And what if I want to take the trip myself?
'An entertaining book...[Evans] gives us fine word pictures of an incredibly scenic land and sincerely friendly people' Washington Post
'The perfect read for those seeking thrills, spills and the über-male' Glamour
'Great fun' Choice
'A humorous, entertaining and absorbing read' Waterstones Books Quarterly
'An unusual premise, but one that provides an amusing thread to her travels round one of the most beautiful countries in the world' Wanderlust
'On her hunt for the true Kiwi [Evans] learns some entertaining lessons. If you can't make it Down Under, pick up this book instead' OK!
When Polly Evans read a survey claiming that the last bastion of masculinity, the real Kiwi bloke, was about to breathe his last, she was seized by a sense of foreboding. Abandoning the London winter she took off on a motorbike for the windswept beaches and golden plains of New Zealand, hoping to root out some examples of this endangered species for posterity. But her challenges didn't stop at the men.
As she travelled, Polly reflected on the Maori warriors who carved their enemies' bones into cutlery, the pioneer family who lived in a tree, and the flamboyant gold miners who lit their pipes with five-pound notes, and wondered how their descendants have become pathologically obsessed with helpfulness and Coronation Street.
The author of the highly acclaimed It's Not About The Tapas reaches some unexpected conclusions about the new New Zealand man - and finds that evolution has taken some unlikely twists.
‘So,’ Siân, my neurologist friend, asked brightly, ‘are you going to wear one of those motorcycle helmets that covers the back of your head up to your fourth cervical vertebra, so that if you crash you’re left tetraplegic, or are you going to get one of those higher-cut ones that so that you’re killed outright instead?’
My stomach lurched. I was deeply afraid.
It had all started a few months earlier, when I’d read a survey that claimed the ordinary Kiwi bloke was about to turn up the toes of his gumboots. He was, apparently, hanging up his sheep shears and moving to the city. A new masculinity was rearing its pretty, hair-gelled head. Men were waxing their backs. In ten years, said the survey, the traditional, hirsute New Zealand man would be dead.
The early New Zealanders had been virile and vigorous. The Maori were fearless warriors. In the mid-1800s the Europeans had arrived after arduous journeys across thousands of miles of treacherous ocean. The life that awaited them was hard.
New Zealand men grew up to be strong. They slaughtered whales, panned for gold and felled timber. They learned to play rugby. Fearlessly, they drank home-brewed beer. Then something went wrong. The environment changed; the species had to mutate. Volcanic eruptions? Tectonic shifts? An overboiling of the primal soup? No. It was none of these things. It had more to do with washing machines from Japan.
With the arrival of aeroplanes and domestic appliances, the fences came unstuck for the traditional New Zealand man. What did it matter if he could mend a tractor using three bits of old wire and a pot of distilled sheep dung when spare parts were lined up at the local Kawasaki store? The real Kiwi bloke was fast becoming redundant.
The curious thing was that nobody seemed to be making much of a fuss about his demise. When other creatures have faced extinction – when the tiger threatened to roar no more, or the red-legged frog looked fit to croak – the conservationists beat their chests like gorillas whose trees just got the chop. But when the Kiwi bloke, an almost-human species, began to shuffle off to the big brewery in the sky, nobody seemed much bothered. One or two insensitive souls even breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
There was nothing else for it. Somebody was going to have to travel to the other side of the globe, to delve deep into the New Zealand countryside, to sniff around on sheep farms and poke about in rural pubs and ask the question: is the Kiwi bloke really about to breathe his last?
It was cold and raining at home in London; in New Zealand it was summer, the perfect time to hunt out a shy species on the verge of extinction from its spectacular Alpine hideaways and wave-swept beachside lairs. It looked like that somebody might have to be me.
I often receive emails from readers asking for more details about the places that feature in my books. How can they, too, find themselves squashed onto a cramped, smoke-filled, clattering Chinese bus for hours on end? How can they experience the extraordinary pain of cycling through the Pyrenees with no training, the humiliation of dropping their motorbike in the middle of the road and being too feeble to pick it up again, or the fright of finding themselves on a bolting horse with their hat fallen over their eyes and no feet in the stirrups? For anyone who really wants to do it themselves, here's my indispensable guide to travelling New Zealand à la Kiwis Might Fly. Destinations are in the order in which they appear in the book.
I hired my motorbike from Ian and John Fitzwater at GoTourNZ. They also run guided and self-guided tours. Ian and John are both fantastic characters, hugely hospitable, and their bikes and tours are fabulous. If you want to bike round NZ, these are definitely the people to talk to.
In Auckland I stayed for a few nights at The Sebel Suites on Auckland’s Viaduct. It’s a great hotel in an unbeatable location, though some guests have complained about noise from the waterfront bars so if you’re a light sleeper, you might want to ask for a room that doesn’t overlook the harbour.
I found Morris and Fay through Let’s Homestay.
In Rotorua, I much preferred the Waiotapu thermal reserve, a little distance out of town, to the more convenient Te Whakarewarewa, because it was less crowded and I was allowed to walk around on my own.
Mangapapa Lodge, where I spent Christmas with Sheena and Duncan, was wonderful and I highly recommend it if your pockets are deep, or if you just feel in need of a treat.
If you like things quirky and you’re passing through Nelson, you should definitely try to get to the World of Wearable Art.
In Karamea I stayed at the very comfortable Karamea Hotel. Another great option is The Last Resort. Oh yes, and don’t miss the cake shop.
If you’re driving or riding to Karamea via Westport, be sure to take a detour via Tauranga Bay where there’s a seal colony and the fabulous Bayhouse Café.
In Hokitika, Frances and Brian’s delightful B&B is called Teichelmanns.
Brian took me up to the Blackball Hilton, which would be another great place to spend a night or two if only Teichelmanns wasn’t so comfortable.
If you’re driving along the West Coast do be sure to stop at Pukekura (population: two). You can visit the possums in the Bushman’s Centre or, if you’ve got a dead one about your bumper, take it in for grilling across the road at the Puke Pub – this place has a BYO menu with a difference. If that’s got your mouth watering, read my write-up on the Puke Pub in the Sunday Times on my journalism page.
My kayaking trip at Milford Sound was outstanding, and a much better way to see the sound than in a tourist steamer. There are various companies that do kayaking trips, and I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the one I used. I can, however, remember that my amazing walk on the Milford Track with Chris was under the auspices of Trips’n’Tramps.
Stewart Island is wonderful, and well worth the terrible journey. I stayed at the South Sea Hotel.
If you’re driving up the coast from Dunedin, be sure to stop off to see the Moeraki boulders on the beach. They’re breathtaking.
My trek over Ball Pass was fabulous, and organized by Alpine Recreation.
My Five Favourite Roads
These are in no particular order – and big thanks are due to Ian Fitzwater of GoTourNZ for making sure I took the most scenic routes:
Pavlova paradise revisited: A guide to the strange but endearing land where Kiwis live by Austin Mitchell is a readable and fascinating observation on modern-day New Zealand.
For an in-depth history, try James Belich’s two volumes, Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders, from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Centuryand Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders, 1880-2000.
Maori and Pakeha issues are explored in Michael King’s Being Pakeha Now: Reflections and Recollections of a White Native, and in Growing up Maori, a collection of childhood memories edited by Witi Ihimaera, the author of The Whale Rider.
For an account of the lives of the early European settlers, try Station Life in New Zealand (Dodo Press)by Lady Barker. First published in 1870, it tells the story of Lady Barker’s three years living on a sheep station in the foothills of the Southern Alps.
If novels are more your thing:
The Bone People by Keri Hulme tackles the clash between European and Maori cultures.
The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera tells the story of a young girl growing up in a Maori tribe on the East Cape of North Island. It has been made into a multi-award-winning film starring Keisha Castle-Hughes.
Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff is a hard-hitting portrayal of Maori life in contemporary New Zealand. It was also made into a successful film.
Janet Frame is one of New Zealand’s most highly acclaimed novelists. She wrote eleven novels and three volumes of autobiography as well as short stories and poetry.
Katherine Mansfield was a New Zealander, too, though she spent many years living abroad. (In her later years she sought treatment for her tuberculosis in France and Switzerland. One treatment to which she was subjected involved being suspended over a cow manger for a few hours each day – the smell was supposed to do her good. Sadly, it didn’t work.)