Hard News by Russell Brown

Holidays III: Blow-off valves in paradise

They have blow-off valves in paradise. "OOOOsssshhh!" The sound of boy-racer Queen Street now penetrates not only the rich, golden sands of Kaiteriteri, but creeps over the hill to Golden Bay. The South Island doesn't need Aucklanders: it already has too many Cantabrians.

There is another surprise: we pull up to our motel in Pohara Beach and it turns out to be the same place I stayed as a kid, nearly 30 years ago. We're even in the same unit. It's called Windjammers now, it has a good little café-bar and the décor has been done once in the interim, but it's otherwise much the same.

The key attractions - Pupu Springs, the big, old, tame eels - are still here, but much more of the Bay has been lit up by tourism since I was last here. The main street of Takaka is thick with traffic, and commercially-minded hippies have cafes and shops.

New Zealand is a land of cafes now. Steve Braunias might fulminate at the passing of stiff lamingtons and thin coffee, but this consistent culture of pretty decent espresso and fresh, Mediterranean-influenced food serves the rest of us - and our paying guests - quite well.

At the edge of the sand, on Tata Beach - a few miles past Pohara - there is a tiny tramcar, towed into place by a Kombi. It contains a full-fledged espresso kit and half a dozen shaded seats. There's no shop, no toilets, but there is a long black all day.

I'm told that past Collingwood, 30km inland along a gravel road towards the impassable top end of the West Coast, there is also espresso on offer. Why did the owners open a cafe there? Because they could.

Everywhere, apart from coffee there is good bacon for breakfast. I think, for some reason of New York. I once stayed in a Howard Johnson hotel near Times Square. Breakfast went on the room account, which I wasn't paying, so that's where I ate breakfast. And I hated it.

There are worse foods in the world than American streaky bacon, but probably not in OECD countries. It has the ill whiff of death and manufacture. Sitting here in Golden Bay, with its self-declared artists and organic gardens, I can understand why they'd want to reject all that, and declare themselves "GE Free". I still don't buy the absolutist anti-GM line, but perhaps these people, with their geographical separation, their beguiling, unspoilt brand, should be allowed to be that way - if for no other reason than marketing.

Oh yes, New Zealand is popular with the world right now. The Press has a story about unprecedented tourist traffic to the West Coast - nary a bed available from Hokitika to Haast. The locals have apparently noted the arrival this summer of Israeli tourists, who are allegedly travelling in three-car convoys, intimidating everyone else. One Israeli group supposedly staged a stand-off on a one-lane bridge, forcing opposing traffic to back off, even though the other traffic had right of way. How bizarre.

Out on the motel balcony, other media creeps in. I listen to an episode of Liisa McMillan's prodigious Flying Nun documentary, which has missed the anniversary celebrations but deserves to be much more widely heard. It is simply the best account of the story, and it ought to be posted on the Internet. Perhaps I should have a word to Sharon …

Politics also intrudes: Gerry Brownlee has launched his campaign to be leader of the National Party, blindsiding Bill English with an opinion piece in The Press, where he proposes the repeal of New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy.

Like far too many people on the political right, Brownlee is prepared to hoodwink himself - to whore his intellect - by conflating the War on Terror, Iraq and regional defence policy. Why, he asks, is the government agin nuclear weapons in our harbours when it won't support unilateral US action to destroy the nuclear threat of Iraq?

This is just silly. No one seriously believes Iraq has nuclear weapons capability, or is even within years of attaining it. And why aren't we invading North Korea, then? If Brownlee knows something we don't, he should tell the UN inspection team. Otherwise he ought to confine himself to statements that bear some relationship to the truth.

But perhaps this will work out for the best. It might be nice to have a leader of the National Party you can really despise. I don't think anyone could manage that with Bill English, could they?