Wednesday October 20th
If I ask myself the first word that springs to mind at the end of my first week in New Zealand, it is, without hesitation, “green”. Sometimes, as we drive through the twisting hills of vineyard-bedecked Kumeu some 30km north west of Auckland, I wonder if Singapore Airlines’ superb in-flight service extended to cybernetic eye enhancements in my sleep, so startlingly verdurous do the trees and fields appear to me. It is only “sometimes” because the unspoilt blue skies that give the landscape such crystal clarity have not been as habitual as I expected of a country coming in to its summer. Instead, I’ve been treated to the most schizophrenic weather patterns I have ever experienced – a bold claim, I know, from someone brought up with England’s own mercurial climate. Here, though, the rapidity of the shifts from dazzling sunshine to torrential downpours borders on the ridiculous. So I’ve learnt to savour the bright spells, when the countryside seems to be lifted out of some mythical landscape painting, and, more importantly, carry a brolly with me at all times.
The excitement for me is knowing that the really spectacular landscapes - the ones that first had me pining for this faraway land when I saw them used as the backdrop of some titanic battle between men and orcs in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy - are still to come. In the coming days we aim to start mapping an itinerary for a driving tour from Auckland here on the North Island down to the Milford Sounds on the edge of the South, which will no doubt provide a picture postcard a minute for a virgin New Zealand traveller like myself. But for the time being I’m more than happy to explore locally, such is the richness of scenery in our immediate vicinity.
Ironically, the countryside around Kumeu, location of the inspiring self-built house where Holly’s mum and partner have been kind enough to allow us to stay, is not a million miles away from the green and pleasant land we left behind in England. That’s not to say, though, that discerning eyes would ever mistake it for some unexplored region of the Peak District or Pennines. For a start, the sheer diversity of flora, much of it indigenous to New Zealand, makes for an altogether more hotch-potch landscape. Familiar oaks rub shoulders with exotic palm trees in a manner I’ve never seen before, while the just-blossoming crimson flowers of the stunning Pohutukawa – otherwise known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree – provide an altogether new dimension. There are also, quite simply, fewer people here. While treks through even the remotest parts of the English countryside will soon yield at least some vestige of human civilisation, here you can drive for miles and miles without seeing a soul. When, at night, the only sound you can here is that of your own heartbeat (oh, and the scratching of myriad cats at the bedroom door), you know you are truly out in the sticks. And, heck, that isn’t half wonderful.