Opinion: a touch of Southern comfort…

Images via CC

By Peter Carr

I have just returned from a five-day swing through the South Island addressing residents of retirement villages.

They are lovely people essentially over the age of 65 full of life, fun and interest in a myriad subjects. This visit involved some long hours behind the wheel of a rental car and temperature ranges from very cool (Invercargill) to very warm (Nelson). Knowing that I was to undertake this journey my editorial boss asked me to cover off some observations re the South Island. So here we go.

Alighting from a plane in Queenstown to make speaking calls there, in Arrowtown and Wanaka it was apparent that this part of the country is very much alive and well – although the real estate prices in Wanaka make me wonder if we are on the same planet. Driving over the steep and windy Crown Range twice in the same day is not for the faint hearted nor the long, straggly subsequent road all the way to Invercargill in the subsequent evening. Invercargill on the evening of a national holiday is not exactly bustling but the beckoning late evening lights of Speights Ale House brought a pleasing ending to an exceptionally long day after an early start in Cambridge.

Traffic ‘down there’ is much thinner numerically and either the road police are on holiday or perhaps away on a course. Good and sensible road speeds can be maintained whilst passing through the sheer beauty of Southland. This is a great part of the country although the westerly wind-blown trees down towards the southern coast bear witness to ensuring extra pegs on the clothesline.

From my Invercargill presentation I started to work my way towards Christchurch over three days blighted with non-stop windscreen wipers and cold temperatures all the way to Timaru. A warning for the wise – when heading out of Dunedin on those steep northerly hills make sure you have plenty of gas in the tank. The small village that eventually provided carbon laden relief also houses a lovely bakery with the window-top name ‘Artisan Bakery’. This is a village shop supporting a very small population, but I imagine this well-run establishment has a passing traffic attraction similar to the pie shop in Fairlie.

Most of the petrol stations along the way appear to be operated – at a distance – by several South Island bulk operators who do not exist north of the Cook Strait. They should for here in Cambridge the prices are criminal in comparison to their South Island counterparts. The Chamber of Commerce made a half-hearted effort a few years ago to persuade them to take a more reasonable line, but to no avail. Take heed fuel retailers as the Gaspy app now available tells the tale geographically in comparative terms very well.

Hospitality in the south is legend. Generous, warm people who understand how to deal with relative remoteness, clear cool skies and winter chills. Hardy folk where politically driven power prices ensure greater longevity for ongoing employment – witness the decision about the aluminium smelter. Looking back, I am amazed that the government of the day (and I think it was National) failed to ensure that the power lines emanating out of the massive Manapouri power station did not (and still do not) have a route heading north.

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