There’s a hugely popular soft drink in New Zealand called L&P.  It’s a kind of kiwi lemonade made by mixing lemon juice with carbonated natural mineral water from the little town of Paeroa - hence (of course) L&P.

It’s lovely - exotically and delicately perfumed - and everybody drinks it.  The label proudly tells you that L&P is ‘world-famous in New Zealand’.  They recently marketed a variation of it as ‘world-famous in New Zealand from quite recently’.  Understatement like that is rare in advertising!

Unfortunately, L&P is practically unavailable outside NZ, in much the same way that Dandelion and Burdock seems to be restricted to Britain (although I once heard that a bar in Lyon was selling it as an exotic drink for about £10 a bottle).

I’m telling you all this because I’ve just eaten a bar of L&P-flavoured chocolate, made by Whittaker’s (NZ’s national chocolatier) and it was scrumptious.  And you will probably never, ever, have any.

So there.

(When you buy a bar of Whittaker’s excellent chocolate, the label helpfully tells you that it was made ‘with our new Swiss-made 5-roll refiner’.  You just have to buy their chocolate if they’ve gone to all the trouble of importing a 5-roll refiner all the way from Switzerland, haven’t you?  Eat your heart out, Cadbury’s.)

* * *
This tendency for New Zealanders to be linguistically light on their feet can be strangely rewarding.

When two lanes dovetail into one on British roads, we are told to ‘Merge In Turn’.  Here in NZ, the sign boldly says ‘Merge Like A Zip’.  You don’t easily miss signs like that tell you to 'merge like a zip'.

In British supermarkets, we have ‘shopping trolleys’, which is a conventionally dull thing to call them.  In the US, they are ‘carts’, which is even duller.  The French get a little spicier by calling them ‘chariots’ but kiwis trump all of us.  Here, they’re called ‘trundlers’, which is about as perfect a name as you can get.
* * *
The company whose lifts are installed here in my hotel in Auckland is called Schindler.

They are Schindler’s Lifts.

* * *

These are the mysterious Moeraki Boulders.  They are strewn along the foreshore of Koekohe Beach and I visited them on my way from Dunedin up the east coast of South Island.  There is, apparently, a perfectly sound geological reason why these boulders have ended up being almost perfectly spherical like this.  This is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject of the Moeraki Boulders...

'The erosion by wave action of mudstone, comprising local bedrock and landslides, frequently exposes embedded isolated boulders. These boulders are grey-colored septarian concretions, which have been exhumed from the mudstone enclosing them and concentrated on the beach by coastal erosion.'

So now you know.
I was fascinated by how other-worldly they looked - as if they had been dropped there by aliens to deliberately confuse and unsettle us (like the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey).

There's something deeply 'basic' and satisfying about geological phenomena like these beach boulders - or the Bowder Stone or High Force - and I like it when people go out of their way to visit them.  I once decided that Hutton's Unconformity (on the Isle of Arran) sounded too good to miss until I found out how long it would take to walk to it.

Other visitors were obviously just as fascinated by the Moeraki Boulders as I was - including Feung and Cheung here.  They are a young Chinese couple who had fitted in a visit to the Boulders as part of their honeymoon (for reasons best known to themselves).
They were a smashing couple - and, quite by accident, I met them again the next day when I stopped to gape at Mt Cook/Aoraki.  I wished them well in their marriage, from all of us.  They were all smiles and hugs.  Lovely.

(New Zealand seems to be popular with foreign honeymooners.  I met another couple at Waitomo Caves on North Island - Marine and Guillaume, from Grenoble and Annecy in France.  Smugly, I was able to wish them well in French!) 

* * *
My next night after Dunedin was spent at Oamaru, just up the coast from the Boulders.  It’s a splendid little town and retains almost all of its Victorian port area, which is rare in NZ. 

I was amazed to find many of the central area’s streets had names that rang quite a few bells.  The main street is Tyne Street.  Running off one end of it is Wansbeck Street.  And nearby is Coquet Street.  I’m not sure if there is a special link between the early settlement of Oamaru and north-east England but I’d love to find out.

* * *
The countryside in this part of South Island is lush and luxuriant.  It’s like a dream of an endlessly rural England.  Farms hidden in birch- and poplar-copses.  Woods tumbling down gentle hillsides.  Hillocks draped with carpets of grass and dotted with grazing sheep and cattle (and llamas and alpacas and deer and goats).  Free-ranging pigs and hens and geese.  Orchards and - very, very widely interspersed - farming villages.

Untended hills throughout South Island are covered in flaming-yellow gorse.  It’s everywhere, bouncing the yellow sunlight blindingly off the hills. 

My rapture dissolved when I discovered later that gorse is yet another ‘introduced species’ here; it spreads like wildfire and is smothering much of New Zealand’s native plants.  So much ancient flora and fauna brought to the brink of extinction through European intervention.  But who introduced gorse?  And why?

* * *
I headed inland from Oamaru to take one last look at the Southern Alps - and, in particular, at Aoraki/Mt Cook, NZ’s highest mountain.  I passed through the pretty roadside village of Kurow (‘birthplace of New Zealand’s Social Security system’) and stopped to admire an enormous statue of a sheep.  If any animal deserves a statue in NZ, it’s the sheep!

And then there was Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Or rather there wasn’t.  Every other snowy mountain-top sparkled in that clearest and bluest of days - except for Aoraki, which remained resolutely hidden under a vaporous cloak of clouds.  So I pointed my camera at where I was told it was and took a picture.
* * *
The most obviously wonderful thing about the sporty little town of Tekapo is its lovely, large, blue lake.  And the most obviously wonderful thing about the lake - apart from its heart-stopping scenic setting - is the Church of the Good Shepherd.  You can see classic views of it on Google.
It is truly a magical and uplifting place to be - and its spirituality is enhanced when you get inside.  It’s normal for churches to have flamboyant stained glass in the east window - the window behind the high altar.  But here at Tekapo there’s none of that.  Instead, a clear-glass ‘picture window’ lets you look out, beyond the simple wooden cross, to the amazing view across the lake to the mountains.

Much more liberating than any stained glass I ever saw.
This picture was taken just as it started to rain and just after some Japanese tourists arrived.  I watched them take endless photographs of each other as I dug into a bacon-and -egg pie.

(They love their pies in Australia and New Zealand.  There’s nothing edible that can’t be eaten in a pie.  I bought a Full English Breakfast Pie in Te Kuiti just to see what they'd put in it.  There was bacon, baked beans, a small hash brown and some muchrooms in a lusciously creamy scrambled egg sauce.  It tasted wonderful.)

This statue right next to the church is of ‘McKenzie’s Dog’.  The inscription is very worthy but the truth is that Mr McKenzie used his dog to rustle hundreds of sheep from local runholders.  So much so that this part of NZ is known as McKenzie Country.

* * *
I spent my fourth NZ night in a remote campsite at Fairlie.  I threw crumbs to the birds - chaffinches and hedge-sparrows - and wondered how on Earth these old friends of mine from home had managed to fly all this way.

I looked up into a cloudless sky and realised for the first time that these were the southern heavens I was looking at; even the stars are different here...

I worked out that the distance I had travelled from Newcastle to this lost and peaceful place was 14,177 miles - 22,816 kilometres.  By my planning calculations, I had reached another milepost on my journey; I had covered almost exactly half the distance.  This was my half-way point in miles travelled.

A small stream (still commonly called a ‘creek’ in New Zealand) ran by my campervan and murmured me to sleep.


Bentonbag said...

Lovely piece of writing

Val said...

Wonderful reading your journey of discovery.
Not least of which L&P...mmmmm

Hildie said...

It just looks too much fun for one person to cope with ....
I don't think
we'll ever get you
to settle down
after your latest adventure!

You are SO
loving it ...aren't you?

I know you haven't got much time to write ... so thanks for what you've managed to tell us so far.

Keep on having fun.
Thinking of you. X X X