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In the long run, shouldn't we be defeating obstacles, not creating them?

Opinion

As Australia legislates and regulates away its reputation for “she’ll be right”, Michael Blucher finds the spirit of adventure alive and well across the ditch

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A reminder lobbed in the email box this week, triggering memories both euphoric and horrific.

“Motatapu 2021 is fast approaching. Hurry…time is running out…last chance to enter .…”

Mota-what? From where?, the question will be asked.

Out-doorsy types might have heard of Motatapu – it’s one of New Zealand’s best-known trail running events, a festival of exercise insanity held every March in the mountainous terrain between Lake Wanaka and Queenstown, in the country’s scenic South Island.

Entrants can treat themselves to a leisurely 42km run through, up and over the Treble Cone ranges, or if they’re feeling particularly sprightly, sign up for the 52.5km “Ultra Run”, which takes in a couple of additional peaks – a cumulative climb of 3300m. For the benefit of Brisbane-ites, that’s the equivalent of 12 Mt Coot-thas.

Yes, there’s some training required beforehand.

A few years ago, in a moment of mid-life senility, a bunch of us decided we’d sign up for the off-road marathon, more so because afterwards, we could take in NZ’s gastronomic delights for two days solid, without so much as a single pang of guilt.

A lot of effort for a couple of very long lunches, I know, but it’s all about the journey, right? Not the destination…

I recall one of our touring party couples electing to stay behind in Brisbane to watch their son’s swimming carnival. (Taxing business, parenthood in the 2000s). As a consequence, they had to catch a different international flight, which resulted in them being grounded in Christchurch by early morning fog.

The only way they could get to Lake Wanaka on time was to charter a helicopter and fly straight to the starting line. I’m guessing hardened locals hadn’t seen that too often before – entrants arriving by chopper, rather than being bussed up from Queenstown.

They could only have been disappointed when they saw two lumpy, middle-aged Australians alight from the aircraft instead of the assumed intentional celebrity. I won’t go into a lot of detail about the run, as much as you’re probably hankering to hear how we all got on.

Suffice to say, it wasn’t your normal Saturday morning stroll, capped by coffee at the local espresso bar. There were obstacles – like multiple mountain peaks, even the occasional creek crossing.

I remember the first stream we encountered, runners stopping and removing their shoes to avoid getting them wet. I can’t imagine that they were going to the same trouble at the 35th creek crossing – from memory it was about 500m long.

Besides, there was a rather brutal “cut off” in play – if you didn’t make it to the 10km mark by a certain time, you were dragged indignantly from the course, and subjected to the “mini bus ride of shame”.

The other memory, if you’ll momentarily indulge me, was the mind games that we played along the way, to convince ourselves that we were on top of the challenge, or at least coping with it.

Distractions were important. Fortunately, I had the company of helicopter girl – we ran together the whole way, our conversation covering off all manner of heady issues – greatest life triumph, greatest regret, the 50 American states, the value of properties on the Monopoly board, and my favourite – the A to Z of world beer. Buggered if we could come up with a beer starting with “Z” – but nor could any of the 100 other runners we asked.

And then, without warning…“Hey look – we’re at 32km mark. Only 10km left to shuffle”. And just three hours before the first beer!

My motivation for enlightening you with all these fascinating physical deeds however has nothing to do with selling the virtues of trail running. It’s to highlight the chasm in attitude that has gradually opened up between Australia and New Zealand.

Can anybody in their wildest dreams imagine an event like that being staged in Australia? Without, first of all, a detailed Reconciliation Action Plan, and then the rubber stamping and sign off of 28 different people, representing 16 different levels of bureaucracy. Before of course, payment of insurance exceeding the GDP of a small African nation?

Maybe 40 years ago, but not today. We’re now seeing the cancellation of flower shows, through fear that somebody’s going to get stung by a bee, or trip over a pot of chrysanthemums and skin their knee. Then sue the organisers.

Whether it is truth or just perception, I’m not sure, but New Zealand presents as totally care-free. No fun police over there – just fun. You want to organise a run through the mountains? Go for your life.. just have some strapping tape handy, in case somebody trips and does their ankle. And don’t forget water. Also, if there’s anybody arriving at the starting line by chopper, make sure the other runners get out of the way before it lands. Thanks. You’re good to go…

At least from a distance, the Kiwis have always been like that. Instead of coming up with 100 reasons why something can’t be done, they’ll weigh up the pros and cons, and then manage the risk.

Think bungy jumping, think jet boating, think trapeze-ing through limestone caves, think punters inside giant inflatable balls, rolling down steep hills. Yeah – that should work…let’s give it a go.

Imagine presenting those business plans in Australia in 2021. “You want to do what? Off where?” You’d probably be locked up for clinical examination.

There was another interesting observation from our quick trip across “the dutch” – and that was the number of Australians we encountered – Aussies not just holidaying but now living in NZ.

Many said they moved there to escape the “bureaucracy” – or as one Aussie cab driver put it – “get away from all the bullsh*t rules and regulations”.

And this was before anybody had ever heard about a “RAP”.

The sad part, it looks for all money like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

For a once carefree country, built around the mantra, “no worries mate, she’ll be right” – gee we seem to find an awful lot to worry about.

My suggestion .. duck across the ditch and just chill for a bit, Bro.

When did we become more interested in creating obstacles than ignoring them

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