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Buller's Gorge and Onto The South
Swingbridge

Two Word Poem
The toad sat on a red stool
it was a toadstool.

The rain tied a bow
in the cloud's hair
it was a rainbow.

Which witch put sand
in my sandwich?

I stood upon the bridge
then I understood.

I sat on the ledge and
thought about what I know.
It was knowledge.
~ Laura Ranger, aged 7, New Zealand poet


We aren't sure what incensed us. Maybe it was all those Indiana Jones movies. Or perhaps we were starting to believe in all the brochures we were reading about New Zealand being the adventure capital of the world. Whatever it is, on a drizzly day in November, the Matthews foursome attempted the scariest thing they have ever done as a family.

We walked across the longest swingbridge in New Zealand at Buller's Gorge!

The idea was to make a 110-metre-crossing, which, trust us, feels a lot longer, on the narrowest metal bridge, made slippery from the weather, over the fast-flowing Buller River.

Andrea, the youngest and bravest, led the walk, followed closely by Mum, and reluctantly by Daddy and Jordan. "Little did I realize what I got myself into until the bridge starts swinging in the wind, over this raging river, too far to look down. You suddenly realize your entire family is right there, and one slip and we were fish bait," says Julian.

Several minutes later, we emerged, safe but shaken, on the other side. Phew! Little Andrea, we believe has a career with the Flying Wallenda family. So do you think we'd walk back? No way! We opted, at extra cost, to "fly" on what was called a Comet, that would hurtle us across to the other side on a modified swing in seconds. It was a thrill! And we were so proud that both Andrea and Jordan sat on their own individual seats, instead of sharing with their parents.

Buller's became our initiation and benchmark for our approach to South Island. After that we were gungho to do anything.

Karaoke and Carolling In The Corolla

The roads in the south are far quieter, sometimes not a single other vehicle would pass us for up to an half-hour. Even so, it would be another campervan or luggage-filled car, with map-carrying passengers. One mistake was renting a vehicle without a tape player. It only had a radio with fixed stations that worked in the cities. But that turned out oddly fortuitous, as we had to entertain ourselves for those long drives.

Andrea became official car crooner and amused us with her renditions of Pokarekare Ana, and You Are My Sunshine taught to her by her Mummy. Daddy's memory banks popped up songs like Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep and Beautiful Sunday that got the kids in stitches for the nonsensical choruses. When we ran out songs we sang Christmas carols.

For the most part, we had great company just beyond our windows. The landscapes around every bend were of undulating green hills, snow-capped mountains, turquoise rivers and endless evidence of farm-life - horses, deer, cows and lots and lots of sheep - with not a single human in sight. Yellow flowers and sometimes multi-coloured lupins garlanded the edges of the road and rocky hillsides.

Mountain View

Sometimes we would pull-over and just gasp. New Zealand's scenery fits every travel writer's cliché. And where there was sheep when we stopped, they would all stop to look up and stare back as if to say, "Who are these dumb tourists?" Andrea and Jordan always replied with the coded "Bar…Ram…Ewe! Bar…Ram…Ewe!"

Road courtesy was of the highest regard, and vehicles wouldn't overtake even when you slowed. They would hang behind until a passing lane showed up.

Every now and then we'd come across a single-lane bridge and had to be mindful to give way to oncoming vehicles. On one such bridge, we found the car trundling a little more than usual, only to notice that we were driving over railway tracks ! The narrow bridge doubled-up for passing trains as well! We swung our heads wildly back and forth 180 degrees, like Wile Coyote awaiting the Road Runner's revenge, until we got to the other side...
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