opposed it by fighting tooth and claw to stop it in the courts. The move is widely seen as a smart early salvo in the election by the prime minister, who is English. Which is not to be confused with the English May election. That's in June.
The electoral system is a little different to yours. We also used to have a process whereby you ended up being governed by the ones that get the second biggest number of votes.
Nowadays we have "Mixed Member Proportionate", in which we all get two votes, one for an electorate representative and another for the political party. It's all very simple. The parties compete, we vote, ballots are tallied, parliamentary seats distributed accordingly, and then Winston Peters chooses who will govern. We have a rare, unicameral legislature, with laws decided on the basis of which side can sing a waiata more persuasively.
You'll know already, no doubt, something of our passion for the game of rugby. We're currently gearing up for a test series against the Lions, a famous and proud side that incorporates a range of players and coaches from Great Britain, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the European Union, including some countries that wouldn't dream of leaving the EU, others that are leaving the EU, and others still that are leaving the EU but would really rather stay in the EU and leave the UK.
Rugby routinely feeds into the wider national cultural and political debate, and so it is with a recent controversy surrounding the role of religion, branding and good conscience, which raises serious questions about the extent to which potentially inflammatory faith-based ideas should be permitted to seep into the national sport. As it stands, however, the Canterbury Crusaders have no plans to change their name.
Finally, we'd love you to think about coming here for good. Changes announced this week mean you'll need to be able to land a job paying $73,299 or more to automatically qualify as "in skilled employment". Alternatively you can just try another "pathway", such as enrolling at one of our top tertiary institutions with mysterious names that boast a range of lecturers ably reading out pages from Wikipedia.
Or if that's not convenient we can probably just chuck you a citizenship. That worked out for Peter Thiel, who in 2011 swore his allegiance to the queen of our great commonwealth in a ceremony at one of New Zealand's picture-postcard locales, the consulate in Santa Monica, and since then has spent as much as a few days in his beloved Aotearoa.
Anyway, look forward to a cup of tea. Love to hear how the new President is working out. Seems fine so far. In the words of early New Zealand celebrity and fishing industry lobbyist Maui, what can we say except you're welcome. Very, very welcome.