I was sitting at an old wooden bar at one of Wellington’s finest restaurants when I noticed the counter had been converted into a fish tank. Beneath my glass of Sauvignon Blanc a crayfish with claws the size of oven mitts shovelled pebbles from one spot to another. Once dislodged, the stones glided through the water before softly landing, like Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. Between sips of wine I watched the cray move rock after rock right under my elbows. It was too industrious to pity so I didn’t know what to feel. But I did look down and wonder: what on earth was it doing?
Ten days later, after wine tasting my way through Marlborough, North Canterbury and Central Otago, I was walking along a river 1,000 kilometres south in the Fiordland National Park. A place of enormousness and extremes. On the other side of the river that was shifting snowmelt with the noise and force of a jet plane, from a source so high I had to crane my neck to see, nine waterfalls tumbled through trees, bounced down crevasses and slapped into the river below. The energy was so contagious I half expected the rocks to shake, as if being tickled by Mother Nature. I picked up a rock and threw it across the river. Then another. And another. I thought back to the crayfish moving pebbles in the bar and wondered if there was something up there, looking down on me, wondering what on earth I was doing.
New Zealand does that to you. It shuffles your deck and makes you consider the order of things and who’s looking in on whom. It forces you to consider not only what on earth we’re doing but whether we’re supposed to be on earth at all. It does this with such speed and exhilaration, such energy and vitality with such lip-smacking and vibrant wines, that you almost don’t care what the answer is just so long as you’re part of the adventure …
This first appeared as my monthly columns for Tim Atkin.com. Click here to read in full.