25-Jul-2001 -- Just outside the small cluster of houses and buildings that call themselves the town of Wairio, which is itself just outside the town of Nightcaps, there is a farm named Glen Isla set on a hillside. It’s not unlike the other farms in this area of southern New Zealand. Cows graze on the hill side and the hills are marked with broad lines of hedges to form windbreaks. These are not garden-variety hedges of bushes and shrubs. These are massive hedges composes of full grown trees, often 30 feet high, that flow along the hill for easily 100 metres.
There are other lines of note on this property: small electric lines, knee high, that persuade the cattle, most ready to calve in a few weeks, to stay grazing in the sloping meadow. Overhead there are more obvious lines, silver power lines, stretched between massive towers and forming the horizon across the top of the hills. From their perch atop the hill, they dwarf the cattle and the outlying farm buildings. They run as far as the eye can see and indeed run as far to the west as the Te Anau, near Milford Sound.
There are also some imaginary lines that run through this place. As it happens, 46 degrees south latitude and 168 degrees east longitude cross one another here, and it is this confluence of invisible lines that brings us here.
We had attempted to find the confluence a few days before, but the gate to the pasture was not something we wanted to cross without permission. So today we were back, having previously left a brief note along with the form letter which describes better than I can this high tech scavenger hunt known as the Confluence Project. As we pulled up the long, hard packed driveway and began to pile out of the car, we already being greeted by someone from the back porch. The friendly voice belonged to Russell Collie, a large bear of a man in a flannel shirt and stocking feet. Muddy boots standing by the door indicated the morning chores were long past. Mr. Collie greets me by name, though we have never met, so I assume he has read my note over several times, as I am sure I would have.
The next few hours were nothing short of a treat. Though we were on holiday and in a car, this was our first opportunity to really meet someone outside of a coffee shop or an airport. It was soon obvious that Mr. Collie is a wonderful host as well as a masterful and practiced storyteller. He also brews a good cup of tea.
We had only about 500 metres from the back porch to the confluence, but it was a challenging and interesting route. Winter mud and puddles kept my two sons Jordan (11) and Kyle (9) hopping and leaping to find high ground. The course became more challenging as we entered the cow pasture, adding electric fences, fresh cow pies and large lowing bovines to the mix. As we traversed the steep pastures up to the power lines we were treated to Mr. Collie’s dry wit and colorful story telling. As he held down an electric fence for us to cross, he told my wife Alice about how the new vicar, coming to visit the neighbors and introduce himself, had inadvertently grasped one of the electric fences while leaning by a gate. "The good news", the neighbors later related, "is that he can swear as well as the rest of us!"
We drew to a stop at a boggy fence row and eyed the confluence 69 metres away on the scrubby hillside in front of us. We mentally tagged a bare tree as the exact spot. The mountains to the west were hidden by the hill, as was the house, so the view was primarily power lines and cows. After a few photos and a group handshake, we slogged back to the house.
As the boys busied themselves with cleaning the mud off their boots, we were met by Dianne Collie, a lovely gregarious woman with a beaming smile. She is Russell's wife. We learned they have eight children, now strewn around and adventuring in New Zealand, Australia, India and the U.S. Its obvious this is a home more of bloodlines than lines of latitude and longitude, as the Collie family has lived here going on 75 years. Surely a game of hide and seek or perhaps tracking down an errant cow or sheep has taken some member of this family over the exact spot of the confluence during their time on this land. Perhaps Mr. Collie will occasionally glance over to the bare tree on the scrubby hillside and tell the story about the day a Yank knocked on his door in search of that spot (probably followed by the story of the German hitchhiker his son once brought home because "he looked like he could use a good feeding."). But on warm, clear winter days I’ll probably remember how, when walking back down the sloping meadow to the house, Mr. Collie told me how his grandfather or great uncle or some distant relative was a left-handed horseback marksman in the war, but they tied his left hand behind his back so he had to learn to shoot just as well right-handed, and from then on he was ambidextrous. I think he could cut steak with a knife and write letters at the same time, but I may just be making that part up. But maybe not.