to New Zealand."
Unsolicited quote from a young Frenchman on the Routeburn Track.
I came to New Zealand with high hopes of extending my almost perfect summer of 2016 into the Southern Hemisphere.
But as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and Wandering Wondering Jews often go awry. How was I to know NZ would be in the throes of the worst summer in decades? The season that went missing was so obviously awful newspaper editorials, residents and TV News programs commented of its overall crappiness. (See photo). It wasn't just me thinking WTF!
My "Welcome to New Zealand" cough and cold didn't help my disposition either. It was one gloomy, gray, wind-crazed and bone numbing day after another. Peaking out of my window in the morning made me want to return to bed and weep. Good thing, I brought 70 Starbucks instant coffees with me. Caffeine forced me to do something. I donned my foul weather gear and went through the motions of an active overseas ramble. To be honest, I wasn't feeling it. I experienced loneliness. A sure sign of a journey gone bad.
So...I was spending heaps of Greenbacks and not having fun. BTW: Don't travel here thinking this is a bargain basement destination. It's not! For example: On the International Beer Index, a six-pack of decent IPA will set you back US$18.50. A gallon of gas is US$7.00.
Now back to this blog's catchy "Bring you into the tent" title.
Tourism is NZ's number one foreign currency money maker. 3.4 million International guests arrived in 2016. For comparison there are 4.7 million Kiwis.
A virtual cottage industry of guide and shuttle services have sprung up like fresh moss after a rain to deal with the onslaught of selfie-stick wielding foreigners. Worrisome wanderers (not me) will pay up to NZ$100 for a guided three hour hike to a waterfall. Heck! I would provide the same service for half that AND carry their backpacks.
I met and spoke to many guides. One common trait they all possessed was a Polly-Anna personality coupled with a flair for the understatement. I.E.:
"We shall get a wee bit of rain today!" True meaning: if you hold your head up with your mouth open, you will drown.
"It might be a wee bit windy on top." True meaning: Watch out that you don't get conked on the noggin by an airborne Volkswagen Beetle.
In the more sought after destinations such as Milford, Mount Cook and Glacier Country, helicopters drone over the airspace above while sand flies rule the ground below. It's a noisy, not very wilderness-like scene.
The official NZ Government Tourism Board is the World's oldest. By now they have figured out a way to lure people (and their money) from faraway places to this small Island Nation. It's done with clever marketing. There's a lot of overstatement going on. New Zealand created nine "Great" Walks. I ambled along six of them. On my scale, I'd rate three as pretty good. (Milford, Abel Tasman and Routeburn) Two as so-so (Tongariro and Kepler) and one as incredibly below average. ((Lake Weikaremoana).
Of these six, I would do Abel Tasman and Milford again.
Apparently, the idea of "Great" like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The other overused descriptor is "Must See!" Every town, camper van park and museum uses this phrase. Oftentimes the "must see" object is pretty mundane and somewhat common in these parts. I.E.: Waterfalls. (A steep landscape with heaps of precipitation equals a lot of waterfalls)
Whoa! Before you think I detested my stay here. Au contraire! I just wish the Tourism industry would tone down the above mentioned hype. New Zealand is a diverse, beautiful and wild land. It's occupied by many kind, honest, polite, proper and gentle people. It's insanely safe (except for the narrow roads and dicey trails).
Tourists can let their guard down here and get away with it. I liked that feeling a lot. The older I become the more I enjoy a sense of security. New Zealand is an easy (in a GREAT way) destination. It's good value for its comfort, cleanliness and abundance of helpful citizens.
I'll be back with a game plan to arrive earlier and stay longer. One international guest can't possibly be a witness to two of the most horrendous summers on record!
BTW. Summer did show its blissfully warm, mellow and happy side in the past ten days. I'll even go on record to say I regained my Mojo!
Yes, I'll surely be back within the next four years.
Death Valley National Park, California
I'm still running for President in 2020. The First Lady position is still open too.
All these photos are from Arthur's Pass NP. The hikes were great.