While I have been conspicuous by my absence, New Zealand has been conspicuous for all the wrong reasons.
New Zealand is the place I call home. It is my country of birth, the place where my wife was born and the birthplace of my children.
In my limited time on this planet I have seen my share of other countries, differing cultures, other climates and all sorts of topography. This country, Aotearoa New Zealand, is no more beautiful, no more stunning, no more astounding, no more scenic or friendly or inspiring or great or just plain cool, than any other. What the land of the long white cloud has to offer, is accessibility.
These shores are a grouping of small islands-although not as small as we like to imagine-slotted away at the wash created by the confluence of the Tasman Sea and the mighty Pacific Ocean. To get here, even with thanks to the convenient wonders of air travel, is no mean feat. We really are at the bottom of the world.
Thing is, once here, everything these shaky isles have to offer really is right there at your doorstep.
Beaches galore, often just metres from your back door. White sand beaches at that. Mountains and forest and bush and sand and surf and sun and tempestuous storms and blazing scorchers, each and every day is different from the one previous and all is available within minutes, or a mere hour or two on the road.
You can hunt, you can fish, you can swim, you can walk and hike and trek and you can camp and you can dine out and surf and catch a movie or a play then dance the night away and if you are careful, you can pack most of this into just the one day. And night.
Nature abounds. Tourism seems to be the logical answer, from wine tours to bungy jumps and all in between. Aside from all of that of course, is the people. New Zealanders, Kiwis, are a pretty gregarious bunch, an open and honest group. A diverse group? Perhaps not so much but more so, despite our refuge access stats sadly lacking in comparison to the rest of the globes nations.
I’m not gonna get political, nor do I mean to be a glorified tourism brochure. Next year might be the time for political commentary but I am one of the great apathetic masses, so whatever I have to say on Beehive goings on will be lip-service at best. As it stands, my eldest doesn’t think I have a clue what ‘woke’ even means.
However, I will lament the lack of open eyes.
It would be harsh to say, seemingly yesterday, that no one picked an earthquake coming. Just like it would be cruel to suggest someone, somewhere, somehow, should have known Whakaari/White Island was about to pop. Christchurch suffered and still does and now it is the turn of Whakatane, a pretty, quintessentially sleepy seaside NZ town, to shed collective tears. As we do too, across the nation.
Of course Christchurch, a place I have heard referred to as the ‘Village of the Damned’ has suffered through even more pain and hurt. I never used to understand why New Zealand’s second largest city is tagged with such a moniker but I am beginning to get it now.
How much can you throw at the one place, the one grouping of people, before they break? For Christchurch it seems a case of bring it on.
Coming from Dunedin, I never liked the place. I was conditioned that way. Territorial prejudices aside, I don’t like how bitterly cold the place gets in winter, I don’t like the road layout, the lack of hills, I am not a fan of their rugby team and that wind!
As a young man visiting the South Island’s major metropolitan center, I was often struck by a sense of aggression. Statistically, as a young male on the streets of an urban center at night, there is a chance this is will be the case no matter where you are. But, Christchurch gave me reason to feel on edge.
Contrast that with the response to the twin tragedies the town has suffered and you would have to say first impressions don’t always last.
One disaster those damned villagers couldn’t avoid.
The people of Christchurch, of Whakatane, the folk on the West Coast who have endured the collapse of not only a mine, but the repeated collapse of their roads, have done it all with a grit and perseverance so Kiwi, that resolve deserves to be as cliched as our clean/green image, the perception of rugby as religion and our No. 8 wire can do attitude.
Heroes everywhere you look. People doing what they do best. To me, that is the thing, during a testing year, few years, which stands out the most.
People. Normal, boring, neighbourly, everyday heroic people.
Naming them wouldn’t be Kiwi. Even if I did, even if we already know their names, they will brush it off. After all, didn’t they do just what every one else would do? Weren’t they just doing their jobs? Catch phrases synonymous with this cloudy island nation of late.
Each and everyone one of us really is that hero. The old bloke next door, your mechanic, the night shift shelf stacker at the local supermarket. A given place, a given time.
At each place, on each occasion, when Kiwis have been asked to step up, we do it without fail. Without fail.
The failures come when our Prime Minister, Jacinta Ardern, is bagged for hugging emergency response personnel on the scene in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. There is blame to be apportioned when low brow Kiwis pop out of the woodwork to applaud and encourage the actions of madmen with automatic weapons.
Through it all, the year has drawn to a close with the sun making its presence felt, the beaches beckoning, birds chirping and bees buzzing. Same old same old.
At home, I have 3 kids showing the signs that a year in New Zealand’s education system is tiring. The remaining one is blissfully unaware, enviably young.
The drama, the tension, the frightening reality of the world, thrust upon sleepy white sand shores, seems to have had little or no effect on the lives of our four semi-rural children.
It’s hard to tell how affected kids are by the things which move their parents, their teachers, wider society. It washes in but I suspect, in many cases, it washes over.
Surely they feel the ‘vibe’. Surely our children feel the emotional content of such tragic events, even if at the time, they don’t understand why.
The hope is, following generations will be more empathetic, will have a greater compassion and understanding and consequently, more foresight.
As the year winds down, chilling as the air temperature warms, what was your big takeaway?
For me, I was struck by how diverse we are becoming as a people and how difficult it is for some to accept that. I was surprised by how much young people feel, despite being somewhat removed.
Sadly, I was not surprised by how non-plussed many people can be.
I promise not to be so inconspicuous.