The road to Bluff is desolate and beautiful. But it’s also so isolated. It seems like the sort of place where people would only willingly live if they had a really good reason, like running away from extreme levels of parking fines.
The sky was grey, but the landscape had a strange brightness to it. It was like someone who was trying to be a goth, but had a naturally cheery disposition.
So what do you do when you’re in Bluff? You drive down to the end of Marine Parade and you pretend you’re at the actual bottom of New Zealand take a photo of the signs. New York 15008km! London 18958km! Dog Island 6km! It’s a helpful sign. I mean, once you get to Bluff, the only thing you can really do is leave.
A tourist family took turns at glumly having their photo taken by a sign for a B&B called Lands End, as if they needed some sort of written proof that they were at the end of the land in New Zealand. Scenic Foveau Strait was not enough.
Also along Marine Parade is the former paua house. After Fred and Myrtle were mortally disestablished, the house was sold to private owners who appear to be in the process of painting the previously aqua green house a sedate grey-blue. It was a eerie seeing the exterior of the lounge that I had previously visited in its Canterbury replica form.
But maybe that’s for the best. When we’re in Bluff, we can pretend the paua house never existed. We can pretend there’s always been an ordinary bungalow at that address.
And when we’re not in Bluff, we can pretend it’s 1995 and the paua house is open for visitors, and you can come in and have a cup of tea with Myrtle and admire Fred’s shell collection. And we can smile and be glad that New Zealand still has such wonderful people.
Heading back through Invercargill, I found my escape route was blocked. State Highway 1 had been cordoned off for some sort of celebration. Strangely, there didn’t seem to be a detour route marked out. Well, why would you want to leave Invercargill? What, do you not like it or something?
I decided to investigate on foot, and discovered there was going to be a parade in honour of the Southland Stags rugby team having won the Ranfurly Shield. The last time Southland had won the hallowed Log o’ Wood was 1959, so this was a pretty big deal for the area.
Soon the parade started, including the Stags and some special VIP guests: Mayor Tim, local MP Bill and the head of the Invercargill Licensing Trust. The crowd was ecstatic.
The Southland R was all around me, but sadly no one thought of emphasising this in the name of southern pride and yelling “The Stags reveRsed the cuRse!”
Mayor Tim gave a speech. “Isn’t it a great day to be a Southlander?” The crowd roared in agreement. Yes, it was a great day. Now, today, Southland was the absolute centre of the universe.
Mayor Tim said the whole country was talking about Southland. They were even talking about Southland in Mongolia, such was the awesome achievement of the Stags. The reaction from the crowd suggested that everyone believed this.
One of the Stags got the crowd to do the Southland rugby chant. It goes like this: “South-land. South-land.” It’s shouted in a slow monotone, like you were searching the park for your lost dog and had got a bit tired of calling his name.
I began to wonder what would have happened if someone had engaged me in conversation and made a comment to me about the Wellington Lions. Would I say, “Oh, well, you’d just better watch out because the next time you play the Lions, they will smash you!!!!!”? Or would my response be more like, “Uh, yes, good old rugby football game. With the ball on the field and through the hoop, I mean, over the net? Wait, what?”
Of course, by the time there’s a fired-up crowd lining the streets, it’s not really about rugby. It’s about a fruity little town at the bottom of the country enjoying a bit of fun and attention, and feeling like they still do properly matter.