I’ve been back home just a week. My head is still lingering over some distant ocean, and the time in New Zealand becoming a memory. The four weeks seemed longer, and now I’m trying to process all that we saw and did. Probably two things stand out from everything else: 1) it’s an incredibly beautiful country with a range of topography from beautiful seacoast to stunning snow-capped mountains to undulating fields and hills in multiple shades of green; and 2) the people are some of the friendliest and most welcoming I’ve met anywhere.
I came to expect that when we arrived at our accommodations, we would be warmly received, but that we’d also get something of the history of the place along with the personal back story of the general manager or host. Making it from the reception area to our room took at least 15 minutes. Upon leaving Arrowtown, Kathy, the hotel owner, insisted in the nicest way, of bestowing hugs on both of us!
- We frequently saw the exclamation symbol, !, by itself on road signs, where there was road work, but sometimes just as a warning of an upcoming change in the roadway.
- With one exception of the last few kilometers into Wellington, all the roads were two lane ones with lots of twists, turns and curves. Often very winding and narrow. No interstates to speak of.
- New Zealand is very environmentally conscious. There are strict regulations about not bringing in food or pests from other countries (lots of bins in the airports for tossing out food items with strongly worded signs about the large fines for not doing so.) Recycling and other green practices are a standard part of the culture.
- Smaller towns were a step back in time to the 1950’s. No fast food chains, but cafeterias and order-at-the-counter places like the Ten o’ Clock Cookie (love the name!)
- Wineries all seemed to have their own bistro restaurants and were classy destinations for lunch or dinner—and some of the best meals we ate.
- New Zealand lost many men in the world wars, numbers out of proportion to its small population. Every small town had some sort of WWI monument to fallen soldiers, and sometimes also recognition of those who fought in WWII and later wars.
- Boarding internal flights in NZ was remarkably egalitarian. There would be quick mention of premium status folks first, but then everyone just got in line to file out to the tarmac onto the plane. Not the six levels of priority we see here.
- I visited bookstores in Auckland, Wellington, and Oamaru, and discovered that most of the fiction on the shelves was from the United States or the U.K. with the U.S. predominating. I browsed the few short shelves of fiction by New Zealand authors and bought one novel which I started, but didn’t finish and left behind. It occurred to me that with such a small population, it’s probably not unreasonable that there is not a huge literary output.
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston. Preston’s nonfiction account of the search for what was often referred to as the White City or the City of the Monkey God is an archaeological adventure story. Except it’s true. Over a period of more than five years, some determined adventurers who had deep pockets, along with friends with deep pockets, attempted to locate this ancient city in the Honduran rain forest. With the help of some very sophisticated new technology, they were able to map a potential site hidden beneath thick vegetation. Once mapped, the plan was to go and spend a couple weeks clearing the rain forest to see what was there. The challenges included lethal fer de lance snakes, sand flies, mud, the possibility of looting (making it crucial to keeping the exact location secret) and political wrangling of various sorts. Against great odds, Preston, hired to write about the expedition, and the team of archaeologists, photographers, and others were successful, but not without serious risks to their health and well-being. (~JW Farrington)
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. This is the first book by Anthony Horowitz that I’ve read, but I’m a longtime fan of Foyle’s War, which he created, and have also enjoyed the quirky Midsomer Murders (he was one of the screenwriters). Although it’s a murder mystery, Magpie Murders, is unlike most others. You have the umbrella story of Susan Ryeland, author Alan Conway’s editor for the mystery series he writes about detective Atticus Pund. Then you get all of Conway’s latest book, appropriately titled “Magpie Murders,” except it ends without the last chapter and without resolution. Our fearless editor, Susan, then goes on a tear to find the missing pages while real life deaths occur and mystery fiction and fiction fiction become intertwined. Throughout, Horowitz has fun with puns, inside jokes about his own series, and allusions to famous mystery writers like Agatha Christie. If you’re looking for something different in the mystery line, then this might be it. I found it clever and fun. (~JW Farrington)
Note: Photos by JWFarrington (some rights reserved). Book jacket from the web. Header photo taken at Amisfield Winery near Queenstown.