Tuesday 9 June 2020


Today New Zealand has entered Level 1 of our Covid-19 response. It's a triumph for our (cliché but cute) Team of Five Million led by sainted PM Jacinda Ardern with the trusty DG of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, at her side. Jacinda admitted to a brief dance in her living room when she heard that the last active case was recovered, and Ashley allowed himself "a broad smile". 
Here are the main figures: 102 days since the first case; 75 days since levels were imposed; 1504 cases overall; 22 deaths (sad, but all older people with 'underlying conditions'); 17 days now with no new cases; 0 active cases. We spent 33 days at Level 4 in total lockdown, before easing back through 3 and 2, and then, at midnight last night, to Level 1 - which is normal life again, with added hand-washing, and strictly-controlled borders still till who knows when. People can go in and out of the country, but there's a mandatory 14 days of quarantine on return, including two swab tests; so no-one's going to be rushing to do that if they don't have to.
The push to travel domestically - which is hardly a penance - is naturally stronger than ever, and people are out there already, booking up Queenstown and other tourist magnets; and the newspaper travel sections are starting to fatten up again with local stories. All good. What I'm going to do here though is to fill in a rather large gap. My first published travel story was back in 2003, but this blog didn't start till 2009 so, seeing as how I'm anal about such things, I'm going to write about all those trips that haven't featured here. So here goes:
My first-ever proper famil was an 8-day Outward Bound course in 2003, but I have actually written about that several times, like here, but not the next one, to Tasmania. It was such a thrill to write in hope to Tourism Tasmania, expressing my interest in having a look around, and score the offer of an expenses-paid 10-day self-drive tour around the island state - with my teenage daughter included. Amazing.
So we found ourselves in Hobart in December, staying in a hotel on a pier in that historic city's lively and absurdly pretty waterfront - colourful fishing boats, piles of cane lobster pots, floating food trucks - which is surrounded by substantial Georgian stone buildings. We grazed through the Salamanca Saturday Market, wandered the streets admiring the pretty old cottages hung with roses and hedged with lavender, drove up to the summit of towering 1300m Mt Wellington where we found Nepalese prayer flags and wonderful views. We went out to Bonarong Park to get up close with wombats, kangaroos, koalas, emus and Tasmanian devils; and to the museum to see the last ever Tasmanian tiger in a glass case.
Then we headed out of the city on our provided itinerary and discovered the first truth of the famil: that there is never enough time anywhere. Occasionally we literally had to run to keep up with the timetable. We did a towering tree-top walk, and zipped through lovely English-like villages with arched bridges and gorgeous gardens; we stayed in interesting old hotels and one very fancy new one at Freycinet; we climbed up a stony hill (no doubt swarming with snakes) for a classic view over the perfect curve of Wineglass Bay. We went kayaking; found a cute and softly furry little echidna plunging his delicate nose into rough gravel, looking for grubs; and marvelled at the richly varied roadkill we found - and, sadly, contributed to when I hit a wallaby while driving back at night after a ghost tour of Port Arthur.
That former prison was grim and chillingly educational, and also disconcertingly picturesque. Heading from there up the east coast we just marvelled at the scenery. Turquoise sea, white, white sand, red rocks, green blue gums - it was all beautiful. The fields of opium poppies were unexpected - they supply 40% of the world's morphine - but the warning signs on the fences weren't very scary. 
We met Craig of Pepperbush Adventures and bumped off-road into the bush, for a yummy barbecue of wallaby kebabs, as actual wallabies hopped within sight; and after dark and under the stars, he spotlit for us swarms of spotted quolls, more wallabies, plus possums, roos, devils and wombats, and told us stories about them all.
From Launceston we roamed around the countryside and on my daughter's favourite day sampled wonderful local cheeses and chocolate, slurped all sorts of intense raspberry dishes, and had a fabulous chef's tasting menu that night. 
We rode the cable car at Cataract Gorge, slept in a beautiful cottage hotel, and then drove back south down the centre of the island. There was more farmland, more poppies and fields of yellow canola, more dead wombats and wallabies, more little stone-built towns and villages with impressive bridges, all courtesy of convict labour, which we learned about at a stately home where they had done all the work.
And finally we arrived back in Hobart, utterly charmed by Tasmania's animals, people, food and scenery and, loaded with great story material, I was committed to pursuing more of such freebies, and wangling myself another one just as soon as I could...

Wednesday 3 June 2020

"Don't leave town...

... before you've seen the country". That was the slogan for a NZ Tourism campaign that ran in the '80s - which passed me by, actually, because I had already breezed off out of town by then, and was living overseas throughout that decade, plus. I had, though, seen much of the country before I left, and popped back a few times over those years to see even more of it, including three months in a caravan touring from top to bottom, literally. So I felt pretty smug, although I was aware that there were still plenty of bits I hadn't visited.
Since I came back home to live, I've been working on that, but even now there are places left to see - Newzild only looks small, the country's actually the same size as the UK, and it's crammed full of almost every kind of desirable scenery you could name - and now that our borders are closed, it seems a pretty good time to fill in the gaps. The Tourist Board certainly thinks so, and is encouraging everyone to get out and support the businesses around the country that are desperately missing all the overseas tourists who normally swarm continuously over the country.
The domestic market has always been the mainstay, though, so what with that, and national pride, independence and mobility being right up there these days, I was surprised by what I heard, eavesdropping on three young women while I was out walking this morning. Well, striding, actually - they came up behind me and I was damned if I was going to be overtaken. Anyway, they were in their late 20s and chattering about places they'd never been to, like Gisborne and - this was pretty shattering - the South Island!
I thought it was an old cliché that Aucklanders were more likely to have been to Sydney than the South Island, and that in these enlightened times, with all the publicity about the scenery down there, the adventure, the food, the wine, there was no way Kiwis would allow themselves to miss out on all that. But apparently not, sigh.
As a Mainlander myself, I am naturally offended, and also minded to sneer at their stupid self-deprivation. Good grief, pre-Covid, you could get Air NZ special fares to Queenstown for absolute peanuts! And crossing the often challenging Cook Strait on the ferry is a rite of passage for any true-blue Kiwi. Granted, the North Island has some good bits - Rotorua, Maori culture, the Bay of Islands, assorted volcanoes - but for real gobsmacking scenery, the South Island knocks it into a cocked hat, I reckon. How crazy that it takes a global pandemic to get Aucklanders to go there.


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