Deaths, dildoes and Donald: The big stories of 2016

5:16 pm on 30 December 2016

It started with Bowie, ended with Bill and was riddled in between with seismic jolts both physical and political. If you were after a quiet year, 2016 wasn't it.

The year just kept surprising - like an endlessly looping gif of Steven Joyce copping a flying pink dildo to the face.

That one-woman protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) launched a thousand tweets, including this one from Mr Joyce:

The US comedian took the bait.

Steven Joyce is surprised

Steven Joyce is surprised. Photo: Reddit

This was early February - and there had already been some sombre surprises.


Legendary musician and actor David Bowie kicked off the roll call of death. He departed on January 10 aged 69. He had just released a new album, Black Star.

David Bowie in 1983.

David Bowie was remembered as "a brilliant man of our time". Photo: AFP

If that wasn't enough to break hearts, former All Black captain (and females' favourite) Richie McCaw and hockey star Gemma Flynn got engaged. Later in the year, the McCaw documentary Chasing Great, would become the country's highest-grossing documentary. Fans liked it, critics were not sure.

Water issues featured throughout the year. They kicked off in late January, with cattle seen wading in a high country Canterbury lake belonging to Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias and businessman Hugh Fletcher. Environment Canterbury (ECan) warned the pair. More complaints followed in May, but ECan found only a few cow pats on the shore.

Inspiring Christchurch teenager Jake Bailey went into remission from cancer. In December, a book deal and a film were on the cards.


Protesters arrive at the bottom of Queen St after marching

Protesters on Queen St after marching against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Photo: RNZ/Mohamed Hassan Photo: RNZ / Mohamed Hassan

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was signed, despite protests. Donald Trump would later pledge to quit the trade deal, but then Prime Minister John Key went to APEC keen to soldier on.

The first Syrian refugees to enter New Zealand, after the government announced it would take additional people, arrived in Wellington.


Kiwis mourned cricketer Martin Crowe, heralded as New Zealand's greatest batsman.

flag referendum 2

Changing the flag did not fly. Photo: 123RF

The same month, Kiwis voted against changing the New Zealand flag in the referendum. Prime Minister John Key was sad.

Students marched on Parliament calling for all New Zealand rivers, lakes and streams to be made swimmable. Environment Minister Nick Smith said that was not practical.

Faulty steel? RNZ uncovered evidence of faults in the quality control regime for construction steel mesh. The Commerce Commission has since charged three companies, including Steel & Tube.

In Belgium on March 22, twin blasts at Brussels' main airport and a metro station killed 32 people and injured many more.


Patients at Dunedin Hospital went off their food when new Compass Group meals were introduced. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman accepted a Labour challenge to try the "slops". He did - behind closed doors - and said he liked it.

Prince died in April 2016.

Prince died in April. Photo: Hardy Schiffler / picture alliance / DPA / AFP

Water. Again. It emerged the Ashburton District Council planned to sell a property with water rights to bottling company NZ Pure Blue. People marched. The council backed out. Other councils already had similar deals. The Greens were not happy.

Singer, songwriter, actor and multi-instrumentalist Prince died on 21 April. The world cried.


A tangled web of secret companies and trusts: The Panama Papers showed New Zealand was at the heart of the tax avoiding money-go-round. Mr Key was thrown out of Parliament during a heated exchange over the papers.

homless man

A cross-party inquiry into homelessness found the country had a housing crisis. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Mike Hosking read the headlines - and made headlines. His racial comments about Maori representation on councils in May sparked a backlash - and a petition for TVNZ to get rid of him. He stayed.

Auckland's Te Puea Marae offered shelter to the homeless. It helped 181 people, including about 100 children. In August, the marae hosted the first hearing in the Labour, the Green and Maori Party's cross-party homelessness inquiry. Testimonies included those from people forced to live in caravan parks, to families with severely disabled children staying in motels. The inquiry's report came out in October with 20 recommendations.


Heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali died in hospital, aged 74.

Brexit headlined newspapers

British Prime Minister David Cameron resigned after voters chose to leave the European Union. Photo: AFP

Who saw Brexit coming? Britain voted to leave the European Union. It caused market shockwaves. David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister. Theresa May replaced him. In September Mr Cameron announced he would quit parliament.


A truck driver killed 84 people and injured dozens of others when he ploughed into a crowd at a 14 July Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France. It was the latest in a series of bloody attacks in France, starting with the shootings at Charlie Hebdo.

The truck ploughed into a crowd watching a Bastille Day fireworks display in the southern French resort of Nice, early on July 15.

Eighty-four people died in the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France. Photo: AFP

July saw good news for melanoma patients. Pharmac funded the drug Opdivo, followed by Keytruda in September.


Justice Minister Amy Adams announced on 2 August that David Bain, who had his conviction for killing his family quashed and was later acquitted, would not get compensation for the time he spent in prison, but would receive an ex gratia payment of $925,000 to reflect the time and cost involved in his claim.

Eliza McCartney at the Rio Olympics.

Eliza McCartney got a bronze medal at the Olympics and became a household name. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

A stripper hired by the Chiefs rugby team for their end-of-season celebration said the players were drunk, groped her, threw gravel and swore at her. New Zealand Rugby said independent witnesses contradicted the claims. It decided not to take further action, other than giving the team a collective warning.

The Rio Olympics (August 5-21) proved a record-breaker for New Zealand, with four gold medals, nine silver, and five bronze won. Russia escaped a total ban from the games over the country's doping scandal after weeks of uncertainty.

The contamination of Havelock North's public drinking water supply gave 5000 people campylobacter. People were hospitalised, schools closed and businesses suffered. The government inquiry continues.

Red Cross volunteers handing out water in Havelock North. 20 August 2016.

Red Cross volunteers hand out bottled water in Havelock North during the contamination crisis. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

RNZ revealed KiwiSaver default schemes were investing in companies making cluster bombs and landmines. Some providers ditched the controversial investments and there was a petition to outlaw them. What is the latest? The Ombudsman is investigating the government's refusal to publicly release the full legal advice on the investments.

A parliamentary inquiry was launched into assisted dying in response to a 22,000-strong petition. At hearings across the country in the following months, terminally ill people begged for the choice to die with dignity. The husband of the late lawyer and campaigner Lecretia Seales told MPs the risks were based on fear. Others said patients could be confused and it would reinforce negative attitudes to disabilities.


In September, New Zealand had success at the Rio Paralympics. Swimmer Sophie Pascoe became New Zealand's most decorated paralympic athlete and sprinter Liam Malone broke paralympic records winning a silver and two golds. Russia was banned after losing an appeal against a ban imposed for state-sponsored doping.

Liam Malone winning gold at the 2016 Paralympics

Liam Malone wins gold at the Paralympics. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark joined the race to become United Nations Secretary-General, but missed out.


Local body elections offer few surprises.

Newly elected Auckland Mayor Phil Goff (R) and Phil Davis of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

Phil Goff strolled into the Auckland mayoralty. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Haunui-Thompson

Ross Bremner attacked his parents, leaving his mother dead and his father critically injured, then went on the run. Police said there was no ongoing risk to the public, but days later his body was found alongside those of a Waikato couple he'd never met.

Gable Tostee went on trial for the murder of New Zealander Warriena Wright, who fell 14 floors to her death from his Gold Coast apartment in 2014, following a Tinder date. A jury found him not guilty.

Trade unionist and medicinal cannabis campaigner Helen Kelly died on October 14. She died the day after the mother of Alex Renton, who died of severe epilepsy, presented a petition urging the government to make medicinal cannabis more readily available. A poll had already suggested most Kiwis supported a cannabis law change.

Helen Kelly, life-long unionist, has died aged 52.

Helen Kelly campaigned to the end. Photo: RNZ/Rebekah Parsons-King

Police used a breath-testing checkpoint to target people who attended a euthanasia meeting and visited at least six euthanasia supporters in their homes.

Iraqi forces moved to retake Mosul, which was declared the de facto Iraqi capital of ISIS's "caliphate". Iraqi forces entered the city's outskirts. There were allegations of atrocities on both sides, including torture, executions and the use of civilians as human shields.

Two men and two women, including Kiwi Cindy Low, died in the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast. The theme park said it would permanently close the water ride.


NBA basketballer Steven Adams became New Zealand's highest paid sports star, reportedly locking in a US$100 million contract extension with Oklahoma City Thunder.

Donald Trump sign

The polls said Donald Trump had no hope of winning the US presidential election. They were wrong. Photo: Flickr / Tony Webster

Minister Hekia Parata announced seclusion rooms at schools would be banned after revelations 17 schools placed disruptive pupils in small, cell-like rooms and allegations of child abuse.

Ireland beat the All Blacks 40-29 in Chicago, ending the ABs' 18-match winning streak.

Businessman and reality television star Donald Trump defied the polls and rode the anti-establishment wave to victory in the United States presidential election on November 8. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a strong margin, but Mr Trump claimed the necessary Electoral College votes. Markets went into turmoil and there were large protests across the US. The Electoral College confirmed his presidency in December, amid CIA allegations Russia intervened in the election to help Mr Trump win.

A house at Bluff Station between Blenheim & Kaikoura, which is right on the Kekerengu fault line, was demolished by the shakes.

The 14 November earthquake ripped buildings, land and roads apart. Photo: RNZ / Alex Perrottet

The earth shook - again. Shortly after midnight on 14 November, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit in North Canterbury, isolating Kaikōura, bringing landslides down over State Highway 1 and the seabed up, ripping up the land, warping the rail line and damaging homes and buildings - including in Wellington. Christchurch escaped unscathed. RNZ's Vicki McKay was live on air when the quake hit.

There were more good-byes as poet and singer Leonard Cohen, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, entertainer Ray Columbus and photographer Marti Friedlander died.

Canadian signer Leonard Cohen sings in Quebec City, Quebec Canada Dec 2, 2012

Canadian singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen died on 7 November. Photo: AFP

Members of a top Brazilian football team were among 71 people killed in a plane crash in Colombia.

Eight men, including the skipper, died when the Francie fishing vessel capsized while crossing the Kaipara Harbour bar on November 26. The last body washed ashore more than a week later. It was New Zealand's worst maritime disaster since the Easy Rider capsized in 2012.


Māori pop singer Bunny Walters died.

John Key

Prime Minister John Key resigned out of the blue. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

It was a key moment when John Key surprised the nation, and his caucus, by resigning as Prime Minister on 5 December. He endorsed Bill English as his successor. Judith Collins and Jonathan Coleman put their hand up for the leadership, but quickly bowed out. Mr English became Prime Minister.

Pow pow. New Zealand boxer Joseph Parker won the World Boxing Organisation World Heavyweight title on 10 December.

In Syria, the evacuation of rebel fighters and civilians began after government forces claimed rebel-held East Aleppo. They were accused of killing people, including women and children. Evacuations stalled, buses were attacked, then they resumed. European Council president Donald Tusk admitted the European Union was not effective enough in trying to stop the tragedy. The once cosmopolitan city was a ruin.

Meanwhile, the migrant crisis continued, with thousands dying trying to reach Europe.

Syrians, who were evacuated from rebel-held neighbourhoods in the embattled city of Aleppo, arrive in the opposition-controlled Khan al-Aassal region, west of the city, on December 15, 2016, the first stop on their trip.

Syrians were evacuated in buses from rebel-held neighbourhoods in Aleppo. Photo: AFP

A suspected Islamist extremist drove a truck into a Berlin Christmas market crowd, killing 12 people, on 19 December.

An off-duty Turkish police officer assassinated Russia's ambassador at an Ankara art gallery, shouting about the Syrian conflict.

Alan Langdon and his 6-year-old daughter, Que, set off in a catamaran from Kawhia, on the Waikato coast, on 17 December - then disappeared.

The holiday road toll started badly with 14 people dead in six days, including three 15-year-olds in a crash in Leeston.

And that, in a nutshell, was the surprising year.

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