I’ve always admired New Zealanders for their sense of belonging in the outdoors. Their land really is the natural equivalent of the burger with the lot – glaciers, alpine peaks, volcanoes, beaches, rainforest, even one tiny spot of desert – and, in the main, the people appear to know and appreciate their natural good fortune. It’s a connection that seems to give them an insouciance about conditions and weather that you see in few other countries. There’s little that stops Kiwis from getting out to play.
When I arrived in New Zealand a few days ago, Cyclone Lusi was bearing down on the country. This storm had killed 10 people in Vanuatu and was forecast to arrive in New Zealand with wind speeds of up to 130km/h and the sort of rainfall that would have done Noah proud. And I was about to go canoeing.
As I waited to be transported to the Whanganui River, where the plan was to paddle through its gorge for three days, I was pretty sure my Whanganui Journey was over before it had begun. The cyclone was forecast to smash into the North Island that night and there were all sorts of severe and apocalyptic weather warnings. Were they really going to let me out in a canoe? Or were we going to be sensible and sit by a fireplace somewhere sipping cocoa and telling ghost stories?
And then my bus arrived, and the safety briefing pretty much consisted of ‘righto, get on’. We were off down the Whanganui River, and we weren’t alone. Beside us, entire families packed canoes for long-weekend jaunts down the river. Young kids sat at their parents’ feet in the canoes, or splashed along in their own tiny kayaks. Did I mention there was a cyclone coming?
On our third day Cyclone Lusi gave one small flick of her tail. Winds gusted through the gorge, and half-hearted rain splashed across the river. But otherwise, instead of fury we got tranquillity. The calm before the storm remained simply as the calm, as the photos here might testify. Those Kiwis actually seem to know what they’re doing.