Scenery: it all depends on your point of view

ALASTAIR PAULIN
Last updated 08:29 30/04/2012

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Alastair Paulin

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I'm back in the saddle in Motueka after a five-week holiday in California.

You hate me already, don't you? In just the last five words of the opening sentence, I bet I managed to make you roll your eyes four times. Holiday? Five weeks? In California? In spring?

But I had terrible weather there! The warmest day I had was when I stepped off the plane on my return to Nelson a couple of weeks ago.

During five weeks in and around the San Francisco Bay area, mostly it rained, it snowed a couple of times and I never once wore the pairs of shorts I had packed. It was like living in Dunedin again.

That is all true but the main reason I'm telling you this is to undercut any resentment that may sneak in after you read "five-week holiday in California".

Rest assured that a break away only confirms what we all know deep down: that we are lucky to live in the best place.

For some of the time we swapped houses with a family who live in the country just outside the quaint Gold Rush towns of Nevada City and Grass Valley in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a couple of hours east of San Francisco. It is an area we used to visit on summer holidays when we lived in San Francisco, and locals told us it has become a favoured residence for the newly wealthy retirees of Silicon Valley.

We loved the area for a glorious wild river, the South Yuba, and the several nearby trails that at this time of year host some of the state's best wildflower meadows. But a clear-eyed appraisal this time left us indifferent to its charms.

Meanwhile, our house-swappers in the Motueka Valley, who we could tell from photos in their house were accomplished world travellers, were raving about our region as being "paradise" and having the "best holiday ever".

The irony that they were enjoying Nelson's best spell of weather all year while we were getting a rare snowfall at their house was surely part of that, but our comparative reactions to our environments reminded me that when you grow up in New Zealand, you tend to develop into a scenery snob.

Our baseline of beauty, from the Bay of Islands to the Catlins and from Cable Bay to Wharariki Beach, is just so far above most of the rest of the world that when locals elsewhere take us to their picturesque places, we have to fake enthusiasm.

Many times in America, when shown some mountain, lake or beach, I've politely agreed that "yes, it is very pretty", while inside I've wanted to bust out like a Texan, whose standard response to anything is "We've got that in Texas, only bigger". But it is not in the Kiwi psyche to boast, so I doubt I've ever actually said, "We've got that in New Zealand, only prettier".

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We may be loath to boast but the flip side of our reticence is our desire to foot it with the big guys on the world stage. That is why we are suddenly bombarded with news about Kiwi singer Kimbra, the featured vocalist on Gotye's US chart topping song Somebody That I Used to Know, a song that shadowed us around California.

It seems a classic case of the Kiwi cringe, where we crave validation from beyond our shores before we can fully embrace our talent, in the way local television shunned Flight of the Conchords, only to watch America's HBO turn them into so much more than "New Zealand's fourth-most-popular folk-comedy duo", as they liked to describe themselves.

I sometimes wonder if the traffic reports on National Radio are like that, when they dutifully report snarl-ups on the Auckland motorway. See, big cities of the world? We have traffic jams too; we must be a legitimate member of the first world after all.

Of course, this is undone somewhat by the fact that we only have one motorway worth reporting on, apparently. I'm still waiting for the traffic report that tells me I can't exit my driveway because a neighbouring farmer is moving 80 sheep along West Bank Rd, or that there is a 90-second delay to make a left turn on to Motueka's High St from Pah St.

As I sat in five lanes of traffic going nowhere for 30 minutes on the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland, which my wife claims gets backed-up "if somebody farts", I chuckled at the idea that supposedly Motueka has a traffic problem that needs a bypass to solve.

I contented myself by looking out the window at the $8.7 billion construction project that will add more lanes to the bridge, because, just like the Motueka River bridge on SH60, it is too narrow for the traffic that uses it.

I thought, "We've got that in New Zealand, only prettier".

- Nelson

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