Sustainability & hope

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By Gord Stewart

This isn’t the column I wanted to write.

I was back on my bike, back on the road again. Last year I cycled from Cape Reinga to my home in the Waikato. I was continuing the journey this year, heading for Wellington.

When I left home, the coronavirus – Covid-19 – had barely a toehold here. But that changed rapidly as I pedaled slowly along, everyday further from home.

On the ride, there’s lots of time to observe and think. This along with enjoying the fresh air and taking in the magnificent and varied scenery. How lucky we are.

I’m always on the lookout for signs of sustainability, so I (kind of) chuckled to myself early the first morning seeing a stream of cars heading into town for a Repco-sponsored car-o-rama and swap meet. Seems there might still be more petrol heads than avid cyclists, but that will be changing.

Then the road sign: “Long Trip Ahead? Take a break!” Too early for that.

The Timber Trail Lodge, deep in Pureora Forest Park, is a beacon of sustainability (not to mention warm comfort and a joy to behold at the end of a hard day on the trail). Near new and off-grid, it uses rainfall off the roof (nicely filtered) to serve water-conserving taps, showers and toilets. With solar power and recycling and composting systems in place, the lodge is set, especially given its location.

“Out in the middle of nowhere” is how it promotes itself. What would normally be a derogatory comment, the lodge has no trouble with it. Why would you? We even have a Bridge to Nowhere. 

Somewhat removed from the growing health risks (just had get up that next hill), I was jolted back to reality in the National Park train station’s lovely café. The 1News mid-day report filled me in: The border would be closing, flights were being cancelled, number of confirmed cases rising.

Worrying times, and we all have our personal stake in it. Mine included one son in New York, the other in Amsterdam – far from home with a developing global pandemic.

I pedaled on, but no longer in a carefree state of mind. Down the slope to Raetihi and an afternoon cuppa at Angel Louise Café on main street. It was just along from an old villa with an imposing sign declaring it to be the ‘Raetihi International Airport’. Perhaps a quick way to get home?

Instead, I pushed on, picking up the pace as I cycled down alongside the Whanganui River under overcast skies. After a long climb up Pahiatua Track outside Palmerston North in driving rain, I was heartened by signs of wind farm construction at the summit. Good on them.

Then sunshine and tailwinds on lovely back roads and on into Greytown. Just enough time there to appreciate Food Forest Organics store (featuring fresh produce and other items from the Cameron Family Farm in the heart of the Wairarapa).

With my train home cancelled, a confirmed flight next day kept me motivated. Up and over the Rimutakas on the bike trail, down the lovely Hutt River Trail and into Wellington on its fabulous network of bike lanes. (Other towns and cities please take note!)

Home 48-hours before lockdown. Everything else falls away now as the crisis worsens, but such leadership as we face it.  

Regular, factual health reports from Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of Health. Updates on the economy and support packages from Finance Minister Grant Robertson. An effective information campaign, featuring well-known, respected and much-loved Kiwis. A clear message: ‘Stay home. Break the chain. Save lives.’

It’s all fronted by Prime Minister Ardern with her typical professionalism, grace and sensitivity. “Be kind to one another” she signed off in an early media session.

Kiwis will have no trouble with that. Take it from me – a relative newcomer, I shifted here from Canada 18 years ago – Kiwis are renowned for their kindness and generosity. I reveled in the kindness shown to me during my ride and appreciate it more than ever as I settle in back at home.

The Stewart Bears
The Stewart bears with their
little Blue penguin sidekick.

I like the teddy bear ‘campaign’ too. Put a bear in your front window, was the call, so littlies can search for them when out and about with the adults in their ‘bubble’. Something fun and distracting; something to lift the spirits.  

I’m seeing more and more teddy bears in windows around my neighbourhood. Bears much loved by our boys more than 30 years ago have joined in.  

When you’re little, if your teddy bear’s tucked under your arm you know everything’s going to be fine. Now the bears are in the windows, watching out for all of us.  

  • Gord Stewart is a sustainability consultant with a background in environmental management and economics

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