New Zealand - 2005

Journey to the Land of the Long White Cloud
March, 2005

When the Polynesians first arrived on these islands in their fleets of carved wooden canoes, they called this place the “Land of the Long White Cloud.”

Beautiful as that name sounds, when my friend Daryl Stewart and I began planning our trip to New Zealand, we hoped this name might not come true during our stay. It’s almost 10,000 miles from Washington DC to the most isolated nation in the world.  We hoped the weather would cooperate when we got there.

But as I left the U.S. weather wasn’t topping my list of concerns.

In fact, I should have predicted this was going to be a rather unusual vacation from the beginning! For the first time in all my travels I got sniffed out by a bomb dog!

The bizarre experience occurred as I passed through the security line at the LA airport. I was surprised and totally non-plussed when this big black bomb-search beagle stopped directly at my side.  I couldn’t believe he was pointing me out. I felt everyone regarding me suspiciously as the woman inspector who held his leash pulled me aside.

Eyeing me carefully, the uniformed woman searched me. She couldn’t find anything wrong. The dog was sniffing directly at my backpack and wouldn’t budge.

“Take out all the contents of your backpack,” she ordered.

Puzzled, I obeyed her.

No bomb, no explosives. No scissors or knife. Nothing remotely illegal dropped to the table.

“What did you have in here that you’ve removed?” she asked, examining the empty pack. An obviously senior traveler, I knew I looked innocent of terrorist tendencies.

I frowned. Nothing came to mind.  Suddenly it dawned on me. “I bet it could be that bologna sandwich. I made one at home and ate it at Dulles Airport while I waited for the flight,” I confessed.

Her stern demeanor softened. Bomb dogs, trained to detect all kinds of dangerous objects, can also react to the smell of food, she explained. She sent me on my way.

However, this minor glitch in my departure left me mentally chewing over that long gone bologna sandwich. I began to wonder whether this unnerving little episode could be a sign.  I have to admit that it may be ridiculous, but occasionally I feel superstitious and sometimes I’m sure I have ESP—and often my vague premonitions have come true!

Could the bomb dog incident be a preamble to what might lie ahead? What else might surface as I explored this faraway country with my friend Daryl Stewart?

Daryl, in fact, was the reason I was taking this trip.

A good friend from when I worked at the University of Maryland, Daryl Stewart is also now retired. However, that hardly describes her very active life. She is the hard-working owner of a beautiful horse farm located at the foot of South Mountain in Maryland.  She manages this 200-acre farm in
conjunction with her daughter Kim who is a leading horse trainer specializing in hunters and jumpers.

With 30 or 40 horses boarded in their stables along with keeping several brood mares of their own, the two work overtime keeping up with the animals, stables, an indoor riding ring, barns, fields of hay and the many other responsibilities that keep the horse business functioning smoothly.  Daryl is the most knowledgeable person I know on farming and equine management, and that’s precisely why she called me in January.

“Do you want to go to New Zealand with me?” she asked.

Her question took me totally by surprise. I know she has little time or inclination for international travel.

She explained: her daughter Kim had just returned from New Zealand. She loved the South Island, especially the area around Motueka, an isolated community on the northwest seacoast.  A center of green tea, hops and fruit growing with an emerging crafts community, this village might be a good
place for a part-time horse farm or vacation home, Kim told her mother.

“Why don’t you go take a look for yourself?” she suggested.

You can guess my response to Daryl’s travel question.

“When do you want to leave?”

Six weeks later we were off.

[Go to New Zealand Part Two]