Notes from New Zealand: Part II

The next day we awoke to the threat of rain. It wasn’t ideal weather for our planned gondola ride to Bob’s Peak, so we donned our rain gear and trekked to nearby Lake Wakatipu, a body of water shaped like a lightning bolt that heaves like a monster. The “tide” — which rises ten centimeters every twenty-five minutes — is the heartbeat of Matau, who according to Maori legend sleeps at the bottom of the lake. A benign creature, it seemed. The lake was peaceful.

Dinghies slept onshore waiting for their owners’ return, and the old paddle steamer  TSS Earnslaw bellowed black smoke, ready to ferry passengers to a picnic on the Walter Peak farm. As waves lapped the shore and storm clouds gathered overhead, the only sound to break the silence was the cheet-cheet of the fantail (pīwakawaka), who flitted back and forth across our path and fanned his tail feathers like a flirt. I sucked in the mountain air and exhaled to the very bottom of my lungs. I felt like a box of birds. Then came the scream of a thousand chainsaws …

“Where in the world is that coming from?” I asked Chris. Out of the corner of my eye I saw what looked like an enormous porpoise barely surfacing the water. Then it was gone. “Did you see that?”

“What?” Chris said.

“I don’t know. It was a giant dolphin or something. Do they have dolphins in this lake?”

“No, for pete’s sake. There aren’t any dolphins in there. It’s freshwater.” Chris pulled the hood of his windbreaker over his hat. The sky was darkening.

An old Smokercraft, the family boat

An old Starcraft, the family boat

“Look! There it is!” A twenty-foot shark shot straight out of the water. On the ventral side was a gaping orifice filled with paring knives that would have gleamed in the sunshine had there been any. It was a shocking sight by any means, but particularly because this one was fiberglass and highly motorized. I had seen a kiosk earlier with a sign warning passersby of an imminent HydroAttack! But it never occurred to me that there could be an underwater ride in a boat shaped like a shark. Not in a Disneyland sort of way. This was Universal Studios stuff.

Apparently, the Seabreacher X, designed by a guy in California, is new to Lake Wakatipu. It can travel up to 55 mph and dive five feet going 20. Tourists can breach the water’s surface “just like a real shark” and fly higher than a housetop into the air. What must the lesser fish in the lake make of it all?

What must Matau think?

The Seabreacher darted away on its enterprise, and I hoped that we could return to our pleasant stroll with the cheeky pīwakawaka. Not a chance. Now here came a bright yellow jet boat crammed with twelve tourists in a sardine-theater configuration. They hooted with glee and waved their arms in anticipation of the ride of their lives. The serenity of our morning constitutional had vanished like the imminent storm. It was time to skirt death another day.

“Looks like the sky’s clearing,” Chris said. “Should we try to make the gondola?”

The magical forest awaits

The magical forest awaits

Our original plan for the morning was to get up high to see the whole of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables, an aptly named mountain range if ever there were one. Getting to Bob’s Peak would be our first adventure, so it was no surprise that Chris took great delight in making our cable car swing back and forth up the nearly 1,500 foot incline. The Tom Yum soup I’d eaten for lunch swirled inside my stomach, and I considered the logistics of losing it overboard.

“I think we should hike down,” I said.

“Fine by me,” said Chris with the tell-tale grin of a twelve-year-old.

On the way to the trailhead we stopped to watch tourists of all sizes, ages, and nationalities whoop their way down the mountainside in multicolored luges. Part go-kart, part toboggan, the carts let gravity take their drivers to ground zero at a top speed of too-fast-for-me. Still, it was tempting. The quickest route by foot would be at least a two-hour trek of steep, winding trail. Most of the paths were cut for “epic mountain-biking,” and thoughts of what could go wrong if hiker and biker weren’t watching out for one another ballooned in my head. I wanted to stay as far away from them as possible.

Chris catches the boats

Chris catches the boats

We chose a track that followed a nearly 100-year-old pipeline through native bush and ancient beech tree forests. Within minutes we were in a Hobbit world of moss carpet and storybook mushrooms; tomtits, toutouwais, and keas; plus the hydropower waterfalls that once gave light to the village below. The trails were void of other human life, surprising considering how many tourists were circling the mountaintop. It was like a curtain of adrenaline hung between them and what they had come here to be a part of. All day the question had nagged me: Am I witnessing what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi referred to in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience when he wrote about pleasure versus enjoyment?

Mr. C argues that the state of pleasure is a more passive experience, while activities that bring enjoyment require psychic energy, or focused effort. Yet we often mistake pleasure for enjoyment and end up feeling empty—or even emptier—than before we gambled away our paycheck, ate a bag of sliders, or drank a whole bottle of Jim Beam. He says that enjoyment involves a sense of accomplishment, and even though the experience may not be pleasurable while we’re in it, when it’s over we find ourselves saying, “That was really fun” and hope it will happen again. After a close game of tennis or a compelling book, we not only feel invigorated, we grow, become better versions of ourselves. But is it wrong to shoot through the air in a supersonic shark? What’s the matter with having a good time?

Don't eat me!

Don’t eat me!

Nothing, I decided. Life is a balance of both. Take, for instance, the man who made the most mouth-watering wonderment of an empanada ever to touch my tongue. For Mauro, a New Zealand native, empanadas are an art. His tiny kiosk sits across the end of One Mile track, near the lake’s edge. On his counter sat four bright bottles of homemade sauces—aji, bagnetto, chimi, and pica oil—and behind him stacks of flaky half-moon pies swelled with slow-roasted meats. Famished from our hike, which as usual took longer than we thought it would, Chris and I ordered the lamb filling. Mauro explained that he had cooked the shoulder over very low heat for forty-eight hours. “Our lamb is from raight here in New Zealand and you won’t find any beeter,” he said and handed us the chimi sauce. “I like this with the lamb. Try it and see what you think, ay?”

I squirted the smoky mixture over the top of the warm, glistening pie and took a bite big enough for a buffalo. What did I think? I think that what I experienced with that first succulent taste of tender meat and tangy sauce was the perfect combination of his enjoyment and my pleasure.

I could have eaten a bagful.

Categories: New ZealandTags: , , , , ,


  1. As usual, hanging on your every word. So fun – every bit of it! Can’t wait to see you soon!!


  2. Wish I knew you were in New Zealand, we were there last November, I would have tried to get in touch. I fell in love with Napier


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