Part 8: Everyone’s talking about it

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.

Pull the chain

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.

Bill and Tim

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.

From the Bluff bluff

Waikato vs Southland

In an effort to get 500 North Islanders down to Invercargill to live and work, a supplement advertising the wonders of Southland was inserted into every North Island newspaper on October 31.

The Waikato Times got really excited and took up half the front page of that day’s edition with articles and analysis of the promotion.

Part of that included a list of five reasons to stay in Hamilton. It seemed like something hastily written (“Quick – what’s stuff that’s good about the Waikato and what sucks about Southland?”). So let’s take a closer look at those five reasons.

1. “Gore”

Gore is New Zealand’s country music capital. Every year it hosts New Zealand’s Country Music Festival. There is a giant statue of a trout in Gore. This is nature’s way of telling us to stay away.

2. “Winter fog. Mmmm.”

I think they are referring to the winter fog in Hamilton, because as far as I know Southland isn’t particularly foggy. Ok, it is pretty choice seeing the Waikato River enshrouded in fog on a winter’s morning, but have you ever driven in really thick fog? That sucks. Fog isn’t a reason to stay or go.

3. “Cellphone coverage, TV3, Mediterranean food and decent cappucino [sic]”

Hamilton and surrounding populated areas have good Vodafone and Telecom coverage, but there are sparsely populated rural areas that don’t. Invercargill and surrounding populated areas have good Vodafone and Telecom coverage, but there are sparsely populated rural areas that don’t.

As for including TV3 on that list, I phoned TV3/TV4 and spoke to a fellow in Engineering. He said that both TV3 and TV4 were available in Invercargill, with two transmission places. It might require an external aerial, but there shouldn’t be any reason why both signals couldn’t be picked up.

So it’s a bad thing that Southland has an apparent lack of restaurants serving “Mediterranean” style food? Look, it’s not like Hamilton has a large Italian or Greek community and an abundance of restaurants with Mediterranean cuisine. There’s a handful of places with risotto on the menu. There’s some really good places with non-Mediterranean food, and a whole bunch of mediocre places. Invercargill is probably the same, and if you really crave Mediterranean food, there’s always the supermarket.

Fact: there are cafes and places in Invercargill that have espresso machines and that make cappuccino. Whether or an Invercargill cappuccino is “decent” or not, is a matter of personal taste. Talk of “decent” coffee is usually the hallmark of an insecure hicktown trying to prove it’s got sophistication. And y’know, it doesn’t make Hammo look too sophisticated when the Waikato Times can’t even spell cappuccino properly.

4. “You might end up talking funny.”

But here the Times gets it dead on. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that people who speak with the “Southland R” sound like pirates. Most New Zealanders drop the r sound if it’s at the end of a word, Southlanders don’t. For example, I would pronounce the month of my birth as “Decembuh”. A Southlander would pronounce it “Decemburr” – just like a pirate! Har har!

5. “Freedom Air”

Air New Zealand’s budget airline offers cheap flights from Hamilton to Sydney, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Melbourne, which is very convenient. Such a service does not exist in Invercargill, but Freedom does have flights from Dunedin to Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, which is not so convenient.

There are some good reasons in both lists, but there are some dumb reasons too. The Waikato is, like Southland, an area that skilled young people often leave for more exciting places. So I can’t help getting the feeling that the “ha ha Southland” vibe of the Waikato Times is all too much the pot calling the kettle black.

Disclaimer: I ♥ the Waikato Times.