Neil Oliver travelled halfway across the world to make his latest television series, but the truth is he could just as well have hosted a tour of his local supermarket, going down a different aisle each week, and it would still have been worth watching. Anything to spend an hour revelling in that glorious Scottish accent.
The burr was back in all its glory on TVNZ 1 on Monday night with the start of a new series of Coast New Zealand. Also back were all the other Oliver trademarks: the windswept shoulder-length hair, perma-fit neckerchief and poetic turn of phrase.
The show's second series - or the 14th all up if you count the 10 previous series of UK-based Coast and two of Coast Australia - began with the host dangling off a rocky cliff face at Charleston on the West Coast. Below him, the Tasman Sea roared like "a kind of immense natural haka".
Oliver leaned back in his abseil harness and told the camera: "It feels like I'm hanging off the very bottom edge of the wurrald!"
The rugged beauty of those consonants and vowels was matched only by the coastal scenery it was being used to describe. In Monday night's episode, that was the West Coast, from Greymouth to Mokihinui, a stretch of unforgiving coastline along which Oliver and friends explored a range of interesting history and science and everything in between.
The hour-long episode was made up of several bite-sized segments, each one presented by one of
's different local experts. A geologist, Dr Hamish Campbell, visited the Denniston Plateau, 600m above sea level, and explained the mind-boggling feat of engineering (known locally as the "eighth wonder of the world") designed in the 19th century to transport the coal down to sea level.
Maritime archaeologist Matt Carter followed Oliver's vertigo-inducing abseiling scenes with a motion sickness-inducing segment of his own crossing the notorious Westport sand bar - an effective illustration of the perils ships faced in reaching the coast (and why there were so many wrecks). The hairy voyage was helmed by the coast's most chilled-out boatsman, who after one bone-jarring drop calmly announced: "I seen a wee Hector dolphin there I think."
Later on marine biologist Jacky Geurts explored the environmental science side of the coast's white gold, putting whitebait under the microscope along the Mokihinui River, and author Riria Hotere spent some time with renowned pounamu sculptor Ian Boustridge.
Oliver's job was simply to join all these bits together, merrily gadding around in-between, looking at starfish on Motukiekie beach ("they're like the face-huggers from the Alien films!") and waxing extremely lyrical on the scenery all around him. The famous Motukiekie rock stacks were "scattered around as though strewn by a giant's hand". What words will he find to describe the Coromandel, Stewart Island and Banks Peninsula coasts later in the series?
While all of these segments were quite disparate, they overlapped just enough, and in the right order, that together they built a fairly three-dimensional picture of life on the coast.
The key is that it always came back to people - the early settlers, the coalminers, the whitebaiters, the beachcombers, the kids at Granity School which carries on under constant siege from erosion. The never ending challenges, the difficulties settlers overcame just to get there in the first place, and then to survive, make a go of it, hanging off the bottom of the wurrald.