Still crumpled and fizzing with jet lag, we take the tourist drive. Slanting sun draws our gaze to horizontal marks striping the slopes, as if a giant had folded neat pleats across every rounded green hill. An American voice asks the question.
Our driver-guide Moki sighs and spits out of the window. He takes his time to answer, holding his open hand out towards the landscape.
‘Forget geological marvels, spirit trees, steaming rocks, roaring eel streams, the taniwha — I get most questions about those bloody marks. Are they sedimentary rock folds, every level a million years? Aeons of volcanic ash layers? Inca/Aztec terraces or prehistoric earthworks? A Maori mystery? On and on. Nonstop.
‘So I tell tourists they’re age lines like on a tree trunk, one for every thousand years. I say go ahead, count them. And they do. That buys me some quiet time.’
He flicks away a fly on his arm, leans back on his headrest and closes his eyes. The bus is silent, all eyes on the hillside. We’re trying to resist counting the folds, but do anyway.
The American voice booms out, and several heads jerk round.
‘I make that slope right there around forty thousand years old’.
Sheep bleats float across the lush valley into the open windows.