Notes from New Zealand: Part VIII

Googling someone is a conundrum for me. It’s one thing to search for interesting nuggets about celebrities and public figures; they’ve made a deal with the devil. But online investigations of people I know, sort of know, or might one day know feels naughty, like I’m peeking through a keyhole into someone’s dressing room. Nevertheless, the temptation was too much. There was something unusual about Dr. Nelson and I wanted to know what it was.

While our host was upstairs overseeing the preparation of yet another deceptively healthy and delicious dinner designed specifically for our individual well-beings, I was huddled over my laptop looking for clues in his digital profile. Chris was outside watching the tractor taxis collect their evening arrivals, and I lowered the screen just enough to hide its contents from his view. When the search results appeared, my heart did a little disco dance.

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Notes from New Zealand: Part VII

New Zealand has no man-eating predators. No lions or bears to scan for as you tramp through the wilderness. No need to examine the freshness of scat piles for your own safety. Hiking here is more relaxed than in our home state, where trekkers have to call out “Hey, bear!” every couple hundred feet, one hand always at the ready on a can of bear spray.

On this island it’s the little predators that are the problem. The wily ones, like the rats and the stoats. They kill countless birds every year, making such an impact that the government of New Zealand has had to resort to a campaign they call Battle for Our Birds, which involves extensive airdrops of 1080 poison. With a record-size mast from the beech trees that brought rats in droves this year, the Department of Conservation plans to carpet bomb 600,000 hectares of conservation land with poisoned pellets. Read more

Notes from New Zealand: Part VI

“How are you supposed to wear this thing?” Chris looked in the bathroom mirror as he jabbed his hand through a sleeve and met with a dead-end. “There’s a card here that tells you how to do it.” I held up the instructions I’d found lying on top of the robes, but Chris dismissed them and kept poking away, determined to free his hand.

“Wait, wait, you’re going to rip it!” I said. “Let me see what’s going on here.” I unfolded my yukata and saw the issue. Long flaps came off the arms in a T-shape — a clever design that lets a person stow plenty of personal items while wearing nothing but a bathrobe.

Dr. Nelson said we didn’t have to put them on, but he highly suggested that we do so if we wanted to experience the full relaxing effect of the retreat. He also suggested that we sit in the Detox Box for thirty minutes before a half-hour morning meditation. So far we were running late. Read more

Notes from New Zealand: Part V

We left the world we knew and followed our host down a steep drive lined with hot-pink tropical flowers and towering palm trees. Like many of the homes on the South Island, the retreat’s modern Japanese exterior was unassuming. The best experience was to be had from the inside looking out, not the other way around — a style suited to the down-to-earth Kiwis, which Dr. Nelson claimed to be even though he was born in the United States. During his introduction he said that he had moved from the mainland to Hawaii and then to New Zealand, and that he had practiced medicine. What kind I don’t know. It was all very vague and he didn’t seem interested in talking about his past, only the past of everything else. Read more

Notes from New Zealand: Part IV

The west coast of New Zealand reminds me of California. Big Sur to be exact. The Great Coast Road hugs the shoreline along bluffs that plunge dramatically to the sea. And the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes are a geological mystery worth a look if you have the time (and you shouldn’t be here if you don’t).

But California and the land of the long white cloud, as the Maori call this country, part ways when it comes to topographical diversity. Here a person can surf in the morning and climb a glacier in the afternoon. And then there’s the best bonus of all: it’s remote and sparsely populated. Beaches aren’t crawling with Speedos, Baywatch wannabes, and howling toddlers. Just pristine stretches of white sand bordered by nikau palms, podocarp forests, and the only nesting place of the kotuku. If you listen closely, you can hear the fur seals bark. Read more

Notes from New Zealand: Part III

“Everybody in?” The pilot slipped on his headset then told us to do the same. Six of us were stuffed into the cockpit and I was riding shotgun, a vantage point that gave me an intimate look at our leader’s chin hairs. From the looks of it, his first shave had probably been last summer, and I forced a smile at him when what I really wanted to do was cry — and run.

As the rotor blades whipped faster and faster and faster, I dug the thumbnail of my left hand into the palm of my right and thought about how I’d gotten myself into this situation. Back in January, when Chris and I had planned this expedition in the comfort of our cabin, I figured it was expensive and unnecessary and would probably get lopped off the list as we pared down the itinerary. But it didn’t. And now I was aboard a loud, vibrating whirling dervish. Too late to jump out now. I’d just have to keep my eyes closed. Tight. Read more

Notes from New Zealand: Part II

The next day we awoke to the threat of rain. It wasn’t ideal weather for our planned gondola ride to Bob’s Peak, so we donned our rain gear and trekked to nearby Lake Wakatipu, a body of water shaped like a lightning bolt that heaves like a monster. The “tide” — which rises ten centimeters every twenty-five minutes — is the heartbeat of Matau, who according to Maori legend sleeps at the bottom of the lake. A benign creature, it seemed. The lake was peaceful.

Dinghies slept onshore waiting for their owners’ return, and the old paddle steamer  TSS Earnslaw bellowed black smoke, ready to ferry passengers to a picnic on the Walter Peak farm. As waves lapped the shore and storm clouds gathered overhead, the only sound to break the silence was the cheet-cheet of the fantail (pīwakawaka), who flitted back and forth across our path and fanned his tail feathers like a flirt. I sucked in the mountain air and exhaled to the very bottom of my lungs. I felt like a box of birds. Then came the scream of a thousand chainsaws …

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Notes from New Zealand: Part I

If you’re looking for a place to die, New Zealand is a wonderland. You can meet the ground at the end of a mismeasured bungee cord, drop like a rock in a fritzed-out helicopter, or spontaneously eject from a Shotover Jet rooster-tailing the river canyons. The means are endless and New Zealand—Queenstown in particular—is a mecca for thrill-seekers willing to pay the ultimate price for the ultimate rush.

Chris and I were unprepared for what seemed to be a death-defying subculture. We were there to see friends on the North Island and had decided to make a longer trip out of the visit since it would take us seventy-two hours to get there and back. Let’s make the misery worth our time, we said. So we decided on a two-week tour of the South Island before heading up to Hawke’s Bay.

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