OPINION: The always questionable proposition that you can't have too much of a good thing has been so thoroughly discredited in recent times that it has almost disappeared. But German couple Antonie and Rolf Ruhland are proof that a good thing can continue to satisfy long after the novelty of first experience has departed.
Now in their 16th annual visit to New Zealand, they had booked next year's journey before they set off on this one. They are the kind of travellers that make tourism businesses salivate, so well-regarded in this country that they have even had a letter of thanks from Prime Minister John Key, who puts such a value on the industry that he holds the tourism portfolio.
So what is it that brings the Ruhlands back, year after year? In a story published in yesterday's Nelson Mail they made it clear that their enduring infatuation is driven by a list of attractions. They talked of the country having "so many wonderful mountains, lakes and rivers". They mentioned the beautiful beaches and the culture.
Mr Ruhland is a trout fisherman and even after the impact of forestry, a burgeoning dairy industry and more fishing pressure New Zealand is still a freshwater fisherman's El Dorado when compared with most other places. Nelson is always on their itinerary and Mrs Ruhland talked of the "little city" feel, the shops, the artists, galleries and markets.You couldn't ask for a better report card, and it was rounded off with the couple's promotion of this country in Germany, where they write about it, use New Zealand furniture in their home and even grow flowers and vegetables like those they see here.
There was no mention of bungee-jumping, white-water rafting or the latest thing, a jetboat hybrid that can plunge beneath the surface and leap like an orca. Given that the Ruhlands are retired, that's hardly a surprise - and their New Zealand preferences are doubtless shared with a high percentage of visitors who come for nature's beauty, relaxation and the absence of crowds, whether or not they decide to get their adrenaline squirting.
The judgment of visitors like the Ruhlands is valuable for more than its affirmation of New Zealand's attractions. It's also a reminder of what Kiwis have all around them, and so often take for granted. It contains an unspoken message about environmental protection, genuine hospitality, seeing what's important and not letting it go in the pursuit of profit. It's about looking after what we've got, and not mindlessly copying what others have.
It's also about self-confidence. The Ruhlands say they don't see New Zealand at the bottom of the world so much as "in the middle".
Yet the world is a globe spinning in space; top and bottom depend on where you are. Bottom of the world? Come up and see us sometime.
- The Nelson Mail