2 – 4 April 2010, New Zealand
New Zealand’s natural beauty more than exceeded our expectations but something was missing. Throughout the course of our road trip, we had met many travelers but hadn’t spent a lot of time with any Kiwis. Fortunately, that was about to change. A friend that I met while living in Japan is from New Zealand and she invited us to spend some time at her family’s crib (aka cabin) in Riverton, a town of about 2,000. Riverton is located at the bottom of the south island New Zealand’s Southland region. As fate would have it, our arrival coincided with the town’s most infamous event, the Riverton Races! Held over Easter weekend each year, they are the largest horse races in Southland.
We arrived the day before the races and were thrilled to be greeted by my friend Gina as we pulled into town. Most people who travel can relate to the joy of arriving in a new place to a familiar face and not having to scour through a guidebook looking for accommodation, bus routes, train timetables or maps. After dropping our stuff off at the crib, we headed to a nearby restaurant for dinner with Gina’s family. Most of the restaurants we had seen that day were closed for Good Friday but Riverton’s restaurants stayed open to accommodate people coming into town for the races. Jason and I were surprised to discover that patrons were required to pay a 15% surcharge on all meals but I guess that’s the norm in New Zealand when restaurants remain open on holidays. That night we got a peaceful night’s sleep in top-notch accommodation. We would, once again, like to thank Gina and her husband, Shaun, for giving up their bed and making us feel right at home.
On race day, we woke to cold temperatures and rain. By this point, we were starting to feel jinxed especially after being told that, prior to our arrival, it hadn’t rained for the last couple of months. Refusing to let the adverse weather win, we donned our race day attire and set out for the track with Gina’s friends and family. Gina had rented a tent for the races and managed to score the one closest to the finish line. We spent most of the day in the tent but each time a race started, we would pop open an umbrella and run out to the fence for a better view of the jockeys and their horses as they came bounding down the straightaway towards the finish line. Initially, Jason was excited at the prospect of potentially doubling our trip funds by betting on the right horse. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and we only ended up placing one bet. Our total loss for the day was NZ$3.
After the last race of the day, we headed to the local RSA for dinner, live music and dancing. The RSA is similar to the VFW in the United States and our experience there was probably not that different from any night out in small town USA. In other words, an evening at the RSA is probably something that very few foreigners have the opportunity to experience. It was the perfect finale to our weekend of Kiwi culture in small town New Zealand. The next morning, we took a look at the calendar and it really began to sink in that we only had four full days left in the country. Wanting to make the best use of our limited time, we said good-bye to our gracious hosts and headed northeast.