Making friends with the locals

When you set off on a road trip it’s good form to make friends with the locals.  They come in all shapes and sizes, the locals: big and small, young and old, lively and lazy, scruffy and cute-as-hell.  Since we’ve been in New Zealand I’ve made a point of getting to know a few of them, and now is probably a good time to bring you up to speed with the best of the bunch so far.

Floyd

In Picton we spent a couple of nights at Kippilaw House, a comfortable homestay run by Margaret and Bill.  Margaret’s breakfasts are to die for, and the couple’s dogs are wonderful too. Floyd is six or seven years old, and obviously loves living in a homestay.  He greets strangers with a deafening bark, but only because he’s heard that’s what guard dogs do. 

Floyd’s bark is definitely worse than his bite.  He’s plainly delighted that Margaret and Bill welcome a constant stream of guests into their house, guests who like me are only too willing to scratch his back and rub behind his ears.  He also likes to relax on the sofa and lap up the adoration heaped upon him by every human being who happens to pass through Kippilaw House.

Clyde

Floyd shares the house with his old buddy Clyde.  Clyde’s a lovely chap, 16 years old and rather portly.  He appears to spend most of the day snoozing., content in the knowledge that his best pal Floyd is keeping the guests entertained. But when there’s the chance that a mug like me will give him some attention he wakes from his slumber and presents his ears for tickling.

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Much to Mrs P’s dismay cats appear to be a bit thin on the ground in New Zealand, but one evening in Picton we were walking out to get dinner and met a fine young fellow down by the harbour.  I greeted him warmly, and he was only too pleased to offer his head for stroking. 

At last, a cat!

In typical moggie fashion, the meeting was on his terms and as soon as he knew he’d won me over he hurried away, presumably to find another new best friend.  Poor Mrs P was holding the camera and never got to say hello to him at all. Pig sick, she was.

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Omau Settlers Motel is an unpretentious and comfortable motel near Westport, close to Cape Foulwind.  The motel doesn’t do food, so we nipped next door to the Star Tavern for dinner, where we were greeted by Guv, a giant golden Bull Mastiff. 

Actually, “greeted” is stretching a point; Guv was laid out in the doorway, snoozing. He hardly batted an eye as we entered, and probably he qualifies as New Zealand’s least attentive guard dog.  But let’s face it, built the way he is he doesn’t need to do anything to act as a deterrent to ne’er-do-wells. As threatening as Mike Tyson on steroids, nobody’s going to take risks with him.

Guv

By the time we’d eaten our dinner Guv had stirred, and the gentle giant wandered over to bid me a fond farewell.  What a lovely lad he is.

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Lee and Karen, hosts at the Omau Settlers Motel, are a jovial and friendly couple who share their property with two dogs.  The older of the two likes eating carrots. Or maybe he just tolerates eating carrots until he’s offered something more enticing?

Snacking on carrots

But the undoubted star of the show is Alfie, or Alfred the Great to give him his full name.  He’s a nine months old Chihuahua, and probably the cutest dog in New Zealand. I fell in love with him instantly, and even Mrs P – who prefers cats to dogs – was smitten.

Alfred the Great, a.k.a. Alfie

Within seconds Alfie and I were the best of friends, so Karen took a photo and a minute later I was starring on the motel’s Facebook page (see below). 

Alfie is a great dog, and so tiny that I could easily slip him in my pocket and kidnap him.  And believe me, I was so tempted …

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Of course it’s great to make friends with the locals and, as you can see from the preceding paragraphs, I’ve been free and easy with my friendship since arriving here.  But what about the other way round; what if the locals take a shine to us?  

And here we have a problem.  After leaving Cape Foulwind we’ll be heading south along the west coast, the land where the sandflies rule.  We read up about the Sandfly Menace back in the UK and since arriving on these shores countless Kiwis have warned us that these tiny insects are likely to make our lives hell, biting and sucking our blood until we’re begging for mercy.  

So, while I’m always pleased to make friends with the locals, I sincerely hope this particular gang won’t want to make friends with us.

Kaikoura dolphin encounter

Our third Kaikoura boat trip in a little over 24 hours sees us venture out to sea in pursuit of dolphins.

Most of the people on our trip are going to swim with the dolphins, and are therefore ushered off into a back room at the Dolphin Encounter offices to get fitted out with wetsuits and bright yellow flippers. Neither Mrs P nor I are strong swimmers, so instead of taking a dip we’ll stay on board and watch the action from the comfort of the boat.

The boat slips out of Kaikoura harbour and speeds off to where the dolphins were seen by another group this morning. The pod is soon sighted and the skipper edges as close as he dares, then switches off the engine. He sounds the ship’s siren, which is the sign for the wetsuit warriors to slip off the back of the boat and wait in the water for the dolphins to pay them a visit.

At the briefing before we set off we were all reminded that dolphins are wild animals and may not be in the mood to interact with the crazy humans who wander into their territory. Any interaction will be on their terms, and the wetsuit warriors are advised of the etiquette and protocols of swimming with these intelligent and lively animals. There is a real danger that the dolphins will take one look at the motley bunch of swimmers, and promptly bugger off to somewhere more peaceful.

But we needn’t have worried. Dolphins are naturally curious, and the pod we have located seem anxious to check us out. They swim alongside and beneath our boat, circling us madly like wasps around a Devon cream tea, and then head on out to the excited wetsuit warriors to make their day too.

Not content with whizzing round the boat like Mark Spitz on steroids, some of the dolphins decide to show off their skills as gymnasts, leaping clear of the water and putting on a high octane performance of improbable twists, turns and spins.

Chris Packham, a noted UK naturalist and television broadcaster maintains that animals do everything for a reason, and have no concept of “fun.” But watching the dolphins strutting their stuff around out boat and amongst the swimmers, I find this impossible to believe.

There’s a whole ocean out there and yet the dolphins have chosen to check us out. We are slow and clumsy and therefore no threat to them; they are the masters of their environment. Nor are we inducing them to hang around with food, as we did with the albatrosses earlier in the day. Sorry Chris Packham, I love you dearly mate, but you’re wrong about this.

These dolphins are here because they’re having fun. They’re having the time of their lives, and so are we.

Where goats get to be President

It can happen anywhere, I suppose. Ordinary citizens who are quietly minding their own business, living decent lives and doing no harm to man nor beast, go to bed one evening and when they get up next day discover they’re being ruled by a goat.

As I sit at my laptop writing this I can think of at least two great nations with proud histories that are currently each led by someone whose demeanour and behaviour compare unfavourably with your average goat. I’ll leave the identity of the nations and individuals in question to your imagination!

But it’s not just the big boys that make unconventional political choices. Mrs P was telling me the other day that while we’re in New Zealand we’ll be passing close to the tiny Republic of Whangamomona.

Heard of it? Probably not. You could check it out on a BIG map of New Zealand, but take care not to drop any biscuit crumbs or you’ll never find it.

In 1988 the citizens of this unremarkable little town on New Zealand’s North Island showed their contempt for the local council by declaring Whangamomona a republic. Eleven years later, Whangamomonans plainly decided that a further protest was required, at which point local goat Billy the Kid was elected the town’s first non-human president.

PHOTO CREDIT: From Pixabay via Pexels

Billy was followed in office by Tai the Poodle and Murtle the Turtle, although when the latter died in 2015 Whangamomona seemed to suffer a crisis of confidence and elected one Vicki Pratt as president, albeit against her will.

I can’t help admiring free spirits, individuals and communities that don’t take themselves – or life in general – too seriously. For this reason we’ll be sure to take a side-trip to Whangamomona in a couple of weeks, and drop in at the local hotel for lunch and to get our passports stamped.

Stunts like this are harmless fun, and also good for business if they encourage people like us to visit and spend money there. Across the world communities are always on the look out for the big idea, something that will make them stand out from the crowd and get them on tourists’ itineraries. In Whangamomona it’s all about republicanism in general, and goats in particular.

By way of contrast, as we discovered to our amusement a couple of years ago, one small town in Newfoundland, Canada, has banked everything on calling itself Dildo to bring in crowds of curious punters all hoping to feel earth move.

Makes Whangamomona seem almost normal, doesn’t it?