Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Fantastic New Zealand
I am sitting at an outdoor cafe at Lake Wanaka adjacent the Southern Alps on the South Island of New Zealand. The air is tranquil, the temperature is in the low 70's, and there is a gentle breeze blowing across the lake. I am wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt. Other vacationers are enjoying the sun as well. A couple from the Auckland is sitting next to me. Upon realizing I am from the States, they asked me what I had liked most about my trip to New Zealand.
The question caught me off guard. First, it made me realize that my mind-set had changed. No longer was I telling people that I had just arrived. Now I was announcing I was leaving soon. I fumbled with my words and told them I had to think about my answer. I reviewed where I had been and began considering the highlights of my journey. I'm not sure they meant what geographical location I was most enamored with, but superficially, it seemed that way. Imagine if you asked a New Zealander the same thing after they had spent three weeks in the western part of the U.S. Could they have preferred the Grand Canyon more than San Francisco with its Golden Gate? Was the rocky Pacific Coast prettier than the painted desert? If they are people like me who love to travel as much as I do, such a question is like asking a person who adores fresh fruit salad, whether he enjoyed the succulent peaches better than the juicy plums. From the Northland to the South where I am now, I have seen countless breathtaking landscapes and unique geological features. Even the cities of Auckland and Wellington have their unique charm. The totality is mind-boggling. It is like a tapestry woven of wool,(of course), of intricate patterns of alpine mountains and volcanoes, pine and beech forests, verdant meadows and high desert, a border of crystal blue oceans and lines of the clearest rivers imaginable.
Second, perhaps my neighbors meant by their query what cultural characteristics impressed me the most. Could I make some statement about the people and their traits that I found most desirable. As I struggled to answer this to myself, the people left and some new guests sat down next to me. These people were from a locale on the North Island's Corumundel Pensinula, a place where I had spent a night. They were excited to know what I thought of their region and hometown. As part of my response, I told them that I was writing an article and that I was attempting to synthesize what I liked most about the cultural climate of New Zealand. As we chatted, they extolled the beauty of the country over and over. It became clear to me that, other than the recent immigrants from Asia who are adjusting to their new home, New Zealanders, it seemed, love to tour and tell about about hiking spots, special lakes and favorite roads. They really take pride in their country not from a political, goofy patriotic perspective, which is common in other countries, but from a genuine respect for their land.They derive a sense of well-being because they live in such a splendid environment. This deep feeling of connection with the land in turn creates a relaxed mood. This attitude is even reflected by the way people drive, which is slow, polite and with virtually no honking. I think this is what I enjoyed the most about the people. Conversation seemed to be less on money, competition and world affairs and more on outdoor activities, environmental issues,and sports.
On another note, although each town has its quaint or stately Anglican and Catholic churches, I have enjoyed the sense that religion stays quietly and unobtrusively in the background of daily life. Fundamentalism doesn't seem to be pervasive either nor play a role in politics as it does in America. I found it refreshing to not feel the annoying presence of the clergy or of self-righteous people.
On Saturday, I return to Los Angeles and then drive back to Bend. By this time next week I may be home. By then, I know I will feel irked by the fact that memories and ideas gained during this adventure will have faded. This post will serve me as a reference to remind me of the fun I have had and, in spite of doubts, how good it was to have chosen to have visited beautiful New Zealand.