Escapism

Jill Worrall leaves Timaru to take on the world - bringing adventure travel to your desktop

Clean, green Aotearoa - but who's keeping it that way?

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The kindness of strangers, the rudeness of others . . . it's been a diverting past three weeks, travelling around the South Island (and briefly to Wellington) with overseas tourists.

I've seen my own country though visitors' eyes and I've fallen in love all over again with our landscapes and mostly relished our distinctly Kiwi way of doing things.

The sun shone everywhere (if erratically in some places), the rain mostly obligingly fell at night and we sweltered more than we shivered, which is not always the case in the New Zealand southern summer.

My visitors were entranced, at times rendered speechless by the scenery that we can so easily take for granted.

"Don't let anyone spoil it" they told me, repeatedly.

I tell them we're doing our best but secretly wonder if we are . . . how come so many rest areas reek of effluent, the surrounding vegetation festooned in toilet paper?

Is anyone policing what the fleets of campervanners are getting up to?

Mitre Peak freeing itself of morning cloud took my breath away but the constant drone of sightseeing planes and choppers taking off from the nearby airstrip certainly dented the tranquillity.

I've been on a helicopter trip from here myself, it remains one of my most memorable experiences but how do we balance that against possibly destroying the very essence of the places we yearn to see?

As a Kiwi I was outnumbered on walking trails at Franz Josef, on the Milford Road and at Aoraki-Mt Cook.

So why was I the one helping to foot the bill (through my taxes) for track maintenance, toilet facilities and conservation work?

I know tourists can make voluntary donations but I wonder how many do - is it time we introduced some kind of levy so that tourists too can help conserve what they travel so far to see?

While it is our environment - and the at times crazy things we encourage visitors to do while in it - that are most obvious attractions, our Kiwi way of life, our attitudes, even our accents are in the spotlight as well.

It was mostly young Kiwis serving us in cafes and restaurants with friendliness, enthusiasm and at least some degree of skill.

My UK friends especially, who spend part of the year living in the south of France so know a good meal when they eat one, were hugely impressed with our food, wine and even our coffee.

We ate superb meals at the White Morph in Kaikoura, Ma Maison in Akaroa and Church Hill café on Stewart Island (none of which knew they were going to appear in print) and munched delicious muffins straight from the oven at Mrs Clark's café in Riverton.

Akaroa's fish and chips are as good as ever and my atheist Russian tourist had a near-spiritual experience with the seafood platter at Christchurch's Dux de Lux.

I do however wonder if restaurants charging $120 for a crayfish are not letting the pursuit of the tourist dollar get a little out of hand.

I know times have changed but we used to get a cooked cray wrapped up in newspaper for $10.

Our UK visitors indulged in stays in several luxury lodges but reckon their two nights in the farm cottage on Braemar Station was the highlight. There's a lesson in there . . .

It would all have ended so wonderfully if not for the grand finale on Wellington's waterfront.

The lead-up had not been good - even the novel plastic animals instead of table numbers could not make up for the surly, appalling service in the Katipo Café (where I was sorely tempted to add a postscript to their list of the virtues of good tippers).

But the piece de resistance was the young woman in charge of front of house at a bar, which shall remain nameless other than the fact the words Dock and Side featured in it.

She snatched away my visitor's unfinished glass of wine saying she had to have the table ready for dinner at 6pm. It was 5.40pm at the time and apparently having the other 20 or so tables ready to roll was not sufficient.

I was speechless with mortification - my friends however, were not.

So there's room for improvement in Wellington - I'd suggest a little trip south for the guilty parties to find out how service and hospitality is done in places like Riverton, Okains Bay and Stewart Island.

But I'm not going to let those little glitches take the gloss off three weeks of glorious tiki-touring.

New Zealand might not be 100 per cent pure but we're a pretty wonderful vintage nonetheless.

- Jill Worrall

* Jill heads overseas again in a few weeks to cross Australia aboard the Indian-Pacific and then on to the Middle East.

Pictured above: Aoraki Mount Cook. Photo / Herald on Sunday

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