When the Kiwi Calls by Denyse Kirsch
Published by Fillmar Publishers (soft cover) 145 pp.
A person who suddenly loses his job, especially if he is older than 60, would most assuredly find it an unsettling experience. It “unsettled” former South Africans, Denyse and Sam Kirsch - they decided to leave their home in Raanana to go on a 4-month trip which took in Australia, New Zealand and California. This book concerns their 1 month spent touring New Zealand, known to many people (James Michener included) as perhaps the most beautiful place in the world. It is written in an informal and chatty style, takes the reader along with them as they drive around the two main islands -South Island and North Island. A great part of the book is devoted to the BBH’s (Budget Backpacker’s Hostels), one of the larger chains of hostels on the islands which cater not only to backpackers, but to the general public. The hostels are in a variety of places - renovated picturesque old houses, gracious villas, clapboard cottages or outbuildings once used to house sheep. Most have gardens, beautiful grounds or are near mountains or forests, and offer wonderful views. Almost all have the essential facilities which would be obtainable in any comfortable hotel. An added inducement is that the Kirsches meet people from all parts of the world as they sit and chat in communal lounges or cook in communal kitchens, and we learn something about some unusual people. To quote the author: “Backpacker hostels were all about people... They were comfortable and homelike, often with the household pets sprawled in the doorway… From the moment we crossed the threshold, we felt we were at home amongst friends. "The wealth of photographs in the center of the book, much of it against a background of blue water, white beaches, mountains, tropical foliage, animals, birds and/or wildflowers and the startling colourful pillars of a toilet and restroom created by Hundertwasser, lend vivid support to the author’s enthusiasm for her subject. The book reads like an extended letter, a way of writing I use when writing to my family about our travels. To put this in book form reveals both the strengths and weaknesses of this style. Most important, the book flows. It is an easy and informative read, and for any backpacker and open-air enthusiast, or anyone maybe thinking of visiting New Zealand, it gives a good general picture of the place with its casual, open-air, “lost world” type of life. The book is long on personal impressions, but sometimes short on detail -several times people and places are mentioned and I get the feeling that we aren’t told enough about them/these. The Sir Edmund Hillary Museum is something special, we learn. There follows an interesting outline about him and his family, but, as a reader, I don’t really “see” the museum. Nor do I know about Jill’s woodcarvings, although we are told that they are amazing. And a rock and mineral club collection “is a treasure house”. As readers we have to take the author’s word for it -which I do. Another small detail: the New Zealand dollar is quoted, but we have to look up for ourselves how this compares with its American counterpart. I also would have liked the small maps of the two islands to show all the places which the author mentions in the book. Another small nit: the sub-title - New Zealand Travel Tale - when put in juxtaposition with the main title - When the Kiwi Calls - first gave me the impression that this was one of those “dream "stories, a tale taken from Maori legend. But as I implied: these are relatively criticism-picking details: the book is an interesting read, tells us a lot about New Zealand and the places that the author saw and the people that she met in the islands, and leaves a good impression.