A window on the North Island

click to enlarge "Hole in the Rock"
  • "Hole in the Rock"

For those of us who are drawn to far away places, the lure of distant lands and different cultures is an irresistible urge to travel. If everything goes well each trip ends where it began – back home. It’s hard to say which part is best, the anticipation of going, the experience of being there, or the memories we bring back. For Kathy Barnett things didn’t go well and her final trip ended not back home in Whistler but half a world away in New Zealand. The memories she might have brought back were lost in a tragic accident that took her life and left all of us who knew her deeply saddened.

I didn’t know Kathy well but I admired her tremendously. On my comings and goings to the Pique Office her big smile and warm welcome often made my day, and if I was lucky she stopped for a chat. We talked about travel – compared notes on places we had been and places we hoped to go. Shortly before her last trip she joined Betty and me in the coffee shop around the corner from Pique and told us about the trip she and Bob were planning. Her enthusiasm rekindled our own memories of New Zealand and we looked forward to hearing about her adventures when she returned. Sadly that won’t happen. But here, for the record, is a rerun of my 2003 column on New Zealand’s North Island – that far away place where Kathy Barnett made her last trip.

Our tour of New Zealand's South Island took us from the flat agricultural land of the Canterbury Plains, west across the rolling foothills and rugged granite peaks of the Southern Alps, then down into the lush green rainforest of the wave-swept west coast, and finally to the ferry dock at Picton. In many ways, even in its European heritage, the South Island is a miniature replica of western Canada. But the North Island, across Cook Strait from Picton, is unlike anything back home — a landscape dominated by volcanoes, a climate bordering on sub-tropical, and a society strongly influenced by Maori culture.

Two and a half hours out of Picton the motor vessel Lynx nosed through the narrow opening into Wellington's circular inner harbour and we were treated to a magnificent view of New Zealand's windy capital city. The harbour occupies the flooded crater of a long extinct volcano, and behind the docks and warehouses of the waterfront the city runs up the steep hillsides and curves around three sides of the harbour.

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