It's the new year and time to start a new column, writes Elisabeth Easther
In 2013, I started writing a series for the travel section called Kia Ora. Every week I'd pick a small town, an island or a suburb in Aotearoa and share some of its charms. By the time that series came to an end, I'd shone a light on more than 200 different places. Of course, it wasn't practical, or cost-effective to go to every single destination I wrote about, so when I chose a spot, aside from using the good old internet, I would also get on the blower and find a local to talk to.
• He Tāngata: Lucy Haslam
• He Tāngata: Laura Douglas
• He Tangata: Caryn Young, of Adventure World, on encounters with hippos, gorillas and buffalo in Africa, and travelling through Japan
• He Tāngata: Robin Corbett on trying to watch the rugby overseas
I'd ring libraries and hairdressers, real estate agents and schools. I'd cold-call all sorts of organisations, my selection based on what I perceived as the friendliness of their website. When a person answered the phone, I'd launch into my preamble about what I was writing, then ask to be directed to the area's biggest cheerleader. Invariably, eventually, I would find my source and, as much as I came to love all the places I wrote about, I became equally fond of the people who generously shared their time and town stories with me. Over four years, only once did I unwittingly ignite a local squabble -,which isn't too bad in the great scheme of things.
When it came time for Kia Ora to be out to pasture, the natural thing to take its place was He Tāngata because, as much as I loved the locations I wrote about for Kia Ora, it was the people who made the most lasting impression and a new series emerged.
It has been an absolute privilege to write He Tāngata but, after three years, it feels like the time to freshen things up and so Hōpara is born. The name means explorer, and I'll be talking to well-travelled individuals who have amazing tales to share, and we'll find out more about how their adventures have influenced their lives. Occasionally we will also solicit stories from you, our readers, because we care about what you think and we want to learn more about where you've been and what you've experienced.
To kick things off, I'll start with a couple of my memories from the road.
NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
I lived in New York in the early 90s for just three months, after I finished working as a counsellor at a summer camp in Vermont. When I arrived at the Port Authority Bus Station to find my fortune, the bus driver asked what a nice girl like me was doing going to a hellhole like "Noo Yawk".
As the doors hissed open and I clambered out with my rucksack, the man's parting words were, "You're going to be cut into pieces and put in rubbish bags."
For the first few days I was nervous, but I soon found my feet. I sublet an apartment on Avenue B and 14th, I landed a job as a telemarketer where out-of-work actors went when in-between jobs. The supervisor would listen to our calls then whisper in our headsets, "I want to hear you smile". They offered to sponsor my green card as my exotic tones worked a treat in sales, but when it grew colder, it was time to move on.
Skating all over Manhattan, a man in Central Park told me, if he hacksawed my brakes off, I'd go faster. Never it did it cross my mind as I went back to his apartment that he might be the one to chop me into pieces, and he was right: I did go faster.
Many years later I was living in the UK and learned I was pregnant, so I decided to return to New Zealand. As a last hurrah, I visited Egypt.
Like many travellers, I fell ill while travelling down the Nile on a felucca. Once recovered, I was in a dusty little town near the Red Sea, when I became increasingly worried about the baby.
I found a side street doctor and in spite of no shared language, I mimed what I needed and together we fired up the ancient ultrasound machine that sat forlornly in the corner. He wasn't sure how to use it - it is possible he was not the actual doctor - but together we turned it on, smeared my belly in jelly, and eventually figured out how to work it.
When we saw the heartbeat, we were both utterly elated. I think I paid the equivalent of about 60 cents for that priceless information. Later that day I bought a tiny T-shirt with a camel face on the front and a camel butt on the back. I thought it would fit a newborn, but I knew so little about children back then, it didn't fit till he was three.
Come back next week to read the adventures of our first Hōpara interviewee. And, if you want to know more about my travels, you can read my other new column, Elisabeth Easther's Wonderful World which will appear in these pages fortnightly from next week.
After all, a change is said to be as good as a holiday.
Elisabeth Easther is a writer, playwright, actor and presenter.