It was so good to return to New Zealand with my last visit being in 2000. I had lived and worked there 27 years ago and it still felt like coming home.
The devastation of the Christchurch earthquakes 6 years ago was still very much in evidence in this beautiful garden city. I cannot begin to imagine the trauma and the perpetual anxiety that people lived through with every consequent tremor. To date there have been over 10,000 tremors since 2011, luckily most are not noticeable.
On travelling over the to the West Coast of the South Island I went back to where I used to live, Hokitika. The beauty of the Southern Alps, clear running rivers and the Tasmin Sea was just stunning. Hokitika has grown from a small town with one roundabout to a larger tourist place promoting their greenstone and scenery. What hasn't changed is the friendliness of people. Everywhere you go - shops, cafes etc people are always willing to chat to you.
Staying up in the North Island in Waikato, wearing a red British Lions shirt always provoked conversation and gentle teasing! People are interested in you and where you come from, conversations just happen with complete strangers. Once I had a conversation about water buffalo, of which I know very little!
I love the warmth of the Kiwis and although they can be tough in character are always wiling to help and are genuinely welcoming which only enhances my desire to return.
Maybe in the UK we have lost a little of that willingness to engage with others - too busy looking at our mobiles or just in a rush. We know that a key aspect of good mental health is to engage with others be it fleeting or not.
I'm going to make an effort to keep the friendliness vibe going. A small exchange of words may make a huge difference to someone's day.
If you have experienced similar situations in other countries I'd love to hear from you.
Keep smiling and talking!!!