The Benefits of Being Unusual
“What are YOU looking at?” is definitely the look it was giving us.
I’ll never forget it:
We were sitting on the Treble Cone ski resort patio, in the south part of the South Island of New Zealand, in winter, watching a parrot sip someone’s abandoned latte.
A parrot. A latte. No joke.
“I LOVE this place,” I thought, not for the first time on our month-long trip.
The bird dipped its beak into the cup, looking perfectly entitled to be there, then tipped its head back to swallow.
Our Kiwi friend Andrew had just spotted it. He had told us about them on the way up, hoping we’d get to see at least one.
Then another suddenly swooped down from nearby roof, displaying bright orange under its wings and a squeaky-toy-inspired parrot scream, landed on the railing beside us and started eyeing our last piece of pizza.
I ran block on our lunch while Jeff scrambled to get a picture.
The Kea (pronounced ‘kia’) is the world’s only alpine parrot.
They’re endemic to New Zealand, and clever enough to both survive in a harsh mountainous environment AND cause plenty of trouble.
Everywhere people might gather to picnic outdoors there’s sign warning you not to feed them.
It’s always a bad idea to feed wild animals of course, but the Department of Conservation also knows that a Kea getting a high-caloric diet suddenly has time on its hands – time it could use to pull away at the rubber gasket that keeps a windshield in place on an unsuspecting parked car, for instance.
You know, just to keep busy. The rascal.
A parrot, calling its parrot call from amongst the ski racks, was just one example of New Zealand’s unique combination of sights and sounds.
During our time in Wanaka, we’d put our boots and skis in the car in a snow-free valley, surrounded by trees that would look at home in a jungle, and drive up, up, up to find the snow.
A whole ski resort exists happily up there, at the end of jaw-droppingly narrow switchbacks, while the residents below don’t even need to own a snow shovel.
To Canadians, with our expectations of being nearly buried in snowfalls every year, it was just amazing.
So was skiing in August. (Big thanks for our new friends at Southern Lakes Heli-Skiing for showing us some of the neighbourhood!)
So was flying by Mount Cook at over 3500 metres while looking out to the ocean in the distance.
So was hearing a flush of birdsong at sundown and seeing frost on a fern palm the next morning.
Winter, is that you?
Winter is New Zealand isn’t what I expected. There were things I just had to see to believe.
A month of noticing all the peculiarities of winter in another part of the world left me thinking: everybody’s got their niche.
Once you get to a place, you see that everything that’s there makes sense, for that place. The joy of travel is the feeling of the initial gap of wonder, and slowly, catching up to the what and the why.
We felt that as hosts and operators last season, watching guests make the ‘seeing-is-believing’ transition, staring at us wide-eyed like we were Keas sipping our own lattes.
YES, it’s just one group out here today.
And YES, it’s just the six of us.
We’ve got a lot of powder skiing to choose from, so let’s get started.
We’ve been ruffling our feathers over the last year, getting used to the niche we’ve created for ourselves, and enjoying the benefits of being unusual.
Being surprisingly small makes a lot of sense, from where we’re sitting. Once you get here, you’ll catch up in no time.
It’s countdown season. Can you feel it? If you’re in planning mode for the winter ahead, and want a guarantee that no bored parrots will vandalize your car while you’re out in the backcountry, click HERE to check out packages for 2020.
Do you get it?
The Yodel is our uncommonly good newsletter.