The big OE

By: Daniel Hutchinson

Daniel Hutchinson
From The Hutch

 Regional rivalry has always been a big part of Kiwi culture.

Some of my favourite sporting memories involve Ranfurly Shield matches on the terraces of the old Lancaster Park in Christchurch.

Spilled beer and boorish chanting in the afternoon sun, while the evil northern tribes tried to wrest away the spoils.

I supported Canterbury because I lived there at the time and because the Red Devils of Marlborough, my home province, were never seriously threatening for the prized trophy at the time.

Since then I’ve teased the stoic Dunedin folk with exuberant shark fins when the Makos left scars on the local team, and fake-commiserated when the sword-swinging Crusaders slayed the North Island teams.

So it was an odd experience when Christchurch-born-and-bred Mrs Hutch and I made our way down the country and across the ocean to the South’s biggest city for a family celebration.

Dropping in

Regional New Zealand shares a common curse – expensive airfares – so we usually drive to Auckland, pay for parking and then catch a cheap flight on the cheapest airline.

That’s not an option, so we headed south instead, making the five-hour trip from Taupō to Wellington and then hopping on a jet for the second half of the journey.

It’s a quick flight, and barely 30 minutes after take-off we touch down in the south. Some 200 masks and 200 sets of North Island eyes disembark in an eerily quiet airport.

Most of the food outlets are closed and our bags miraculously arrive on the carousel at the same time as we do. A Singapore Airlines plane sits conspicuously on the tarmac, but it’s the only international carrier represented unless you count the two US Air Force planes parked a few hundred metres away, no doubt bound for the Antarctic.

We meet up with relatives we haven’t seen for a couple of years, crash in the spare room and then wake up refreshed, glad to be somewhere, anywhere, in these crazy hermit-like times.

To be honest we hadn’t expected to be making the trip, with Covid leaks dripping and splashing ever closer to our patch of paradise.

Paranoia sets in

I leafed through The Press – the south’s biggest daily newspaper and one that I used to work for – when I hit the Mainlander section.

‘Should we isolate the South Island?’ poses the main headline, before several pages of stories and columns present a hodgepodge of ideas dedicated to exploring this regional republicanism. The idea is to have a border between the North and the South to keep out Covid.

I’d heard these rumblings in the days before leaving, and wondered how widespread the sentiment was. As it turns out, it’s as real as regional rivalry.

Suddenly the reason for our visit seems flimsy, as if it’s a social crime to be moving around the country. The event that night is missing plenty of people from Auckland, Hamilton and Australia. When out-of-town guests are thanked for making the journey, it seems we are the most exotic of the lot.

Eyes search the room for the cloud of covid that will surely be hovering above our heads.

Barely anyone mentions it – and we certainly don’t – but this Covid sub-plot hangs in the air.

Going incognito

We both have South Island suffixes on our driver’s licence numbers and tiny certificates that proclaim our double-vaccinated status. Neither of us is dressed like an Auckland sex worker, and I even packed an oilskin hat so I’m pretty sure we’ll be okay wandering around the city if we get stopped by the border police.

The logo on the back of the rented Corolla feels like a big, flashing ‘Covid’ sign but we don’t get pelted with rocks.

It’s hot, dry and windy as we traverse the city, catching up with family and friends – strengthening relationships and meeting new adults who were children not so long ago.

Something we took for granted is now a rare treat. Catching up with family is important, and while I enjoyed every minute, it was a relief to be back on the plane and heading home to the North Island.

For the first time, there were no pangs of nostalgia or homesickness when we lifted off from the mainland – just a warm relief that we were able to make connections with people that seem so far away.

Whether it’s Northland versus Auckland, Bay of Plenty versus Waikato or North versus South, regional rivalry is just a little bit more real these days.

I just hope every tribe gets to enjoy being together soon, regardless of which provincial flag they fly.