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High Jinks and Hiking

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Happy New Year! 


2011 exploded into Sydney for us in a whirl of sparkling shiraz, dinner for nineteen in the garden (with children in the pool between courses), party games, and even a bit of Scottish country dancing—which left our predominantly antipodean guests shaken if not stirred. The Sydney fireworks transformed the skyline with an exuberance of light and colours, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge glittering and flashing as a gigantic centerpiece.


The reason for the radio silence since the New Year, is that in what might be seen as a radical type of post-celebration family detox event, we set off immediately for a five day walk in New Zealand. Given the Drama Queens’ regard any event involving use of their feet for longer that five minutes as a “trek,” you can imagine the enthusiasm with which they greeted the news that this Christmas family holiday was going to involve a real live trek of previously unimagined walking distance—seventy-one kilometers, to be precise. 


In an effort to keep their spirits up, I had perhaps overemphasized the flatness of this particular walk—the Queen Charlotte Track at the top of the South Island. If I said there was a disbelieving chorus at the sight of what looked like an almost vertical track leading straight up the nearest large hill, I would be lying. They were in fact too stunned to utter a word as they silently turned and watched the retreating ferry that had dropped us so cheerily off at the start of the walk.


We did in fact have a fabulous time. The weather cooperated, the scenery was absolutely stunning, and the Queen Charlotte Track—while definitely not flat—is a very civilized walk with a number of options on the accommodation front for every night.




Best of all, you can send your luggage on ahead each day by ferry, so that you are only walking with a day pack. My ultimate secret weapon was I had persuaded the brother imported from the United Kingdom that his Australian trip should include some bonding time with his nieces—and where better to do it than marching across the glorious New Zealand countryside for hours at a time? The biggest day was twenty-four kilometers. True to form, all the teenagers skipped through it, while I plodded up hill and down dale in their wake, pondering how long it would take before I developed the bulging calf muscles of a hobbit.


I’m dreading tomorrow, as I have to take my parents to Sydney Airport to depart back to the United Kingdom after a month with us. Sydney Airport is the most emotional place I know—I’m amazed Kleenex haven’t set up booths at the international departures and arrivals gates. By definition, if you are flying in or out of Sydney internationally, you are generally going a fair distance, and goodbyes and greetings are so emotionally charged that I find my eyes moistening at the dramas of complete strangers. The Drama Queens find this particular manifestation of maternal madness particularly humiliating. Even with the speed of modern life, I still know that with the best will in the world, until teleporting is invented, my parents will continue to be twenty-four hours worth of travel away—at the moment of parting that seems an almost unbearable distance. I do, however, write mental notes to myself at this point and think of the early settlers who were talking a sea voyage of months to even receive a letter. The upside of the distance is that when they do come, they come for a month or more. We’ve had such a happy time this Christmas that in fact, I should be counting my blessings rather than blubbing my way through departures. But I still think an industrial sized box of tissues and some dark glasses might be a sensible precaution. 

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