Arriving at Christchurch International Airport, I see a young man walking up to the rental car counter in bare feet, and then in town some kids are standing in the school yard or walking home without shoes. To be sure the vast majority of people out on the streets have civilized footwear (or at least flip-flops), but occasional barefooting seems to be a mark of New Zealand’s laid-back culture. And possibly a good omen for my visit, as I’m here for two weeks of hiking in the mountains, some barefoot and some in shoes or sandals depending on conditions.
Sunday was beautiful: sunny, calm, warm (in the 50s!) — a respite from the snow, ice, gusting winds, and heavy cloud cover more typical of February in New York. A great day to be alive and outdoors.
Driving back to the city with Odie the Labradoodle, I pulled over at a trailhead on the Long Path, figuring we’d sneak in a two- or three-mile hike. The snow had largely melted, leaving only scattered patches, so I took off sandals and stepped gingerly onto the path and found it to be a manageable mix of dirt and mud that had warmed up nicely in the morning sun. Odie scampered ahead, while I sauntered along, and soon we were clambering up the lichen-crusted granite rock face that marks the summit of Long Mountain, a 1,155-foot peak in Harriman State Park. Carved into the rock is a memorial to Raymond Torrey: