Storyteller and writer Laura Oosterbeek reminisces about growing up in the vast outdoor spaces of New Zealand.
A certain kind of magic comes from being at the bottom of the world, the end of the earth. If you spin a globe, it’s easy to miss, shadowed by continents and acres of land and sea. Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. New Zealand.
When I was young, I took the isolation for granted, not knowing of the dark forces that shadowed the world - politics and war and terror. I knew our blood was mixed with what was shed in the world wars, we remembered those men every April, but that blood was spilled on the shores of Turkey and plains of Europe.
And within New Zealand, there is isolation, separation. A sense of space and a holiness of place. Things are far apart. A half hour, or hour long commute is not unusual, if it means we can retreat to our quiet seclusion at the end of the day. Because of this, driving is a huge part of New Zealand culture. I have spent hundreds of hours in the car, staring out the window, watching the dark and damp native forest rush past in a dark green blur.
There are many roads in New Zealand, both old and new - they twist and turn, peaking mountains and fording rivers. I remember driving Haast Pass as a child, sitting on the front bench of a camper-van, next to my brother and father. The pass begins in Otago - gold country. The dirt and rivers were plundered for its gold years ago, so all that remains is the sun-baked golden grass on the shores of the ice blue lakes. From there it snakes west through the Southern Alps. The pass is glacier country, those massive ice forms carving the land; as the earth warms the glaciers retreat, slowly slowly, leaving great gashes in the earth. In winter the rivers overflow and water spills off the cliffs onto the road. The spray and fog is echoed in the deep thundering of nearby falls, hidden in the native forest.
Originally, the pass was used by Maori as they travelled west in search of Pounamu - a serpentinite stone, durable and faultless. Pounamu is taonga - treasure, and each piece is passed through the generations, from hand to hand. Now, we follow the same trail as those ancient tribes, not in search of Pounamu, but in search of our own taonga - adventure, experience, a connection with the land, with the forest, with New Zealand.