July 22, 2002
New Zealand is synonymous with tramps; Abel Tasman, Routeburn, Milford. I have a map on my wall with Great Walks highlighted.
I am too busy for hiking so far, but I did finally get a Sunday afternoon walking the volcanic Banks Peninsula near Christchurch. It was misty on those ancient crater rims. I learned all about NZ stinging nettle.
The top of the South island is home of the Abel Tasman coastal track, undoubtedly and deservedly the most popular and crowded hike in the country. But I was not there to tramp. I was there for the TOTS gymnastics competition in Nelson, the biggest and most important invitational in New Zealand.
Our team had won the Shield for best all-around club in 2001 and we were determined to repeat in 2002 despite the fact that North Harbour from Auckland, by far the best elite program in New Zealand, was attending this year. Shield points formula credits participation as well as performance — we managed to win again by a combination of good results … and bringing 56 competitors!
Nelson, population 52,000, is a classic tourist town packed with bars, backpacker hang-outs and hiking gear shops. I stayed an extra night to wander the streets, eat Chinese takeaway and walk along the river to the Marina at sunset.
We earlier took gymnasts to another competition in nearby Blenheim, a small town of 26,000 renown only as the centre of the most famous New Zealand wine district. We raced past the largest winery in the country, Montana.
Aside from good wine, we travelled to Blenheim as this meet is hosted by Marlborough man Tony Quirk — one of the great characters in NZ gymnastics. Tony is a lawyer but spends most of his time as volunteer administrator, judge and coach. He runs a great club where competitive coaches are still volunteers. We stayed at Tony’s house and I had a good chance to get to know him.
The competition venue was most excellent too. It goes to show what is possible in a very small town.
The highlight of this trip for me was the drive back to Christchurch on twisty highways, snow-capped mountains in the distance. We stopped several times to admire the scenery and take photographs of seals. One had somehow washed up almost on to the highway.
Driving New Zealand is the best way to travel. Most of the many narrow bridges are one way only.
Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography is a good read similar to, but not as essential as the autobiography of Gandhi. Everyone needs to read Gandhi’s book, My Experiments with Truth.
It is election time in New Zealand. The incumbent Prime Minister had her hands slapped when it was revealed that a painting she had donated to charity was signed but not painted by the politician. It seems certain she will be returned to power.
Voting with my feet.
– Kiwi Rick