New Zealand – Like an old lover

On Mt. Ngauruhoe
On Mt. Ngauruhoe

Last night I wasted two perfectly good hours watching Tracker, a UK-New Zealand movie. It was set in 1903 New Zealand, after the Boer war in South Africa.

The movie starred Ray Winstone, a Brit, and Temuera Morrison, a New Zealander, two stars that almost no one has heard of in the U.S. Morrison made his name in Once Were Warrior, about modern-day Maoris in the Auckland slums. He’s aged well.

But for me, the movie starred New Zealand. It was filmed around Queenstown, the adrenaline capital of the world. The scenery was outstanding. They showed the unspoiled bush (forest) at its best, the fog, the raging rivers.

New Zealand is like an old lover. I was in love with the country when I first went there in 1992 on a teaching sabbatical at Massey University in Palmerston North. For several months, I had a job, a small apartment and three hiking clubs. What else did I need? I fell in love with the outdoor attitude, the energy, and the people. It’s an outdoor paradise, where people put their energies in activities rather than in things.

In New Zealand
In New Zealand

For years afterwards, I visited the country and hiked. Seven years later, I had a second sabbatical, this time at Auckland University. Lenny had retired and joined me.

All together, I’ve been to New Zealand eight times, for work and hiking. Lenny and I must be one of the few Americans who’ve done all nine Great Walks. I realize that most American hikers would find themselves lucky to go there once.

Our last time was 2007. Along with other hiking and visiting, I climbed Mt. Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park. It’s a stand-alone volcano, which has always fascinated me. Lenny didn’t want to do it, and I was concerned about the famous fog around the cone. So I splurged for the ultimate of luxury: a hiking guide. I don’t remember his name but he was smart and funny.

His best line was “It’s all about you today.” I told him that in the U.S., that comment was usually reserved for spa treatments, not plodding up a scree slope.

Once I came home, I felt that New Zealand was over for me. I concentrated on other parts of the world, but mostly on here, the Southern Appalachians. I wrote a couple of books, did several hiking challenges here and moved on.

But the mediocre movie with outstanding New Zealand scenery brought back all the love I had for New Zealand hiking and people, if only for an evening.

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