Hard News by Russell Brown

Where Hobbits surfed

You can see why the Hobbits get so misty-eyed about having learned to surf at Lyall Bay in Wellington. It's a public institution with the feel of a personal discovery.

Strange, funky houses gamely face the southerly seawind, and seem to be losing the battle by increment. Rusty tears trail down their external walls from nails and spouting.

Two long-established surf lifesaving clubs gaze out at an essentially benign surf beach - by Auckland standards anyway. Small but tidy sets roll in every few minutes and, at the airport end of the beach, modestly-sized aircraft taxi two thirds of the runway, then jerk upwards into thin air.

Coming from Auckland, it's almost a shock to see city coastline undeveloped like this. It might not last. A giant retail development is coming to a parking silo by the airport. The local surfers are trying to get consent to put in an artificial reef in the middle of the bay, to beef up that tidy little surf. But they're struggling even for their share of the compliance costs.

Surely Elijah Wood would be a good touch here? They could offer him naming rights. "This break brought to you by the Shire Surf Endowment … "

Yes, THAT movie trilogy continues to overlook the city. A giant Gollum peers down from the roof of The Embassy, and the Lord of the Rings exhibition has opened at Te Papa. It's popular - about a 45-minute wait all up - and deservedly so. The extraordinary depth of craft in the movies is evident everywhere. Galadriel's dress, the models and matte paintings, the CGI and the creatures. All of them, dense and believable. It's like a case study for the way New Zealanders operate at the interface of the creative and the practical.

The exhibition is to tour the world, not including Auckland. If you're near your friendly taxpayer-funded national museum in the next couple of months you really should go and see it.

We dropped into Moore Wilson this morning to stock up for the New Year's Eve banquet. It's an urban foodie focus point. They tried to do something similar with the Cuisine Market at the Viaduct, but it didn't really work. Still, we've always got Seamart.

What on earth is happening with the summer entertainments at the Viaduct anyway? The Little River Band cancelled their New Year's Eve show - a city reeled in shock - and the organisers appear to have forgotten to tell anyone. I wonder who'll win the dance party wars in Midtown this year? Three parties and the council's free do at The Edge: Queen Street ought to be quite entertaining tonight.

We seem to be heading into the New Year in notable economic fettle. The Herald ran an editorial this week headed Clouds on economic horizon, but it seemed even more like an obligatory set piece than these things usually do. Christmas retail spending was through the roof; the dollar is stronger against the Aussie than it's been for a long time.

There was a pattern this year that when the various quarterly economic numbers came out, the usual suspects would weigh in with a welcome - and a warning that this was the end of the run, the the golden weather was over, etc. And then the next set of numbers would, largely exceed expectations. It's not like we're pulling seven per cent GDP growth (or even five) but domestic confidence is stubbornly strong. I can't remember it being like this.

So has Michael Cullen made his point, or is it still dumb luck, after three and a bit years? Either way, he was able to revise up this year's Budget surplus by a cool billion dollars. He declined to scatter any lollies right now, but pointed to the 2004 Budget, by which time the surplus will be locked in (assuming a messy war in Iraq hasn't plunged the world into recession).

There have been hints of Gordon Brown-style tax cuts at the low end of the scale, and there will doubtless be very considerable expectations for social spending. The pressure there grows by the day - you could chuck an extra billion into Health and it might not touch the sides. It is possible that what this Labour government chooses to do in 2004 will be regarded as its legacy.

But this is the time of year when we only want the trains to run on time and the sun to shine. I'm done with work for a week or two. So, 2003? I don't make New Year resolutions; although I do always have goals. For now, I'd just like to shuck the burden that develops every year - the vague and growing sense of background guilt about all the people who emailed me and never got a reply.

It's not that I don't care for you, people. But work with me here: I'm stepping away from those implicit, unfulfilled contracts to communicate.

I can't promise to do better, but I can say sorry. Sorry. There. I am free now …