Wednesday, September 29, 2010

SHOES, SLUMBER AND SUICIDE IN NEW ZEALAND



I am ashamed to admit that over the years I had continually avoided New Zealand, instead visiting exotic countries like Turkey or Uzbekistan, Jordan or Macau.  New Zealand is our closest neighbour, our next door neighbour to be exact.  Apart from a few language oddities I always thought of it as an extension of us, of Australia;  a country so conveniently close  I could always take a gander some time in the future...but not right now.  There were other agendas I considered far more enticing.

How wrong I was. 

The reluctant traveller, my husband,  had agreed to take another trip and we soon found ourselves in New Zealand’s South Island where we instantly fell in love with its people, its breath taking beauty and even, though I suspect we were lucky that particular year, with the climate.


Neither rain, hail, shine nor snow will stop him wearing those shorts.


We soon realised New Zealand was to some extent a clone of our homeland, a time warp as we had been some years before; a country that moved slowly, comfortable in itself, yet to taste the influence of foreign television and the excesses of American culture, a country of Kiwi entrepreneurs with a sense of humour.

We hired a car, bought an esky, frying pan, cutlery and a few plates at a second hand store and set off from Christchurch with the vague idea we would just saunter around as the will took us finding accommodation wherever we chose to rest our heads, picnicking along the way.

With a map in hand but no intention of slavishly following it we chose roads at random our progress slowed by a constant need to stop and gape at a landscape so beautiful and startling we could only stare in amazement.  Snow capped mountains, vistas of rolling hills and rushing streams and small towns with not a fast food shop in sight.

We bought fresh smoked salmon from roadside stalls, Chardonnay to die for from vineyards dotted along the way.  Crusty bread fresh baked in local bakeries; even the milk tasted different to home, somehow more like real milk should taste.

At one point we stopped in a desolate area on a simple country road to puzzle over a barbed wire fence.  An ordinary fence used here for an unusual if not extraordinary purpose.

Unheralded and anonymous the Shoe Fence was the only way I could describe it. Strung along a good 200 yards or so were shoes and boots of all description and size; elegant ladies court shoes,  leather boots, aging sand shoes, adults and children’s, all in pairs and some very desirable. 


I eyed off a pair of imported shoes I would gladly have exchanged for the pair I was wearing but they really weren’t suitable for rugged touring.  Besides it didn’t seem right to interfere with this ingenious display.

My only regret as we drove away was our inability to add to this anonymous collection.

A few days later we had cause to remember the vagaries of sleep deprivation and instant slumber we had witnessed  in Japan some years earlier.

During our New Zealand meandering we chanced upon a small airfield offering light aircraft flights over Mt Cook and the snow fields.  A plane was due to leave within minutes with one solitary passenger. There was room enough for us, so we clambered aboard.

The other gentleman was an elderly Japanese tourist, his daughter had declined to accompany him but he was obviously looking forward to the experience and we all shook hands and exchanged smiles with the pilot.





The oriental gentleman had taken his seat behind the pilot, my husband won the toss to sit up front at the controls, and I was snug against the window behind Stan.  The engine roared to life, the props turned and we were off.
 
But we hadn’t even taxied down the runway before I realised the Japanese gentleman beside me was fast asleep.

The flight over snow bound Mt Cook was incredible,  one we would never forget, but all the time the foreign passenger continued to sleep.  I considered shaking him gently awake but he really looked so peaceful I found I simply couldn’t disturb him.

All too soon the flight was over and we made a perfect landing taxiing to a stop by the ticket office.  As the engines gradually shut down I glanced across to see the old fellow blinking, his eyes now open, his expression inscrutable.

We alighted and the old man’s daughter rushed up, excited and voluble, chatting to him no doubt about the flight, how he enjoyed it.  They wandered off to their car leaving me shaking my head in disbelief.

The cost had not been all that much, certainly well worth it from our point of view.  But simply to accommodate a comfy seat and an afternoon nap? I don’t think so.

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DEFYING DEATH




My husband can be deviously surprising.  One of New Zealand’s claims to fame is the invention of the Bungy Jump.  A suicidal leap from a high platform separated from certain death by a long rope attached to ones ankles.

Detouring through Arrowtown, we came across a local bridge, a huge crowd, a rushing river beneath and a queue of what I termed were idiots waiting to launch themselves voluntarily into oblivion.  We spent perhaps three quarters of an hour watching this steady stream of jumpers with me looking on in horror and finally relieved when we drove off to find that night’s accommodation.

Usually Stan holds off the search until it is almost dark, he is always loath to waste a moment of driving time.  Entreaties by me as we pass delightful little establishments in broad daylight are met by a look at his watch and the comment “Too early to turn in yet”. So I should have smelt a rat when he drove back to Arrowtown pulled in to the first motel we saw and promptly broke open one of our gorgeous bottles of New Zealand wine.

Next morning we headed off on what I thought would be the direction of Milford Sound when I realised he was pulling into the Bungy Jump office.

Honestly, is there any need to explain further.  He filled in his particulars, signed the responsibility clause, paid over his money and joined a small queue of much younger volunteers all waiting to defy gravity and death.
 
We are talking here of a man then well in his seventies, supposedly of sane mind. 

His turn came, he made a joke about being the oldest bungy jumper, then with a wave to me and the adoring crowd, he took a deep breath and with a perfect swallow dive leapt into the air.

The jump was successful and more to the point I survived the whole nerve wracking affair;  but Stan’s boast about being the oldest jumper was dashed, a 90 year old had well and truly gazumped him the year before.  One consolation though, he could now jump at any bungy post in New Zealand for half price...

Again, I don’t think so.
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The bridge...
THE BRIDGE





THE WAVE GOODBYE




THE LEAP





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Robyn Mortimer ©2011