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The Dalai Lama was once asked what the secret to being happy was. Apparently he answered something like “being happy is the secret”.
I travel around New Zealand frequently, renewing and rekindling relationships with the people and businesses that help us run our tours; lodge owners, rafting companies and in particular the numerous icecream shops where we gorge ourselves. I enjoy the warmth and great friendships we have built up over the years and I muse that these happy friendships come from knowing people at great length (and of course knowing me must make people happy too....).
Or maybe not. Last week I explored an area just north of Auckland where I did not know anyone, hoping to find some enjoyable walks or sceneries that we could include on the first afternoon of our new Northland Discovery tour this summer.
Happy people just keep on coming
Ninety minutes out of Auckland and barely out of urban Whangarei we stumbled into happy person after happy person. They helped us, had the time to talk and the curiosity to be interested in what we were up to – and to give us some fine suggestions as well.
If Christina from the Blue Heron Holiday Park was exasperated by us showing up late, blinding her and her kids with our car headlight through their lounge window as they were having stories read, and generally performing collateral damage on their blissful looking family life, she didn't show it. In fact she fooled us completely and in approximately three minutes we created a lifelong friendship.
Of course I did have a secret weapon called SARAH. I had a Scottish friend visiting New Zealand with me who I let talk first in a grand experiment to test local friendliness. Of course as Sarah talked, our Whangarei saints assumed I too was Scottish. Plan was working so far…
But I was faced eventually with a dilemma. These conversations were going so darn well I was starting to look like a complete grinning mute moron. I tried not to open my mouth in case this deep love was reserved for overseas folk only. But at some point I would have to talk and risk blowing it. Should I try and pull off a fake Scottish accent and risk being mocked or potentially knee capped by Sarah for insulting her clan? Or do I break out in kiwi brogue and risk the love evaporating?
I dropped my vowels, entered the tête-à-tête and the love never evaporated… These Whangarei folk sure are nice.
It has always been remarkable to me how the kindness of people tempers the sense of place that you form. This was my experience hitchhiking through Algeria in the 1990s: astonishing hospitality + arid and lonely lands = wonderful experience. Whangarei Heads is no Algeria, but is a splendid spot in a Swiss sort of way and has astonishing natural landscapes swilling in a matrix of humanness – farms, seaside villages and roads, all festooning around the extinct volcanic plugs and bush-clad hills. But the chain of excellent, enthusiastic and very happy locals we met along the way tipped this place from worthwhile to truly excellent.
Go on embrace it
Is this what New Zealand tourism really has over some of our neighbours? If so, then when you are here you must prime yourself to embrace it, invest some time to prod and poke and talk to random people, get rid of your hurry, give people the time to talk to you, and above all listen.
Highlights include the remote coastal hike on Day 2 near the Bay of Islands, the feeling of isolation at the very tip of New Zealand, the expansive Te Paki sand dunes and standing under big trees.