“There were no humans in New Zealand until approximately a thousand years ago. The great Polynesian explorer Kupe had visited New Zealand during the first millennium in his large canoe, explored its coasts, and returned to the Pacific islands to tell his people about the land farther south. To appreciate the greatness of his achievement, you have to remember that Kupe lived during the Stone Age. He cut the trees for his canoe with a stone ax, built a catamaran without a piece of metal, and sailed across the ocean and back without a compass. He must have been not only amazingly imaginative to come up with this idea and brave to execute it, but also very observant: He navigated by the stars, tracked flights of birds, and noted the swells of waves whose shape changed depending on the closeness of the land.”
In tribute to our upcoming trip to New Zealand, the book under consideration this month is Straying from the Flock: Travels in New Zealand. Written by Alexander Elder, it's the author's intimate and personal account of his visit to this incredible country. Filled with elegant details of mountains and beaches, of fjords and rainforests, vineyards and hidden eateries, the book is less a travel guide than a memoir of the trip of a lifetime.
During his journey to New Zealand, Dr. Elder made a point of searching out hostels and farmstays in rural areas, rather than cookie-cutter motels in cities. Here is a passage taken from the 21st chapter of the book:
“The road meandered downhill between wet pastures, entering the wine country. The day turned grey, cold, and miserable, a real taste of winter. I passed the restaurant in the vineyard where Fred had driven me for lunch a few days earlier, but the vines looked like wet cats in the rain and I did not feel like getting out of my car. In the middle of the day I pulled into Gino's driveway and rang his bell, but no one answered. The last thing I wanted to do on this dreary day was drive downtown and look for a café, read, and wait. I walked up to the cottage and tried the door handle. It was open! I walked in – the fireplace radiated warmth. Gino had left that door unlocked for me, with the fire going. There was a bowl of fruit on the coffee table and a tray of walnuts. The refrigerator was stocked with orange juice and the cupboard with bread and a pot for making tea or coffee. Gino even left me his favorite Italian CDs. I felt like Robinson Crusoe, finding an island of comfort and warmth in a grey, wet sea.
I improvised some lunch, cracked a few walnuts which went well with the grapes, sipped some single malt whiskey, caught up on my computer notes, and then napped on the couch by the fireplace. I drank in the warmth and friendliness of the place. It did not have the greatest location – just a nice piece of land on the outskirts of the town, extremely comfortable but no magnificent views, but I did not care. I could drive to magnificent views in ten minutes, but who knows how many hours I would have to drive to find this kind of hospitality. I awoke from a gentle knock on the door – Gino had returned from his fishing trip and came to invite me for dinner.”
Traveling from Steward Island at the south end of New Zealand, to Auckland, on the North Island, the author presents a set of colorful stories and memorable personalities, as he experiences the history, culture, and myriad attractions of one of the most beautiful countries in the Southern Hemisphere. Dr. Elder ends his book with recipes and notes on overcoming jet lag – the latter advice may come in handy for your travelers! A dream destination for many people around the world, New Zealand comes to vibrant life under the pen of the author – be sure to read all about it.
Copyright © 2005, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.