Monaco to Haast

From time to time there comes a point when I realise just how lucky I have been to do and see some wonderful things.

One of those times has just arrived, and struck me on the road between Wanaka and Haast amidst the spectacular scenery of New Zealand’s southern lakes and mountain country. That road is the Haast Pass that connects Central Otago to the West Coast, threading through the Southern Alps to the south of Mount Cook and onto Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, across the Cardrona and into Queenstown. At its western end it goes through some of the world’s great remaining wilderness rain forest, and is a very special place.

It is also hazardous. Currently, the road is closed overnight following a large rock slide several weeks ago, and at that spot, in some tight and towering valleys, narrows to a one lane track perched on the edge of the top of the Haast River. Not far along from there and just a couple of weeks or so before the slip, a young Canadian couple died when another rock fall swept their car into the river that was in full flood.     Chance and fate are with us always, and you think about that more as you get older: of all the thousands of tourists who go through the area every year, why was it that pair with so much ahead of them got hit during a trip that was doubtless one of the highlights of their lives?

Just five days before Sandi drove me back to Haast amidst this grandeur, I was in the south of France in Nice enjoying time with our daughters, Kirsten and Laura. An invitation had arrived a month or so before, asking me to moderate one and appear on another panel at the 2013 Peace and Sport Forum to be held in Monte Carlo.   That in itself followed the week in Kuala Lumpur that led to my previous blog post.

monaco-nightMonte Carlo is one of the great if odd experiences a traveller might have. The tiny principality now led by His Serene Highness Prince Albert is best known by most for being home to Grace Kelly after she married the previous monarch, Prince Rainier. Home to one of the best known casinos anywhere, itself the site for some of the early Bond movie scenes, much of its wealth comes from being a tax haven. That leads to a paradox. Only a few square kilometres in size and perched on the side of cliff faces, Monaco also hosts a legion of up-market car shops (one hesitates to call them “dealerships). My favourite, perched in among the Porsche, Bentley and Rolls Royce outlets was the McLaren.    Named after one of New Zealand’s best ever racing drivers, Bruce McLaren (Denney Hulme and Jim Richards followed) who also designed the original models, McLaren is one of the ultimate road cars. They are not cheap.   Yet Monaco has no roads, to speak of.

The harbour is the same. It is tiny but crammed with marinas that host the “yachts” of the rich and famous that are really small versions of ocean liners. An entire world industry is fuelled by these vessels with thousands of Kiwis and Aussies finding work or support on board, and many of them end up in Monaco.

As befits such a location, the Forum never ceased to surprise. The opening session, that I moderated, was attended by Price Albert which meant that my opening remarks began with “Your Serene Highness”. That was followed by “Your Royal Highnesses” to honour the presence of several royal princes from the Middle East. Then came “Excellencies” for the host of Ministers in attendance from all over the world. What else could be left but “Distinguished Guests” for those left among the 800 in the audience?

My session members were Young Sam Ma, South Korea’s Ambassador for Public Diplomacy; Stanislas Frossard from the European agency keeping track of constituent’s sports policies (with the wonderful title of the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport); Levan Kipiani, Minister for Sport from Georgia who announced that his country would not be boycotting the Sochi Winter Olympics, seen as a highlight of the week; and Memli Krasniqi.    He is the young Minister for Sport in Kosovo who is a graduate of the London School of Economics and, among other things, one of Kosovo’s leading rapper/songwriters.

This was a panel like no other I have handled, and we discussed the idea that sport and politics might be separated as part of using sports policy as a lever to create better social cohesion. That was a theme for the week and, essentially, the clear position is that by definition sport and politics are intertwined where policy is concerned, with a lot of discussion about the effect on policy of short term political regimes

That political theme ran through the week, culminating the final panel in which I participated. It was chaired by James Dorsey, the controversial freelance journalist who is now focused on the political dimension of Middle East football.   The other panellists were Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch who raised the darker sides of the Sochi Games,    and Professor Margaret Talbot who is a long term researcher on the sports/development paradigm.    It was a lively and provocative discussion that raised a lot of comment to finish up the week.

At the last minute, though, a Vice-Minister from North Korea gained a visa and was allowed to make a presentation, on the condition that there be no dialogue with South Korea. I last saw Young Sam Ma walking back to the hotel while the North Korean delegate made the presentation. The world of sport is never dull.

The opportunities were endless. At the reception on the first night at the Monaco Opera (where somewhere this season Max Emanuel Cencic, one of my favourite countertenors will appear) I turned around, saw a man alone and went to introduce myself. He turned out to be Zivko Budimir, the President of Bosnia-Herzegovina, so I had thirty minutes discussion with a head of state.    Where else but Monaco?

Later that evening I said to someone else that he looked familiar. It was Bernard Lappaset, President of the International Rugby Board who on the Friday left for Paris to watch Les Bleues play the All Blacks. We had about an hour to discuss the relevant skills of both sides, including on a walk back to the hotel. Where else but Monaco?

I thought of him the following Saturday evening as the All Blacks held out against a spirited French side. But he had confessed to being as great fan of AB rugby, so he would have appreciated the display if not the result.

There then followed a weekend of walking around the old town of Nice, and finding some great restaurants, bars and antique shops – luckily, the latter were closed. It is a lovely city. The highlight was dinner at the Ark, a restaurant on Promenade Des Anglais on the waterfront found by Kirsten who spent an afternoon there on the balcony working on a script. Its food and drink were excellent, as was the service when the staff discovered that Laura is a fluent French speaker. That time at the restaurant was a life moment for a host of reasons.

Coast 9Then, about thirty hours of air travel later and half a world away from Monaco and all that, I am among some of the world’s great scenery, with Sandi and about to eat a locally caught crayfish washed down with a Kiwi sauvignon blanc while looking out on the ocean with the Southern Alps behind.

There are times I am incredibly grateful for the life I am able to lead.

6 Responses to “Monaco to Haast”
  1. Ian Harris says:

    Brian, I just wanted to give you brownie points for a damned good post. And the rather poignant conclusion of gratitude for your existence was icing on the cake.

    • Thank you very much Ian, appreciated. Sometimes as we charge through things we forget some of our good fortune. This present landscape in which I find myself helps correct that – very different to Kyneton! Go well my friend

  2. Max Walsh says:

    Wonderful blog Brian.
    So many “word pictures” here. I have never been to Monaco but I have watched a few Grand Prix F1 races around the incredibly narrow streets of this incredibly small monarchy so I imagined you strolling where these angry fuel-driven “mosquitoes” had been buzzing a few months ago. You’re absolutely right – the opportunity to combine “work” and “travel” is a pleasure to be enjoyed and then reminisced about, and we can all do that thanks to blogs like yours.

    • Thanks as always Max. On the groubd, it is hard to see where those cars fit – they should probably be in the showroom! And, yes, there are times when it is good to remember we are privileged in what we do, even if sometimes it all seems a bit mad.

  3. david crawford says:

    Wow Brian, what an interesting time you had and what an interesting life you have!

    I have been introduced to the works of Emile Zola of J’Acuse! Fame. He is just great and whilst I am physically located in one place I can travel in my mind.

    I once applied for a job with Gordon S. Blair in Monaco. I was due to go out there for a second interview when I had a partnership bust-up and had to stay here…

    Que sera sera!

    Off to give a talk to some French property owners tomorrow, Saturday, on French CGTax and revised, again, inheritance laws! Then on to London to spend a couple of days with Hannah. We shall have fun.

    Regards to Sandi and the girls.

    All the best,


    P s should be passing Wembley just as AB beat the Olde Enemy!

    Sent from my iPad

    • The game against England really is this year’s major one, with the possibility for the ABs of an undefeated year. I would rather it be in 2015, but I guess you take what you can whenever it is there in rugby. An epic against the French a la 2011. I need to be at your lectures sometime!

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