11 January 2023
… the hills are conceived
in the late evening’s afterglow
and grow slowly through the night
and they are there
wet and shining in the wondrous mornings.
Part of a poem written by renowned New Zealand poet Brian Turner (Elemental, Central Otago Poems. Random House New Zealand. 2012).
We have just visited his beloved Central Otago. His words and the images of his artist friend Grahame Sydney came wonderfully alive. And best of all, we came across him in the small town of Oturehua, population 30 – 40, where he lives. We were in the general store, itself a wonder, when in he came to buy his Otago Daily Times. Later the same day when I wandered along the road, Brian was in his garden, into which he invited me for a chat. He told me he was tackling the weeds by way of taking a break from other things, by which I assumed he meant writing poetry. In our brief conversation, I managed to mention how much I admired his work and that I had enjoyed hearing him speak at writers’ festivals. This wasn’t idle flattery – he is a spare, evocative wordsmith and I have long wanted to experience Central Otago as a result of reading his work.
The landscape, rolling hills and higher peaks, some bearing a little snow even in the height of summer, plains patterned by sun-bleached tussock grass and turquoise viper’s bugloss, and valleys enlivened by the ripple of the burns, was a dream come true. Brian says “It’s not picturesque, it’s essential, almost grand and it aches like the rhythms of truth”. The stories of the 1860s gold rush, teeming towns and overflowing taverns seem far-fetched in this sparsely populated expanse. But the Blue Lake at St Bathans, the result of vigorous sluicing for gold, and the Vulcan Hotel, where tourists follow in gold miners’ footsteps, drinking a pint and downing a feed, are there as proof.
Once in a while
you may come across a place
is as close to perfection
as you will ever need.