The Lighter Side - by Wyn Drabble
This year it was our turn once again to host the extended family for Christmas lunch. It's always a fabulously festive family feast but, with about 25 revellers, there is an awful lot of preparatory work to be done, both around the house and in the kitchen.
What we did, then, in the lead-up period to Christmas, was exactly what you probably would have done; we boarded a plane and flew to Queenstown for a while.
Well, there's no point running around in panicked circles when you could be sipping some fine Central Otago wine while looking out over the lake to the Remarkables.
It was a jolting reminder of the swift passage of time to realise that I hadn't been to Queenstown for nearly 40 years. I found they have the internet down there now.
Queenstown is - if you'll pardon the pun - truly remarkable. And the final approach of the flight in starts the adrenaline pumping. It's a flight path that surely must push aviation rules to their absolute limit.
The aircraft buffets its way down the valley (Gibbston, I think) between mountain ranges so that the view out each side of the plane is hostile-looking rockface.
The plane seems to ricochet from one updraught or air pocket to the other before fixing its nose on a little opening between two hills and finally setting down on flat terra firma.
When we drove over the Crown Range to Wanaka the next day, there was one point where we were clearly driving at the same altitude as the incoming 737s and Airbuses. As a motorist on this road, you can offer a welcoming wave to the aircraft passengers beside you.
If the pilot is looking a little confused, you can reassure him via a series of gestures that he is indeed on the correct approach path.
Without a doubt, Queenstown is the capital of intrepid but I felt we'd done enough of that by enduring the flight path so I chose not to part with good money to leap off any bridges or mountaintops. Besides, the stress of a bungy rope yanking on my Achilles tendonitis would not do me any favours.
Instead we sedately toured and pottered in a manner more befitting our age: Wanaka, wild lupins, Arrowtown, more wild lupins, Cromwell, even more wild lupins, Clyde, Alexandra, Dunedin and fabulous St Bathans and the lunar landscape of the Blue Lake for a living history lesson.
And, of course, lots more living lupins.
It seems quite clear that everyone in hospitality or services in Queenstown is a willing participant in a programme of being kind and positive to visitors. You might expect to grow tired of being told to enjoy the rest of your evening but it didn't happen because everyone smiled as they wished you well and enthusiasm was evident in the delivery.
There were no downturned eyes, no grim or sullen faces, no chewing of gum. It was easy to accept, easy to enjoy.
Did I mention the scenery? No? Well. Queenstown also features scenery. Pictures of much of it are available in postcard form from many outlets around the town. Many of the pictures feature a foreground of lupins.
On arrival home, we certainly paid for our decision to run away from the pre-Christmas frenzy. For five days we engaged in preparations for the big day: tree-lopping, lawn mowing, weeding, watering, dead-heading the roses, barbecue cleaning, waterblasting the pavers, cleaning the windows, polishing the cutlery, dusting the lawn, making lists, making new lists, wrapping presents, decorating the dog, decking out the Christmas tree and preparing dessert for about twenty-five people.
But none of it could dim the memories of a fabulous little holiday in lupin land. And when the family festivities began on the big day, all thoughts of the preparatory work vanished into the ether.
I hope you were just as blessed and that 2013 will be a fruitful and successful year.
Happy New Year to you all.
- Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, public speaker and musician.