2017: Are we there yet?

10:39 am on 27 December 2017

Analysis - Hands up who thought we'd all be living through a nuclear winter by now? Kate Newton takes a non-exhaustive look at an exhausting year.

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Photo: RNZ

Well, we're all still alive. If you thought a wintry, half-deserted Washington Mall on Trump's inauguration day was merely a precursor to the nuclear winter to come, no one could accuse you of being all that melodramatic.

Speaking of Melodrama, Lorde at least had a bloody good year, even as the rest of us scanned the sky for North Korean missiles and scrutinised the feijoas for myrtle rust.


After 2016, a year in which death merrily scythed through everyone's favourite celebrities and the US election returned a shock result that we all should have seen coming, January was a month of global trepidation.

After commuting Chelsea Manning's prison sentence for leaking classified information to Wikileaks, Barack Obama ended eight years in the White House, with a warning to his successor to not treat the presidency like a family business. The next day, Donald Trump appointed his son-in-law as an adviser.

The crowd at Donald Trump's inauguration sparked his administration's first confrontation with the media

The size of the crowd at Donald Trump's inauguration sparked his administration's first confrontation with the media Photo: AFP

A week of pre-inauguration protests culminated in the Women's March, with at least 500,000 people marching in Washington, joined by many hundreds of thousands more around the world.

The crowd reportedly dwarfed next day's inauguration crowd - triggering Trump's first set-to with the media as president and birthing the phrase "alternative facts".

Back in New Zealand, when we weren't obsessing over US politics, we were fighting about whether a sculpture on Auckland's waterfront was a pointed comment on Auckland's housing crisis or just rubbed the issue in the faces of those without homes.

Several thousand junior doctors went on strike over their 'unsafe' rosters - with most of them foregoing picketing to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Michael Parekowhai - The Lighthouse

Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse Photo: Auckland Council


Hot, windy conditions combined with several scrub fires in Christchurch's Port Hills to create an inferno that razed 2000 hectares of hillside over several days, destroying homes and resulting in the death of a helicopter pilot helping to battle the blaze.

Fourteen helicopters were in the air helping to fight the fire.

A helicopter helps to battle fires in Christchurch's Port Hills. Photo: Supplied / Christchurch City Council

A 12-year-old became the youngest-ever person to swim across Cook Strait.

Brian Cullinan briefly became the world's most famous accountant when he handed the wrong envelope over during the Oscars, causing La La Land to be wrongly announced as the winner, over actual winner Moonlight.

Former Transport Ministry employee Joanne Harrison was jailed for defrauding the ministry, sparking a chain of events that culminated in the resignation of Auditor-General Martin Matthews in August.

Oh yeah - and Jacinda Ardern romped home in the Mount Albert by-election. Little did she - or anyone else - guess where she'd be by year's end.


Unity Books in Wellington was a bunfight as journalists Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager released their book, Hit & Run, which claimed six civilians were killed in a raid on two Afghan villages involving New Zealand's SAS in 2010. The claims were, predictably, denied by both the government and the defence force, although an ex-defence minister said he believed that civilians were killed. Calls for a government inquiry were steadfastly ignored.

The book's authors provided this photo, which they say shows the three-year-old, Fatima, who was killed by shrapnel while being held in her mother's arms.

Hit & Run claimed that three-year-old Fatima was among civilians killed in a raid on two Afghan villages Photo: Jon Stephenson

In London, five people died when a man drove a car along a footpath near Westminster before stabbing a policeman. Sadly, it was just the first of a wave of terror attacks this year in the UK and Europe, characterised by crude, seemingly indiscriminate acts of violence.

The so-called 'Tasman Tempest' arrived, bringing a month's worth of rain to Auckland and Coromandel in just 24 hours - hundreds of houses were flooded, and a sinkhole opened up in New Lynn.

West Auckland floods, New Lynn

West Auckland floods, New Lynn Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly


Turns out March's rain was just a taster - April heralded Cyclones Cook and Debbie, whose tail-ends hit New Zealand one after the other in a torrential double-whammy. The rain was catastrophic for Bay of Plenty town Edgecumbe, where the Rangitaiki river breached stopbanks and inundated the entire area. Six months on, 35 families were still out of their houses, with a Christmas at home looking increasingly unlikely.

Agricultural vehicles help evacuate Edgecumbe people to welfare centres established in Whakatane and Kawerau.

The entire town of Edgecumbe was evacuated in April's flood Photo: Whakatane Beacon

Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, about a teenager's suicide, caused ructions when it launched here. The Mental Health Foundation led the charge for it to be censored, but it resonated with many teenagers, who felt it tackled a topic no one else was willing to. Eventually, the Censor's Office gave it a unique rating, requiring minors to watch it with a parent or guardian.

Aged care workers scored a huge win when the government finally agreed to a $2bn pay equity settlement.

Kristine Bartlett at a pay equity protest outside the Court of Appeal

Kristine Bartlett's case against her employer led to a $2bn settlement for aged care workers Photo: Supplied / NZCTU

Five Eyes reps held a secret-squirrel meeting in Queenstown, while in another act of subterfuge, Simba the cat (aka Crazy Horse) was discovered to be two-timing his owners.

And schadenfraude hit an absolute high after the 'luxury' Fyre Festival - with tickets costing up to $US100,000 - turned into Lord of the Flies, Bahamas edition.


A sickening suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande show in Manchester killed 22 people and injured dozens more, many of them young fans attending their first concert. In the wake of the attack, many Mancunians opened their doors to children who became separated from friends and guardians in the chaos.

Vikki Baker and her thirteen year old daughter Charlotte hug outside the Manchester Arena

Vikki Baker and her daughter Charlotte, 13, hug outside the Manchester Arena Photo: AFP

Back home, biosecurity staff found the country's first mainland case of myrtle rust, a plant disease that kills species including pohutukawa, feijoa, and manuka.

Six months on from the November 2016 earthquake, State Highway 1 south of Kaikōura re-opened to all traffic, finally giving locals an alternative to the inland route.


Iwi and Crown met at Parihaka, where the Crown apologised for atrocities committed when the peaceful Taranaki settlement was sacked by government troops in 1881. Later in the year, the Crown also pardoned Tūhoe prophet Rua Kēnana.

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Rangi Kipa looks down on the settlement of Parihaka ahead of the Crown's apology for atrocities committed there in 1881 Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Yet another terror attack in Britain - again in London, where a van ploughed into pedestrians before its occupants began stabbing people, killing seven and leaving many more hurt.

Barely a week later, a fire ripped through Grenfell Tower apartment block in west London, killing 58 people. It quickly emerged that residents had been warning of the fire risk and other safety hazards for years, to no avail.

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The fire Grenfell Tower gutted the building Photo: AFP

Late in the month, Team New Zealand shook off the bad vibes of the 2013 America's Cup to win the 2017 edition, with extremely wholesome-looking young gun Peter Burling at the helm. In a truly Kiwi moment, the crew biffed the fancy bags that sponsor Louis Vuitton had given them into the crowd. There were victory parades galore.


After several months' delay, Auckland's Waterview tunnel finally opened, attracting noise complaints and other criticism within days, but mostly delighting those who deliberately hit the motorway just so they could drive through it.

But the big story was (now former) Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, who used the Green Party AGM to publicly reveal she had committed benefit fraud as a single mother during the 1990s. Her decision triggered a month of turmoil: fellow Green MPs Kennedy Graham and David Clendon objected to her actions and stood down from the party's list, and Ms Turei herself resigned after saying the scrutiny of her family from media had become unbearable.

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Metiria Turei Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Her admission turned a spotlight on life on a benefit, with #IAmMetiria trending on social media and others stepping forward to tell their stories.

Labour was thrown into chaos of its own, after leader Andrew Little said that perhaps he wasn't the right person to be leading the party into the 2017 election. Things seemed on track for a four-term National government, but then...


this happened. Jacindamania garnered not just the public's attention, but also global interest, and Labour's fortunes surged. The change in leadership also effectively kicked Campaign '17 into action seven weeks out from the election.

Jacinda Ardern, Labour Party Leader addresses media at Parliament after Little stands down.

Jacinda Ardern is confirmed as the new Labour leader Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Patients in Otago and Southland spoke up about delays at Southern DHB, including months-long waits for urgent cancer treatment and heart surgery.

And for the first time in the award's history, New Zealand's five Silver Scroll finalists for songwriting were all women. Lorde went on to win for 'Green Light' - the first single from sophomore album Melodrama.

Ella Yelich-O'Connor, better known by her stage name Lorde, in the RNZ Auckland studios. 4 May 2017.

Oh they bite you Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly


Election month! Against all odds, Labour's last-minute leadership shake-up dragged the election out of the doldrums and created a proper race out of what had looked to be a foregone conclusion just weeks earlier. Facing a late surge from its main opposition, National hit back with a claim that Labour's alternative budget had an $11.7bn "fiscal hole" - a hole that no economist could find no matter how hard they looked.

Bill English on National's campaign bus.

National Party leader Bill English hits the campaign trail Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The only clear conclusion once the initial results came in was that Winston Peters would be involved in whichever new government was formed - triggering the Great Winston Watch of 2017. There were more political casualties: Peter Dunne's United Future and the Māori Party both failed to win any seats.

In between all the political jostling, everyone freaked out after a pipe rupture in Northland cut Auckland Airport's supply of jet fuel, forcing dozens of flights to be cancelled.

Tension between North Korea and the US Trump administration, which had been growing all year, escalated into a war of words: Mr Trump called Kim Jong-Un "Little Rocket Man"; Mr Kim responded by calling Mr Trump a "mentally deranged US dotard".


After missing his self-imposed deadline of 12 October to announce who he would help to form a government, a week later Winston Peters finally made his choice: Labour. Jacinda Ardern, who less than three months beforehand wasn't even leader of the opposition, became New Zealand's 40th Prime Minister.

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters signing the coalition agreement.

Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern sign Labour and New Zealand First's coalition agreement Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

In Las Vegas, Stephen Paddock smuggled 22 guns and 10,000 bullets into a hotel room, before opening fire on an outdoor concert. He killed 58 people before killing himself as police stormed the hotel room. Immediately afterwards, bump stocks - which Paddock used to convert semi-automatics into fully automatic weapons - sold out in the US, as gun owners feared a ban.

People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival.

People flee an outdoor concert during a mass shooting in Las Vegas Photo: AFP

A New York Times investigation revealing film producer Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed women over decades was the catalyst for a still-growing number of women to step forward with claims against a long list of men in the entertainment industry. It also sparked the #MeToo campaign on social media, as women everywhere recounted their own experiences of abuse and harassment.


A busy month across the ditch. Australians voted in favour of legalising marriage equality, in a divisive postal ballot.

Supporters of the same-sex marriage "Yes" vote gather to celebrate the announcement in a Sydney park.

Supporters of the same-sex marriage "Yes" vote gather to celebrate the announcement in a Sydney park. Photo: AFP

After a Papua New Guinea court decision forced Australia to close its controversial refugee camp on Manus Island, the detainees launched a three-week protest, refusing to move to their new lodgings on the island. Doctors and the United Nations accused Australia of endangering refugee health, before the detainees were forcefully evicted.

The decision of some Kiwis and Australian league players to play for Tonga in the Rugby League World Cup galvanised the team's supporters and launched a month-long party in Ōtāhuhu, where Tongan flags were de rigeur on every car. Celebrations reached a crescendo when Mate Ma'a Tonga made history by beating tier one nations to reach the semi-finals. The police were accused of being overbearing at best, racist at worst, in their treatment of Tongan fans - but it failed to curb supporters' exuberance.

Tonga fans have turned out in big numbers to support their team at the world cup.

Tonga fans have turned out in big numbers to support their team at the world cup. Photo: Photosport

Waikato DHB's chief executive Nigel Murray resigned after it turned out he racked up a $218,000 bill on travel and expenses. The board's chair - who championed Dr Murray's appointment - also went, as the heat went on and the Serious Fraud Office got involved.

After some high drama at Apec, where Canada failed to show up to a crucial meeting, New Zealand and 10 other nations managed to salvage a version of the Trans Pacific Partnership - defunct after the US pulled out earlier in the year.

Lorde finished her world tour, won so many gongs at the Music Awards she could barely carry them all, and then capped off the month with a Grammy nomination.

Kaikōura's harbour re-opened just in time to mark one year on from the 2016 quake.

New Zealand's brief love affair with Paddles the Cat was tragically curtailed when the polydactyl First Feline was hit and killed by a car.

Paddles, the celebrity tweeting cat of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Paddles, First Cat of New Zealand Photo: Twitter / @FirstCatofNZ


The new government revved up, with some early bumps along the way. It was blimmin' hot. The alarming spread of kauri dieback disease in Auckland's Waitakere Ranges prompted Auckland Council to close 13 tracks, but councillors voted against a full closure of the park.

As Christmas drew close, the main road north of Kaikōura finally reopened, more than a year after it was closed, and immediately became jammed with traffic, as hundreds of cars lined up to make the journey.

Hundreds of trucks and heavy machinery line the road along the coast. SH1 north of Kaikoura is due to open on December 15th.

Hundreds of trucks and heavy machinery line the road along the coast north of Kaikōura Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King