But sometimes, it's when you're forced to stop that you meet the most interesting people. When I got a flat tire outside of Invercargill, we stayed the night with a dairy farmer turned adventure racer. He had just completed a four-day non-stop hiking, mountain biking, orienteering and kayaking race and planned to move to Wanaka to begin training professionally, but when he told us about his parents' farm, how they had the best herd of dairy cows in the area and how people came all the time, asking to buy some of their stock, you could here the pride in his voice. When we had to stop in Dunedin a few days to work on our grad applications, we stayed with Simon, from the Solomon Islands, and Ivica, from Croatia. In keeping with the exuberance of Croatian hospitality, dinner was ready and waiting when we finally rolled in at 9:45pm, and Simon made us fried bananas with ice cream while telling us about his island. We were so warmly welcomed, we stayed two more nights.
Yesterday, we attended the little Anglican Church in town, built strategically to have a beautiful view of the glacier framed by trees, only now the glacier has retreated a good six kilometres at least and the river is threatening the bank. There were four of us there for the service, Michael and myself, Mike, a Conservation warden turned plumber working at one of the hotels in town for the last six months, and Rowinia, the minister, a woman brimming with warmth and sincerity, who'd arrived in town just three months ago herself. Rowinia is of Maori ancestry, and in Maori tradition, introductions don't tell what you do, but who you are and who your people are, so she told us who her parents were, where they were from, and who their people were, naming names and places on the North Island that were mysterious and impenetrable to us. The opening greetings were given in Maori, and then after belting out "What a Friend we have in Jesus" with a slight country twang, we did the best we could with a reprise of the last verse in Maori, luckily a language that is pronounced mostly as it's written. This is Rowinia's first posting. She is, as she told us herself, fresh out of Bible college, despite being middle aged. Before, she worked as a nurse, first at the women's prison in Auckland, and then in more of an office-type setting, but she got bored. She is, she says, "a behind the bed kind of person". She heard they were looking for a nurse on the Chatham Islands, a group of about 10 islands, 850km east of Christchurch, in the South Pacific Ocean, so she went. Only two of the islands are inhabited, with about 600 people living on the larger one. The rest are home to shorebirds. The people are hardy and self-reliant, accustomed to living without a supermarket and hardware store. They raise sheep and harvest freshwater crayfish from a lake that covers a third of the island. It's "full of food, just full" Rowinia tells us. It's obvious the island is a place she holds dear. She says she'd like to retire there, or to its sister, Pitt Island, 25km to the southeast. Thirty-eight people live there. "Paradise," says Rowinia.