Over Easter, Prime aired a piece of slow television gold: Go South. Tara Ward watched the whole thing.
It was five and a half hours into an epic 12 hour journey through New Zealand when I saw it: a giant cat, randomly standing on the platform of the Christchurch train station.
Was I delirious? Quite possibly. Was Go South New Zealand’s greatest gift to television? Most definitely.
Writers to the TV Guide – aka the Boomer Bible – went batshit crazy over Go South when it screened earlier this year. It was a show so visually impressive, it made viewers forget to bitch about whatever Coro scheduling stuff up had happened that week. Judy from Dunedin called Go South “amazing”, 90 year old Val said it was “blissful”, while Armchair Traveller from Christchurch reckoned it was “mesmirising”[sic] and “captivating”.
Does Armchair Traveller also own an adult-sized cat costume? The mystery deepens.
I had to find out for myself. My CV lists my hobbies as ‘television’ and ‘travel’, so I hoped Go South would be a career highlight. I had the choice of watching a three hour or a 12 hour version, but no way was I taking a shortcut. Did Hillary take a gondola to the top of Everest? Did Kate Sheppard forge all those signatures with her left hand? I was committed. I was in this like an adult trapped inside a giant cat suit.
“I’m taking this bloody train to Milford Sound!” I screamed at nobody. I mean, what else was I supposed to do at Easter, enjoy the sunshine? Please. Fresh air is for wankers. I was here for every tree, every bridge, every second of our breathtakingly beautiful country that Go South could throw at me through the magic of television.
Hamilton, I am in you.
We departed Auckland in the soft dawn light. It was a grim start, because shit, New Zealand, when did we get so blasé about our train track aesthetic? I saw more scrap yards and arse ends of Noel Leeming Megastores in those first 15 minutes than I’ve ever dreamed of. It was bleak as hell and I found myself thinking, are we there yet? We hadn’t even got to Papakura.
But by hour two, I felt my soul lift. We cleared the metropolis and chugged through the mighty Waikato, a magical land filled with blossom trees and rolling green hills, and as the third and fourth hours passed, the meditative power of Go South began to take hold. The only noise was the steady, low hum of the train on the tracks. I felt calm and rested. This must be what it’s like in the womb.
The low winter sun bounced off effluent ponds and overhead wires. My eyes grew heavy and my sight grew dim, but it was just the Raurimu tunnel. We crossed the Rangiteki Viaduct. Bridges are amazing.
I fell asleep somewhere along the Kapiti Coast and woke up on the Interislander, to fun on-screen facts about shipwrecks and whales having loud sex. As we hit the South Island, I discovered my enthusiasm had peaked at the fancy sprinklers at the Palmerston North train station. Hours four and five passed slowly. We were quietly travelling south, possibly through the paddocks where Tellytubbies live, but time and place had become irrelevant.
Go South had me hypnotised. The tracks stretched out to eternity as if the journey would ever end. I was The Gambler, on a train bound for nowhere. I was clueless, disoriented, hungry.
Just when I lost faith, there he was.
It was a sign from the TV gods, an Easter egg at literal Easter. Christchurch’s giant cat resurrected me, and as the Alpine Express climbed into the heavens, I found my second wind. While the train stopped at Arthur’s Pass, I was so happy I inhaled an entire chocolate bunny. The hills were alive! I was alive! This was Aotearoa in all its stunning glory, and I got to lie on the couch in a sugar coma and soak it all in.
The sun shone in Greymouth as we ditched the train for a Landrover. Why are we all not living in Greymouth? It looked spectacular. ‘Trees’ was all I wrote in my notes for hour 8, ‘cloud’ for hour 9. It was pretty, but I was losing the plot. I wondered what the cat was doing.
We climbed over Haast and down into Central Otago. I was coming home, even though I’d never left my house. We passed Hawea, Wanaka, Cardrona, the Crown Range. This summer I nearly shat myself driving up to the Crown Range lookout, and all along, I could have just stayed home and watched someone else do it for me. Better living, everyone.
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By the 11th hour, I could taste victory, and by the 12th I wanted to open a bottle of Lindauer and rant to an empty room about “knocking the bastard off”. We arrived at Milford Sound to full sunshine, and my spirits lifted again, exhaustion replaced with ecstasy. I’d just travelled the length and breadth of the country, without putting my pants on. What a time to be alive.
We sailed out to sea to watch the sun set on our dreams, and I wished this journey would never end. I was a (chocolate bunny) shell of the person I was 12 hours earlier, but oh, the things Go South had shown me. The most beautiful effluent ponds, a boat under a waterfall, and best of all, an unexpected giant cat. Go South was the gift that kept of giving, and Armchair Traveller was right all along. New Zealand, I think I love you.
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