I realised that the driver of the expensive 4 x 4 wasn’t going to stop just before I stepped off the kerb onto a narrow inner city street lined with other shiny 4 x 4s and renovated villas. Perhaps I should have known better. After all, it was 3.30pm, the car was full of children and the driver – big sunglasses, ponytail and a European tan – shot me a look that clearly said it had been a trying day.
I was a little shaken. It had been 8 months since I moved away from the city to a place where there are fewer cars (although a fair number are shiny 4 x 4s), wider streets and no end-of-school gridlock even when it rains (which is does less too) and this brief encounter, on my first return visit, engaged my ‘city brain’ immediately. That’s the one that copes with multi story car parks with teeny weeny spaces, motorways and people. Lots of people.
I was thinking about this recently as I drove a friend to the airport to catch her flight back to Auckland. I’d picked her up earlier in the morning from a chalet with views of neatly pruned vines and snow capped mountains poking into the clear blue sky. Within 10 minutes we’d passed through town, left the car at the Wither Hill Farm carpark and our legs were working hard.
We were on our way to Mount Vernon, some 400 metres high, and a bench which is quite literally on top of the world. From our vantage point, the view stretched across Cloudy Bay to the Cook Strait and the North Island was a grey smudge on the horizon. It is spectacular and worth every lung -bursting step and we had it all to ourselves.
With the town spread out below, we could see the pattern of streets and patches of open green spaces and brown vineyards. The Wairau River folded itself in a silver ribbon across the valley and then fanned out across the wide lagoon before merging with the ocean.
From this lofty perspective this town doesn’t look small but by any measure it is. It’s not quite a town where everyone knows your name but it’s close. Faces quickly become familiar and I suspect that memories are long. It’s a place where online shopping is a necessity rather than a nice to have and some things, like a roundabout with a railway line and a state highway running through it, would challenge any person with a ‘city brain’.
But in a town like this, people spend less time getting from A to B and there is always a parking spot just where you need one. There is time for conversation at the supermarket checkout and it doesn’t take long for the barista at the local cafe to shake hands and share stories (and remember your coffee preference). And of course there is less risk of being shaken up by an impatient 4 x 4 driver.