An extract from the New Zealand leg of Aidan’s world tour: > “The boat trip included a traditional Maori welcome, consisting of the presentation of a symbolic twig, a welcome to the craft, after a challenge made using a length of pole carved as a spear. A week later we heard a story of a similar ceremony before the trip where a nominated tourist was hit in the face with the spear during the challenge, resulting in the loss of all his teeth.”
The dental accident does not remotely surprise BB, given the total lack of concern that Kiwis show for Health & Safety practices. Doubtless they slapped him on the back to help him spit out the last few fragments of molar and said, “Are y’alright? Good fer you!”
Coming from a country that is swathed in a cats cradle of H&S legislation and increasingly litigating to close the remaining holes, this care-free attitude can be refreshing. BB wasn’t sufficiently refreshed to cast off our worries and join the Great White Shark Dive in Christchurch (“No diving experience required!”), but we were frequently exhilarated by taking a campervan around narrow hairpin bends with a sheer drop, no crash barrier and an unknown potential for oncoming traffic. (“Of course there’s no barrier! Don’t drive off the road, ya dummy!”) Or shared road/rail single track bridges whose ends are obscured by a curve in the track. The Kiwis do not worry about this, even though the road sides are often fenced by a multitude of little white commemorative crosses. Presumably they figure that, since these crosses also appear alongside straight sections of road, you’re as likely to die under a logging lorry on an open stretch as the side of a mountain. But then, they probably also drive with their eyes closed and one leg resting on the dash.
Such an attitude is completely antithetical to the English, whose existence is governed by the overwhelming need for a constant source of Worry. Firstly, worrying about where the toilets are. Then worrying about punctuality, about the weather (another source of high level stress in planning a NZ itinery), about what to do during the shark dive/parachute jump/spear-waving ceremony (obviously smiling is unadvised for that last one), about dying and especially, about everyone laughing at you while it happens. This makes NZ a highly stressful country for an Englishman, a state that is not helped by the permanent lack of concern evidenced by the natives and their slightly patronising smugness when you challenge them on it with questions like “Are you sure this rope is strong enough?” You can try any one of a number of extreme and dangerous activities in NZ, and they will cheerfully strap you into the appropriate gear, give you a quick word of advice (“Don’t pull this, ok?”), clap you on the back and push you out of a boat or plane or off a high bridge with the words, “Good fer you!” These activities are generally very cheap. So is life out there.
At one point in our holiday, a hotelier regaled us with a story about a friend of his brother who offered flights in a microlight airplane and was not averse to frightening passengers with a few stunt tricks. We nodded and smiled, imagining some highly amusing incident involving airborne diarrhoea at the conclusion (which would be a fairly typical example of Kiwi humour). “But on the third flight, he stalled in the loop and crashed and they were all killed,” he finished casually. Oh. Ah. Not that kind of story then. Ha. It’s only a matter of time before the entire country is bankrupted in a massive manslaughter suit brought by the relatives of a deceased German tour party.
BB steers well clear of all that stupidity, yet even we managed to fall off a horse while there. The fact that we were a rank amateur rider was considered no barrier to mounting us on the friskiest and most strong-willed animal in the paddock.