Articles By Gord
As I see it... New Zealand

July 2009 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

As I see it... New Zealand

My English cousins have always pooh-poohed our great country of Canada. They say it's boring.

BORING? Canada? I mean I ask you? Really, the nerve of some people. I mean I know Canada is no Portugal, but… boring? It's just not cricket.

Canada is a magnificent country. So rich with its rivers and lakes, mountains and forests, prairies and coastlines. And it's people. Rich, rich, rich!

I have always felt my cousins' labeling of our great land as boring was neither fair nor accurate. They were just a pair of mean spirited bullies. I mean who did they think they were? … Oh yeah right, English. Not quite Americans, but almost.

But after Catherine and I had experienced ten days in New Zealand I knew exactly what they meant.

New Zealand: beautiful, wonderful, magnificent, incredible, comfortable, familiar, safe and boring.

New Zealand has everything we have here in Canada, except it comes in a nice neat manageable package, while our

Canada only comes in extra large. Cathy and I were really looking forward to visiting NZ as we thought it might prove to be our little Britain of the southern hemisphere, but unlike Britain to which we are always clamoring to return, we left New Zealand saying things like: “That was pleasant. That was nice.”

But there was no pop, sparkle, pizzazz!

We both enjoyed the city of Auckland and its spectacular harbour. Auckland is known as the ‘City of Sails' and there must be thousands of moorings for sailboats. There must be some sort of municipal bylaw that demands all citizens either own a boat or have access to one, because every day the harbour is dotted with sails, sails, sails.

I thought how lucky Aucklanders were to have such easy access to the water. Auckland reminded me of a smaller, safer version of our Toronto, complete with a miniature replica of the CN tower. Except this tower offered one the opportunity to go bungee jumping. Well, I jumped at that. NOT!

Each morning Cath and I strolled down to the harbour and the ferry terminal. The walk was so pedestrian friendly, a walk not impeded by some Gardner-like expressway, and we'd arrive at the harbour and decide whether today we'll shop for sales along the Queen Street strip, admire the colourful sails bobbing about the harbour, or board a ferry and sail off to Waiheke Island.

Waiheke Island was a 45-minute ferry crossing over open seas and we discovered upon our arrival hordes of local buses and taxis waiting to grab fresh visitors. We chose to tour the island by local bus, stopping first in ‘the town.' We sauntered through shops brimming with collectable oddities and antiques, mirrors fashioned in the shape of NZ, framed in shells. There were dolls made from shells. And some enormous shells which indeed proved to be made from shell. Cath pulled me through artist's studios and numerous shops promoting local wines and olive oils. There were many tours offered to the vineyards, but our stay was too brief to allow us to explore them.

Maybe it was because we were there right at the end of New Zealand's summer season, but all of Waiheke seemed real laid-back. Cath's comment was that Waiheke had a hippie culture kind of feel to it. To which I replied, “Far out. I can dig it.”

Even the waves rolling in sounded laid-back. We had walked along this gorgeous, nearly deserted stretch of sandy beach, our weather was hot, ‘sunburn' hot, and I was so tempted to rip off my clothes and run into the water. I was down to my Fruit of the Loom when Cath suggested I forego the plunge and instead we go for lunch. Lunch it was.

We ate at an outdoor restaurant directly across from the beach and I tried an item that Cath had seen on menus throughout NZ – green-lipped mussels. She said that indeed the mussel's shells had a bright, bright green edge. The mussels were much larger than ones I'd eaten before. These came swimming in a spicy Thai sauce. Sounded delicious.

I hated them! A dozen of these green-lipped monsters languished in a bowl in front of me. Four! I managed to choke down four of those suckers before I had to quit. Even stealing fries off Cath's plate did nothing to make them more palatable.

During our stay on the north island we took a one-day trip out to Rotorua to discover the bubbling mud holes. I know, I know, what can I say? I'm just a hopeless romantic.

They were truly fascinating. There was a field of these fenced-off gurgling, spitting mud holes, all different sizes, some large enough they had walk-outs built over them to allow a real close-up and personal look-see. I stood listening to the spewing mud; it seemed alive. I interpreted each spit as an effort to communicate. (Listen, folks, I failed high school French miserably, what hope did I have of mastering grade 11 mud in just one visit?)

It seemed to take an enormous effort for that mud to bubble to the surface, but after a time the spitting ceased and the mud would fall silent. When it did, I felt I wanted to prod the mud with the toe of my shoe, urging, coaxing the mud back to life. The whole process of this mud working so feverishly to erupt, the spit and its retreat to calm and quiet, it reminded me of something, but I've not been able to put my finger on it… Perhaps if each spit of mud had been accompanied by a grunt.

One other notable aspect of the Rotorura mud fields was the smell of sulphur. I don't think the New Zealand government added the smell solely to enhance the mud field experience for the blind. I think the stench of sulphur just comes with the turf.

Part of our day in Rotorua was spent at the Maori educational-cultural centre. It was a real drag. I felt like I was being marshaled along through some Grade four field trip. “Hold on tight to the rope, Gordie.” I kept feeling I should have stuck with the mud. At least the mud and I spoke the same language.

We followed our troop leader along the equivalent of the yellow brick road to where these geysers were shooting off. Cath thought they were spectacular and marveled at how lucky we were to be there when they were so active. For me the geysers were no big deal, they were just a gentle cool mist falling on my face. Could have been the geysers or it may have been just some careless guy with a fizzy can of pop. My point is that I was wet.

The brick road tour ended at the Maori village centre. Maoris gave demonstrations of weaving and carpentry and concluded with some of their traditional songs and dances. I was able to draw a number of parallels between the Maori spirituality and their customs and respect for life and nature and those beliefs of our own First Nation's people. So my feelings were if I could get this in Canada why travel halfway round the world.

Another day we took a private tour out to Kare Kare Falls and then on to a rather secluded Piha beach. Both were amazing and I could have easily spent hours exploring them. Piha had fine, fine black sand and huge rock formations that surged forth from the foaming water and according to our guide, dangerous rip tides. All of this isolation, ominous rock formations and fierce tides perhaps explained the appeal to the scads of surfers there. Like the bungee jump, I passed on riding the waves.

We had four days in Christchurch, on the southern island. We'd heard that Christchurch was more English than the English. I thought to myself what bilge, pure poppycock. I was wrong. And so just how English was it? Well we went Punting on the Avon. We wandered aimlessly along neatly trimmed pathways in the botanical gardens and both Catherine and I were terribly amused by the antics of the silly ducks that graced the gently sloping banks of the river Avon. We had occasion to familiarize ourselves with the ever-so-pleasant Sumner Beach and the charming New Brighton pier. Everything was just spot on! Good show.

Something Catherine and I thoroughly enjoyed were these restored trolley trams that slowly took us through the downtown core of Christchurch. We bought a forty-eight hour pass and jumped on and off as the trolleys made their circuits.

So taken by these trams were we that we booked a Saturday night dinner package served aboard one of the cars. It was a wonderful experience, a nice selection of New Zealand wines, a relaxed and cozy atmosphere and delicious menu that did not include green-lipped anythings.

I think we Canadians feel that we are often globally cast as America's poorer cousins. I believe the New Zealanders feel a similar casting exists between themselves and Australia. Our two countries seem to live in the shadows of our ‘Big Brothers.'

Have you ever been abroad and had some local ask you, “What part of the United States are you from?” You feel the rancor and indignation as you respond proudly, “I'm Canadian.”

But have you ever caught yourself tuning in to that adorable down under accent and launched into, “What part of Australia are you from? Mate!”

“I'm a Kiwi . . . Mate!”

And just as we underdog Canadians thrill every time we trounce our Big Brother America in a sporting event, so do the Kiwis rejoice whenever they topple Australia.

There are just too many similarities between our two great countries to ever elevate New Zealand to a destination I've got to return to. Boring? New Zealand? Canada?... Maybe I'll give my cousins a call and see what they think.

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