A lucky project brings us back to New Zealand this year. It is winter here, in July. The weather is wonderful, especially when you come from the sunny summer in Colorado: the temperature is -2 to +10C, it is sunny most of the time, a little rain, and a few clouds. So much better than the scorching 95F.
When I first landed in Christchurch this time it struck me – how much I forgot, and turns out, liked the smell of New Zealand in the winter. A fresh aroma was spilled in the air – a little bit of frosty grass, a little bit of mountain snow, a little bit of wood stove smoke – all mixed together in one of those places smells that you remember on some subconscious level and once you feel it again, it instantly flashes the full image of the location in your mind. I rolled down the car windows and let the cold, New Zealand-smelling air roll into the car. It felt wonderful.
Driving on the left side of the road started coming back like a second nature. When you switch sides of the road the first thing you have to do is turn on your windshield wipers at the very first turn you make. Once you do that you can check it off and start driving like you know what you are doing. You need to accelerate through the roundabouts with lorries and cars without cutting anyone off, and merge like a zipper, without trying to squeeze out the person in the lane next to you. It is just a normal civilized driving, imagine that you have nobody to kill and nowhere to be in the next 10 minutes… why is it so rarely seen in the States? Why are all the drivers so angry there? Everyone is in a rush, everyone is talking on cell phones and texting, and all the rush isn’t to save a child from a burning house but just to get home to your favorite TV. Amazing.
The days are short this time of the year. The sun is up around 8 am, and is down by 6 pm. The fact that we are supposed to work through the nights is not helping the matters, and there is very little time left for us to go about and see things. In fact our first shift of people complained that they hardly went anywhere with our unfortunate schedule.
However, where there is a will, there is a way and serendipitously, the Willowbank wildlife reserve just happened to be about a kilometer away from the Peppers Resort where we are staying. Naturally, that was the first place I stopped by when I had the first 10 free minutes. The same quaint atmosphere that I remembered and cherished from my past visits, with a few moms walking with their little kids through the park; ducks splashing in the creek; fat eels waiting for food; herons, looking like stooped suspicious bandits waiting for a hapless victim to lose guard; wallabies in the meadow and kiwis in the darkness of their habitat – everything was the same, as you can’t really improve on perfection. A little bit of construction looking like habitat improvement, where the ostrich used to be but other than that – beautiful, calm and peaceful retreat.
Funny, but I just read a Google review from someone who visited the Maori show at Willowbank and was so thoroughly displeased that they wrote half a page describing their agonizing experience. I am so glad they wrote it! Anyone similar to that reviewer who had seen a multitude of ethnic shows in many countries and is entitled to be treated to a princely performance by synchronously dancing professionals, please stay the hell away from Willowbank! This will not be your pot of tea. Sorry, you don’t drink tea, I mean your jasmine frappu-chai. It just reminds me how many different people walk this Earth every day. And that not all of them I would necessarily want to meet.
Almost immediately I developed a habit of having breakfast at Willowbank. The log cabin-style interior of the Willowbank main building, with its massive wood burning fireplace, is such an inviting spot on a cold July morning that I just wish I never had to leave. Sitting by the huge bay windows with a hot cup of coffee, a fire warming your back, and watching deer and guinea fowl go about their business outside is about as close to heavens on earth as it gets, at least for me. And after that you could just go through the winding paths where a momma-duck with her two half grown ducklings would stop you from walking by standing across the way, expecting a crumb or two, and the lemurs sit like yogis, arms spread, sunning their bellies – all of this takes your mind off of the daily hassles and helps you heal and get ready to live again.