Fear in Writing: Write Around the World: New Zealand by Debbie Cowens

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Friday, October 22, 2010

Write Around the World: New Zealand by Debbie Cowens

Today we stay in the Southern Hemisphere, but travel to the land of beautiful vistas and abundant outdoor sports. It's New Zealand, and taking us there is Ambassador (writer/blogger) Debbie Cowens (for the literal-minded, she's not really an ambassador). Take it away, Debbie!

I guess I should start with the basics. New Zealand or Aotearoa (meaning ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ in Māori) is an island country in the Pacific Ocean with Cloud a population of about four million people and about 40 million sheep. (When I was a kid in the eighties it was more like 70 million sheep.) More recently we’ve become known as the place where Lord of the Rings was filmed but we kiwis* like to think there’s more to our homeland than woolly ruminants and hobbits. Some of us, myself included, have never even met Peter Jackson or owned a sheep.

Most New Zealanders live on the two main islands – the North Island or the South Island. I live on the Kapiti Coast of the North Island, about 50 minutes drive north of Wellington, the capital city. I’ve lived here for nearly seven years now but it’s only this year I’ve started writing mystery fiction set in the Kapiti area.

I’ve found the community of Kapiti has a different feel to other New Zealand suburbs or cities I’ve lived in. It’s a combination of a friendly, relaxed beach atmosphere and a local predilection for arts and crafts events, enjoying the great outdoors, and a tendency to organise a fair, sausage sizzle or gala to celebrate or fund-raise for pretty much anything. The Wellington café scene has also seeped up the coast which is great for espresso-guzzlers like me. Yet despite this bustling atmosphere, there’s a strong sense of remoteness to the area. Perhaps it’s the sense of distance and isolation that permeates all but the most densely populated urban areas of New Zealand. Geographically, we’re isolated, over 1400 miles south of Australia. A person does not have to travel far from the cities and farmland to be surrounded by a landscape that looks, and indeed was, untouched by humans for millennia.

I’ve found this to be especially true in Kapiti. If you venture out onto the beach early in the morning or on a windswept winter day, you may see no one, only sand and waves stretching out towards Kapiti Island, one time home of the mighty warrior Te Rauparaha, chief of the Ngati Toa tribe, who composed the haka now famously performed by our national rugby team the All Blacks before every match. On a sunny day, however, the beach teems with people and children splashing in the sea while seagulls lurk around the shore and nearby playground, hoping to scavenge left-over ice creams and fish’n’chips.

Kapiti has numerous parks and nature reserves which I adore. Many days I’ve gone for long walks through native bush and towering Nikau palms without catching a glimpse of another person. Take a weekend stroll on the scenic Otaihanga trail along the Waikanae river and you’ll see just about every dog-walker in the area.

For me, it’s these two obverse sides of Kapiti that dominate my writing of it. The seeming contradiction of a haunting, timeless landscape with the colourful community, heavily dominated in demographic terms by retired people and young families. I’ve found it to be an ideal setting for a mystery. A place filled with quirky characters and a warm vitality, yet it’s perched between the ocean and the feet of the Tararua mountain range. It’s a landscape that captures the primordial beauty of nature but also its elemental danger. The sea, the bush and the mountains can inspire us but buried secrets and bodies can lurk beneath the surface.

* New Zealanders often call themselves kiwis after our national bird, not the fruit.

Thank you, Debbie, for this journey through a beautiful world. You are a lucky woman to live in such a magical place. If you'd like to read some of Debbie's work, here is a link to one called "The Show of Wondrous Creatures." You can find more stories in the right column of her self-titled blog.


  1. SOunds like a wonderful place to live!

  2. The beach, the sun rise and the idea of bodies below the surface -- what more could you want? Think I'll skip the sheep, if that's okay?
    Beautiful descriptions. They make me think of moving.

  3. Michele - Thanks for hosting Debbie.

    Debbie - Thank you for this wonderful post. I've been to New Zealand twice, and your post reminded me of what a wonderful time I had there, and how I must go back. It is a wonderful place.

  4. is there a chance for me to get adopted by Debbie, I'm a good and non-demanding child and I always wanted to live in the Kiwi land :))))

  5. Debbie, it sounds like a wonderful place. It was interesting learning new things about your country.

    Michele, these posts have been interesting, entertaining and enlightening. Thanks so much for putting it together.

    Thoughts in Progress

  6. Wonderful to learn more about the world. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone. :-)

  8. New Zealand has to be the most diverse country in the world.

  9. What a beautifully descriptive post! Thanks, Debbie for sharing so eloquently, and thanks, Michele for haveing her on.

    Looking forward to tomorrow when you'll be hosting the Hugs Therapy Virtual Tour 2010 on your blog, too!

    Marvin D Wilson

  10. I have many friends and family from Australia but not many (well, besides you) from NZ. I think it's a beautiful place and would love to see it someday (if I can force myself into an airplane). I know not everyone owns sheep but seriously, I would love to. Seriously. A whole flock. Maybe two.


  11. I'm saving for a trip to Aussie & NZ once I retire - I'd love to visit :)

  12. Hi Debbie,
    Years ago (many of them) when I was hitchiking around Europe, I used to run into Kiwis all the time. The custom in those days was for a gang of you guys to crowd into a VW minivan and "do" the continent.
    Time after time I'd hear "We have that."
    Example: there I am, looking at an Alp. And some nearby Kiwi would remark. "We have that."
    Ditto Fjords in Norway, and beaches with palms in Spain and...you name it.
    More years went by. I was in the Yellowstone National Park in America looking at a bubbling hot spring.
    And I heard it again. A guy with a Kiwi accent.
    "We have that."
    Frankly, I thought it was an excess of national zeal.
    Until I got a job in Sydney and took over regional responsibility for two offices we had in NZ, one in Wellington and the other in Auckland.
    And I started spending a lot of time in NZ.
    And discovered that you do.
    You have it all!
    My grandfather was a Yankee sea captain. Even more than me, he visited a lot of places in his lifetime.
    And his favorite of them all was New Zealand.
    And he would have stayed there, and I might have been born there if there hadn't been an incident with the daughter of a sheep farmer.
    But that's a family scandal that we never talk about.
    So much to see.
    Every short drive brings you into a different landscape.
    Don't try it in Brazil.
    You can drive for a thousand kilometers - and nothing changes very much.
    I love it.
    And have many happy memories.
    Thank you for calling some of them up in your post.

  13. Sounds so wonderful! This post makes me so wistful to go. My dad went hunting tar in NZ and brought me back tons of pictures. But it still wasn't satisfying enough. :o) I want to see your beautiful country for myself, Debbie! Maybe someday... lol.

    Thanks for sharing and hosting, ladies!

  14. Thanks for the lovely comments folks. It's great to see it's helping to tempt people to visit NZ or evoking fond memories.

    Leighton - thanks for sharing your experiences of kiwis and NZ. The 'we have that' comment made me laugh. I can imagine several people I know being saying that. :-)