Get Out of Town

05 Nov Get Out of Town

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 2 November 2020


Before all this Covid palaver redesigned our lives, mine involved constant travel. I recall sitting once in an airport close to Christmas, feeling a smidge travel weary, and filling in the time before a delayed flight by thumbing through my diary to count how many days I had spent away from home that year. The long and short trips round the country and the globe added up to a staggering four months out of twelve – fully one-third of a year spent sleeping in places other than my house. It certainly explained why my herb garden had gone wild, and why the cat had taken to sleeping in my suitcase whenever he got the chance. This, he possibly thought, is the only way I’ll get to see her – as a stowaway.

I travel for work, and also for pleasure. Even when I was little, and family trips generally meant I’d be carsick somewhere around Waipukurau, I still loved packing a bag – imagining what I might need for the places I imagined I might go. One of our family’s genealogists tells me there is Romany in our DNA and it feels not at all surprising. Even without the “gypsy” blood, the fact that my great-grandparents on one side and great-great-grandparents on the other travelled half-way round the world to a place they’d never seen suggests an adventurous spirit, right?

Part-Roma, part-shark, maybe – just like the fish, it is the moving forward that makes me happy. When we shifted into Level 2 that first time in May, I was in my car and driving out of the city in the first possible hours – I had grandchildren to see. But as I turned left off State Highway 1 and settled into the rhythm of rural roads, I could feel my shoulders drop and my muscles relax. The thought of arriving was joyous, but the getting there was part of the joy.

In the last few weeks, my suitcase – cat hairs removed with a lint roller – is back in regular business. Where have I been lately? Great Barrier Island, for starters. And I’m not the only one – New Zealanders hankering for a getaway have been arriving there in droves. The fabulous Orla who owns the island’s only pub tells us that, in non-Covid times, they have closed up for winter, but they stayed open this year to feed and water the kind of crowds who turn up for summer high season. Reports of the death of tourism have been somewhat exaggerated, here at least.

I’d encourage you to give Great Barrier a whirl. The locals will be thrilled to see you, and the scenery reminds of me Stewart Island/Rakiura but with the thermostat turned up about eight degrees. (That’s not a reason to not head as far south as you can, but it gives the Barrier an edge in early Spring.)

Living off-the-grid, locals are rightly proud of being the first island in the world to be awarded “dark sky sanctuary” status which makes it an extraordinary opportunity for star gazing. There are official tours, or you might get lucky enough to be invited, as we were, to dinner with enthusiastic locals who encourage you to poke your eye into their telescope and see Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons.

I am also freshly back from Levin, described once by some wag (possibly me) as the Paris of the Pacific. Many of us who grew up in small places have complicated relationships with our home town, but I liked this visit. Without wanting to come off like a crazy person, I will confess that almost all my nightly dreams are set in Levin – our old home, my school, the Little Theatre, the main street – so going for a wander there felt surreal but wildly familiar because, heck, I’m there every night.

Levin still has one of the best libraries – it was the centre of all the things I liked best as a kid (Books! Librarians! Daydreaming!) and is now literally the town’s community centre where you can borrow a DVD, play the piano, drink coffee and vote.

My diary tells me my suitcase will barely be home for the next few weeks – Rotorua, Whitianga, Tauranga, Wellington, Napier and more. Work mostly, but some days off here and there for hot pools and shopping and catching up with old friends. After months of connecting via Zoom, it will be grand to see people’s whole selves and do that hugging thing we’ve missed. Best I remember to bring some treats home for the cat.