The longer address in the heading is, I’m told by my delightful friends in Christchurch, the correct form of address for more than 2 people. I hope I am addressing more than two people. I dream….
I have been asked both during my trip and on my return to the soft squelchy lawns of England what was my highlight, my number one experience, and my answer, inevitably is there isn’t one. How do you compare the extraordinary thrill of flying unattended by any support beyond a fat wad of knicker elastic with the beauty and charm of Art Deco Napier with the coruscating excitement of sand boarding with the intrigue and fascination of the model makers at Weta Caves? You can’t. They were all, rightly, highlights.
So my top ten in descending order (i.e. from north to south and by no means in order of merit) are:
1. driving along 90 mile beach which is 60 kilometres
2. zip wiring through glow worms
3. The delight that finding an artificial movie set – Hobbiton – could be so charming and natural
4. Descending a nine metre waterfall and staying in the raft
5. The charm of Napier
6. Silent tears at 185 empty white chairs in Christchurch
7. Treading my way around the Franz Josef glacier
8. Everything Queenstown had to offer
9. The silence and beauty in Doubtful Sound
10. Having my breath taken away by the views across the Meissen blue of Lake Pukaki and seeing the Southern Alps and Mount Cook
Of course the real treat was to be allowed to enjoy everything and for that every Kiwi must be praised. They maintain their fine lands, fighting various scourges as best they can: damaging invasive species, rapacious developers, uncaring thrill seekers and the global climate changes. They provide a warm, interested, if unsentimental welcome that avoids plasticised greetings and faux bonhomie. And wherever you go, whatever small village you stop at, seeking refreshment, they serve bloody fine coffee.
I’m glad to have gone on many levels but in one particular aspect, this has been special. When I was about 12 or 13 I went to a Boy Scout Jamboree held in Lyndhurst in the New Forest. The then Chief Scout, a florid balding man who looked more like WV Awdry’s fat Controller than an example of self reliance and derring-do, was present and a lot of fun and games were laid on. In particular there was an outdoor swimming pool, a rare enough occurrence back then. Each Scout troop was allotted various slots to use the pool, and everyone was looking forward to their turn.
Until I turned eleven or twelve I had zero interest in sport as a participation event. At my primary school we had some swimming lessons but they were few and far between and I never really tried. My parents, in other ways very attentive, had zero interest in teaching us how to swim. I had no lessons from eleven. I couldn’t really swim. All I managed was a front and back version of the frantic doggie paddle that got me cross a width. So I stuck to the shallow end.
I don’t remember much about the pool beyond being on my back and happily floating. Then two or three boys bumped into me. I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate but I went down like a stone, proving a Le Pard is essentially unbuoyant. I was out of my depth and I splashed and I struggled and like in Larkin’s poem I was drowning, not waving.
Romantically I might say I went down three times and my life flashed before me. I do vividly recall giving up, knowing I couldn’t pull myself to the surface let alone stay there for a proper breath.
I was conscious when a large hand – memory says it was very white and very freckled – pulled me to the surface and then the side and began slapping me on the back as I choked up chlorinated water. I remember feeling that he could stop now and he didn’t and feeling irritated that I had nearly died and now I was being slapped about for it. Who my rough-handed hero was I do not know. He was nothing to do with my troop.
That experience stuck as it was likely to do. I tried bravado at uni, pretending I could swim yet fooling no one. As an adult in my thirties I went to the 50 metre pool at Crystal Palace for lessons and learnt a better technique for the crawl, that I was incapable of ever mastering the breast stroke and that I was essentially still a bottom feeder.
We went to Australia with the children and swam in billabongs; on two occasions in Katherine and Kakadu I needed help from our guide Braden to get me across a lake. I snorkelled in a buoyancy aid and loved the sights around the Great Barrier Reef while hating seeing the bottom and knowing I couldn’t both touch it and breathe. As the years passed the fears increased and being out of my depth became something I avoided at all costs. Even the thought of it brought me out in cold sweats.
Roll the clock forward to this November and Waitomo. I black water rafted albeit the bits out of my depth were few and far between and easily managed. I white water rafted in much deeper water and went down a waterfall, nearly tipping over. The pictures of me tell all you need to know about my fears when compared to the three others in the boat.
But here’s the thing. I did it. I did it because I coached myself not to give into the fears; I never shied away from telling the guides exactly what they were dealing with and what I needed. And I did it because at every stage the Lawyer stood there, smiling, hand out, waiting to catch me.
I’m still apprehensive and you won’t catch me doing anything without some sort of buoyancy aide. But more that canyon swinging, quad biking and certainly more than bungee jumping, addressing those fears to join the Lawyer in every aspect of our planned trip will leave me with a warm glow for a while.
Thank you for following this journey; I hope it has proved of interest and persuaded you to go there. I also hope that, maybe, if you have a fear and have the opportunity to challenge yourself you will take it.