It’s about as far as it is possible to travel from my birthplace of Glasgow, Scotland.
I was fortunate to spend two weeks there in July this year, singing my way around both North and South Islands, on a concert tour with my good mate, the self-styled “Ashburton’s Fourth-Best Heldentenor” Simon O’Neill. For those of you who follow the opera circus, he obviously needs no introduction, but, for those who do not, he’s actually a wee bit better than his self-effacing humour would lead to you to believe, having been in great demand at all the world’s major opera houses for many years now.
Like myself, the bulk of his career is spent singing German repertoire, and, when we have appeared together on stage in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, he has played both my son and grandson, despite him being the old fart and me the sprightly youth. (He’s several months older than me.)
For the last couple of years one of our recurring pub chats concerned the possibility of doing a recital tour of New Zealand, and when we realised we both had a couple of spare weeks this summer (winter over there), Simon wasted no time in arranging one.
In the months leading up, Simon suggested that, as both my wife and I were newcomers to New Zealand, the best way to set things up would be as a combined concert tour and road trip, driving between venues, thereby allowing us to experience as much of the country as possible.
As a proud Scotsman, I bristled somewhat at Simon’s description of his homeland as the most beautiful country on earth, for surely nothing could compare with the poetic loveliness of my own native land? Ah, hubris…
The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, which translates as The Land of the Long White Cloud, and, as I hope these photographs will illustrate, never was a country better named.
I was simply blown away by the huge variety of outrageously stunning landscapes we passed through, some of which, towards the bottom of the South Island, reminded me very much of home. No surprise that so many expat Scots chose to resettle there. However, this was merely to prove the hors d’oeuvre for the sumptuous feast of spectacular vistas that awaited, so it seemed to me, around every bend in the road. And those clouds…
So many of those breathtaking landscapes will live long in the memory, the flavour of which I tried (with my usual mixed results) to capture faithfully with my trusty Nikon D750. In the South Island, the aching familiarity of the Clutha River, the hanging mist on the waters of Cromwell Gorge, the hills and plains of Canterbury Otago, early morning at Moeraki Beach with its mysterious spherical boulders, the autumnal glory of Lake Aviemore, watching a ferocious storm front moving over Mount Cook and the Alps whilst basking in 22˚C sunshine at Lake Pukaki, and the climbers’ paradise of limestone tors at Castle Hill. In the North Island, the deserted tranquility and gnarled driftwood of Pakiri Beach, the lush greenery rolling down towards Hargreaves Basin from the Kaipara Coast Highway, the cinemascopic view of Auckland from Waitākere Ranges Regional Park, and the ethereal, other-wordly light of the darkly volcanic Piha beach.
In the course our two-week busman’s holiday, we criss-crossed about one third of New Zealand, which leaves the tantalising prospect of a future, more leisurely, return visit to explore the areas we missed.
My turn now to organise a reciprocal tour of Scotland for Simon.
Boy, do I have my work cut out for me.