When you are down in the polls there is nothing like a walk in the South Island high country to clear the air - particularly with a photogenic international music star and hordes of media.
Prime Minister Helen Clark met Canadian superstar Shania Twain in a carefully stage-managed photo opportunity on the singer's farm in the Central Otago high country yesterday.
The Government flew media representatives by helicopter into the rugged hills between Arrowtown and Wanaka for the opening of the Motatapu Track, part of Te Araroa/The Long Pathway - a walkway planned from Cape Reinga to Bluff.
Twain, whose real name is Eilleen Lange, and her husband, Robert, bought the pastoral leases of Motatapu and Mount Soho stations in 2004, and gifted 28km of track through the property as a condition of sale.
The singer has avoided public appearances in New Zealand but among tussock on a mountainside, the 14-strong media contingent was told that Twain would be in the VIP party walking the track with Clark.
Initially, there were to be no questions on the hillside but, eventually, the Department of Conservation minders loosened their grip.
Petite Twain, 42, wearing a baseball cap and bright orange sleeveless vest, smiled graciously and answered questions.
Had she walked the track?
"I have not," she said sheepishly, with a giggle.
"I look forward to it."
How has she found New Zealanders?
"Very good. I find the people very respectful and kind."
Is a musical comeback on the cards?
"I'm on a permanent sabbatical."
Would she sing?
No, but she helpfully suggested the Prime Minister might instead. (Much to everyone's relief, she did not.)
Clark was asked what her favourite Shania song was.
"I'm a Mozart fan, I'm a Mozart fan," she replied.
Later, the group was flown to the goldmining ghost town of Macetown, where the Prime Minister praised the vision of the Te Araroa national walkway.
"You get to see the fantastic variety of landscape, geography, geology, environment and climate systems that characterise our incredibly diverse country."
Clark said Twain and her husband had built two alpine-standard huts, interpretation panels, track signage, route markers and formed new track where required.
Te Araroa Trust chief executive Geoff Chapple, who walked the track in three days this week, compared Motatapu to indie rock: "It's demanding, it's a little rough in places, and, like indie rock, it's inaccessible for some. But don't doubt it's music for a moment."
- The Press
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