Jul 25th, 2013

The Dalai Lama was once asked what the secret to being happy was. Apparently he answered “being happy is the secret”

Wrong. Last week I explored an area just north of Auckland where I knew no one We were hoping to find some enjoyable walks that we could include on the first afternoon of our new Northland Discovery tour this summer.

Ninety minutes out of Auckland and barely out of urban Whangarei we stumbled into happy happy people. They helped us, had the time to talk and the curiosity to be interested in what we were up to – and to give us some fine suggestions as well.

Whangarei Heads

If Christina from the Blue Heron Holiday park was exasperated by us showing up late, blinding her and her kids with our car headlight through their lounge window as they had stories read, and generally performing collateral damage on their blissful looking family life, she didn't show it. Infact she fooled us completely and in approximately three minutes we created a lifelong friendship.  Of course I did have a secret weapon called SARAH. I had a Scottish friend visiting NZ with me who I let talk first in a grand experiment to test local friendliness. Of course as Sarah talked our Whangarei saints assumed I too was Scottish. Plan was working so far…. But I was faced eventually with a dilemma. These conversations were going so darn well I was starting to look like a complete grinning mute moron. I tried not to open my mouth in case this deep love was reserved for overseas folk only. But at some point I would have to talk and risk blowing it. Should I try and pull off a fake Scottish accent and risk being mocked or potentially knee capped by Sarah for insulting her clan? Or do I break out in kiwi brogue and risk the Love evaporating. I dropped my vowels, entered the tête-à-tête and the Love never evaporated……J Sheesh, these Whangarei folk sure are nice.

Its always been remarkable to me how kindness of people tempers the sense of place that you form. This was my experience hitchhiking through Algeria in the 1990s, astonishing hospitality + arid and lonely lands = wonderful experience. Whangarei Heads is no Algeria, but is a splendid spot in a Swiss sort of way and has astonishing natural landscapes swilling in a matrix of humanness – farms, seaside villages and roads, all festooning around the extinct volcanic plugs and bush clad hills. But the chain of excellent, enthusiastic and very happy locals we met along the way tipped this place from worthwhile to truly excellent.

Looking east towards Whangarei Heads

Is this what NZ tourism really has over some of our neighbours?  If so then when you are here you must prime yourself to embrace it, invest in some time to prod and poke and talk to random people, get rid of your hurry, give people the time to talk to you, and  above all listen.

Hell, this principle could even make Palmerston North a place of splendour (check out the John Cleese quote!). boy this is one eruked town now.  Hee hee.

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