Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’ve just gotten back to New Zealand from a week in Hong Kong serving as an arbitrator at the 8th Annual Willem Vis (East) International Commercial Arbitration Moot. I sat for hearings with 24 of the 87 law school teams participating, which included students from India, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, the United States, Indonesia, Slovenia, Germany, and Vietnam.

The 2011 Vis East finalists on stage just before the winner was announced. Bond University of Queensland bested City University of Hong Kong by a hair.

The 2011 Vis East finalists on stage just before the winner was announced. Bond University of Queensland bested City University of Hong Kong by a hair.

I’ve participated as an arbitrator in all eight of the Vis (East) Moots held in Hong Kong, as well as in nine of the original Vis (West) Moots held in Vienna. Spending a week or two with enthusiastic, skilled, poised, smart students always energizes me. Also, seeing young people from so many very different countries socializing easily, bonding sincerely, and competing respectfully always renews my faith in humankind, which quite frankly occasionally flags.

On the long flight back, too enthused to sleep, I worked my way through my stack of accumulated homework. I realized that I had neglected to blog about several particularly interesting events that I attended over the past couple of months. So, I used my flight time to clear my blog decks.

With co-arbitrators from Hong Kong and Canada after we heard a moot in the elimination rounds.

With my co-arbitrators from Hong Kong and Canada after we heard a moot in the elimination rounds.

One of the highlights of my past few months was attending the Tūrangawaewae Regatta for the first time. Dr McWaine and I were graciously hosted by King Tuheitia Paki and Te Atawhai, and we had an absolutely marvelous day.

We enjoyed a stirring pōwhiri, the hospitality of the royal pavilion, the various races, the bands and kapa haka groups that performed on the King’s barge, the festival along the river banks, and a private viewing of the waka tauā (huge war canoes).

I was particularly honored that the King asked me to receive the traditional salute of the waka tauā on his behalf at the start of the event.

The Regatta has its roots in 1896 when Ngāruawahia held an official carnival on the banks where the Waikato and Waipa rivers converge, known as the Point. The event moved between the Point and Tūrangawaewae several times before returning to Tūrangawaewae in 1973, where it has remained.

The purpose of the Regatta was — and remains — to encourage aquatic sport and Māori cultural activities, with particular emphasis on the preservation of ancient customs and traditions. I was impressed by what I saw, and it was a moving, enlightening, and exciting day. I encourage you to attend the festival and watch the races next year.

I enjoyed another memorable event of a wholly different sort — but not for the first time — when I drove to Upper Hutt for the Wellington Rugby Football Union’s premium Club Rugby Sevens Tournament.  As I mentioned last year, the teams in the tourney vie for the American Ambassador’s Cup, a trophy first presented by American Ambassador John Henning in 1967.

Wainuiomata basks in glory with the American Ambassador’s Cup.

Wainuiomata basks in glory with the new American Ambassador’s Cup.

When I first saw it last year, the old trophy struck me as a bit diminutive. There was very little room left after 43 years to engrave the names of future champions. So, we got the Union a brand new cup four times the size of the old one, with plenty of room to engrave the names of the first 43 champions and the 100 future champions to follow.

I very much enjoyed making the first presentation of the new-and-improved American Ambassador’s Cup … to the spirited team from Wainuiomata. The Wainui guys seemed to embody the motto we added to the new trophy:  kua whakakotahitia ake, ake e te noho hoa, e te hōnore, e te hākinakina (“united always in friendship, honor, and sport”).

Shortly after the tourney, I attended another of my favorite annual sporting events – the New Zealand secondary school national championship in the Vex Robotics Competition. Conducted over two days in Auckland, the championship brought together dozens of high school teams to compete against each other with robots that they built, programmed, and operated themselves. Dr McWaine and I attended both days and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

My friends from the Home School in Albany engage in robo-battle.

My friends from the Home School in Albany engage in robo-battle.

The national winners have been in Orlando, Florida this week competing in the Vex Robotics World Championship.  As you should recall from a prior post, last year’s World Championship in Dallas, Texas was won by two Kiwi teams. When this year’s robo-warriors return from Florida, I’ll collect some intel from them and let you know how things went.

While in Auckland, Dr McWaine and I carved out a couple days to drive farther north. The Doctor had not been to Northland before, and I had a few things I wanted to attend to. Our first stop was in Warkworth to visit Core Builders Composites, a wholly owned subsidiary of Oracle Racing, current holders of the America’s Cup.

Inspecting the early stages of construction of a composite sail, with Dr McWaine and CBC chief designer Tim Smythe.

Inspecting the early stages of construction of a composite sail, with Dr McWaine and CBC chief designer Tim Smythe.

Core Builders Composites’ designers and engineers are doing cutting-edge work creating new catamarans with space-age materials for the upcoming 34th America’s Cup, and I wanted to check out the technology. My new friend Tim Smythe, CBC’s chief designer, gave us a comprehensive tour of the facilities.

I make it a point in my travels to visit businesses built with American money or that utilize American equipment or technology, and the stop at CBC was one of the best I’ve had thus far. Very impressive.

Our next stop was at Rodney College, where I spoke to the assembled student body and then had a separate discussion with a group of senior girls about gender discrimination and International Women’s Day. I make it a point whenever I travel to include visits to secondary schools to see the campuses and speak with students.

With senior girls from Rodney College on International Women’s Day.

With senior girls from Rodney College on International Women’s Day.

We then continued on to Whangarei, where the long day was capped by a boisterous reception at the Reyburn House Art Gallery organized by my attorney friend Barbara Beck. Approximately 60 attorneys, local officials, and business owners attended, including a large number of Americans. I was pleasantly surprised to discover so many Americans living and working in the area.

After the reception, Dr McWaine and I took a walk along the river and through town, ending up at one my favorite restaurants in New Zealand, Amici Italian Restaurant on Quality Street. The last time I visited Whangarei I had dinner at Amici both nights I was in town. The same thing happened both nights on this trip.

At Kamo High School with the head boys and girls (in uniform from left to right: Megan Diment, Toby Morris, Thomas Nankwell, Marissa Judkins), American exchange student Jacob Millhouse (not in uniform), and teacher Roydon Agent (in leather jacket).

At Kamo High School with the head boys and girls (in uniform, from left to right: Megan Diment, Toby Morris, Thomas Nankwell, Marissa Judkins), American exchange student Jacob Millhouse (not in uniform), and teacher Roydon Agent.

The next morning we visited Kamo High School, where I taught a seminar on the 1950s/1960s civil rights movement in America and had a rollicking discussion with the class about a variety of other topics. I was pleased to meet an American high school exchange student from Selma, Alabama.

From Kamo High we drove farther north to Kawakawa to visit Bay of Islands College, where we were welcomed with a particularly fierce and elegant pōwhiri. What impressed me the most was that the students conducted the entire ceremony themselves, including the whaikōrero (orations). After the welcome I spoke to the assembled student body and had tea a group of student leaders.

Welcome to Bay of Islands College.

Being welcomed to Bay of Islands College in grand style.

We then continued on to Rawene to visit Clendon House, the home of James Reddy Clendon, the first U.S. Consul appointed in Aotearoa. Curator Lindsay Charman gave us an entertaining and informative tour of the history-laden property, and I enjoyed having tea on the front porch with a glorious view of the Bay. You should be sure to add Clendon House to your next Northland itinerary.

An English mariner and businessman, Clendon first arrived in Aotearoa in 1829 and acquired land in the Bay of Islands. He was nicknamed “Tuatara” by the local Māori because his vigorous search for goods to trade reminded them of a lizard seeking food.

With our new friends at Clendon House, including curator Lindsay Charman (at left).

With our new Clendon House friends, including curator Lindsay Charman (at left).

After years of conducting business across the region, he assumed the role of U.S. Consul in 1838, two years before the colony of New Zealand was established. Although for some reason most history books don’t acknowledge his role, Clendon was an influential figure of the time. He served as a key advisor to Captain Hobson in the drafting of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and actually signed the Treaty.

In addition, Clendon sold his homestead to the new colonial government to serve as New Zealand’s first Government House. As I mentioned to Prime Minister Key at the US/NZ Partnership Forum earlier this year, it appears from the archives that the purchase price was never fully paid. Hmmm.

Clendon House now, and Consul Clendon then. Click through for image source.

Clendon House now, and Consul Clendon then.

Clendon House was Clendon’s later homestead, built after he married 18-year-old Jane Takatowi Cochrane from Hokianga. The couple had eight children together before Clendon died at age 72. Jane, then 34, negotiated settlements of her late husband’s debts, traded successfully in local commodities, and lived in the house until her death there in 1919, at age 81.

We took the long way back to Whangarei from Clendon House, driving along the beautiful Hokianga coastline and through the primeval Waipoua Forest. I am an Eagle Scout with all the outdoors and nature merit badges, so I was particularly interested in seeing Tāne Mahuta (“Lord of the Forest”), New Zealand’s largest living kauri tree. It was well worth the stop.

Tāne Mahuta.

Tāne Mahuta.

Tāne Mahuta is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,500 years old. The tree is 51.2 meters (168 feet) high, and its trunk is 13.77 meters (45 feet) around. According to Māori legend, Tāne Mahutaane is the son of Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatuanuku (the earth mother). Tāne is said to have been the first to break his parents’ embrace, thus creating the light, air, and space between them required for other life to develop. All creatures of the forest are said to be Tāne’s children.

Of course, our Northland trip ended far too quickly. Waiting for me back in Wellington was the usual capital city drill … a steady stream of official visitors, a packed schedule of meetings and conferences, hundreds of cables and emails to read, and dozens of events to plan or attend, among other things.

As I have probably mentioned before, I am particularly focused on facilitating bilateral working visits, which are often the most productive way to move a relationship forward on a variety of fronts. Last year, for example, we welcomed approximately 1,000 American officials to New Zealand on business, an order of magnitude more than in any prior year.

My colleague Peter demonstrating his haka skills at Te Papa.

My colleague Peter demonstrating his haka skills at Te Papa.

That’s a lot of work, but there are also moments of pure fun … such as when my colleague Peter, a few of our visitors, and I joined the kapa haka performance during a formal dinner at Te Papa.

The most unexpected part of my job, believe it or not, is the amount of food and drink that I am expected to consume. There are far too many business meals and receptions, and far too little time for exercise. In an attempt to rebalance the equation, I have started to seize any and all opportunities for exercise that pop up during the workday, including jumping into a haka ...

… or onto a bicycle. You can’t really see it clearly, but that’s me at the front of the gaggle with Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown in the photo below. Several dozen folks, including Dr McWaine and our good friend and neighbor Swiss Ambassador Marion Krupski, pedaled around Oriental Bay with the Mayor to help promote cycling for downtown commuting.

Enjoying a bike around the city with the Mayor.

Enjoying a bike ride around the city with the Mayor.

It’s a great idea. My colleague Mike occasionally commutes to work from Lower Hutt by bicycle. I did a test run one Saturday, but I’m not sure I’ve got the fortitude to brave morning traffic in the places along the route where the path seems to spill onto the shoulder of the freeway.

I’ll just have to carve out more time for the gym, which is where I’m heading now. If you see me, say something motivational and supportive. Seriously.

In any event, I’m glad to be back from Hong Kong, and glad to be more or less back in the swing of things here in Wellington.