In October last year, my flatmate and I took a week off and did a road trip round Te Waipounamu.
For her, it came six weeks after giving birth to baby she was carrying as a surrogate for close friends. For me, after a hectic election season, caring for the aforementioned pregnant woman, and what felt like months without rest.
The plan was to start in Picton, drive down the middle of the South Island, overnight in Hanmer and, stay in the vicinity of Christchurch for a couple of nights, then head for the Coast, where luxurious solitude awaited us.
Three whole days without cellphone connection. Two nights without power. And, I’d get to introduce my Xena and Lord of the Rings-loving Canadian bestie to the parts of the country that look like that.
It was a amazing trip, not just because of the days without our phones. It was also a reminder of the beauty of this country. I did the driving, and sometimes I couldn’t help but stop so we could spend some more time with a view - a secluded beach beneath a pale pink sunset, or the blue blue of the Buller River.
It’s hard to feel stressed about the everyday when you’re looking around you so much, the wide expanses, the cliffs, the one lane bridges. Michelle is Canadian - to drive across her country would take days. For us, it’s a few hours. Longer, when you drive like a nana, as I do.
And the music. I’m firmly of the belief that few moods can’t be cured by singing loudly in a car, as you hurtle down the open road. We curated a playlist with about 12 hours of music- not quite enough for the nearly 20 hours of driving we did, but adequate.
And it gave us an idea. What if, over summer, we asked people to curate their own road trip playlists? Would it work? Might we also get people to open up, in the way we did, driving over the Lewis Pass?
It turns out that yes, they did. As well as hearing about people’s favourite trips - the South Island features heavily, as does the East Coast of the North Island, and the far North - and their favourite music, we heard about people’s lives.
We spoke to the politicians with the responsibility for our country’s roads and transport – new Minister Phil Twyford, who already seemed a bit stressed with the pressure of his new responsibility, while former Minister Simon Bridges was a bit like a kid about to go on holiday.
He was looking forward to the birth of his first child, and talked about being in the privileged position of not needing to take parental leave – something that would come full circle when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her pregnancy on the last day of Summer Times.
Those people who were already parents talked about the difference having kids in the car makes – less Rolling Stones, more Wiggles, more Moana, and more Anika Moa.
Comedian Michele A’Court didn’t have any of that – “I introduced [her daughter Holly] to singer-songwriters mostly, so Pink, and Jewel and Alanis Morissette, and Joni Mitchell. We would sing along. Shrieking, sometimes.”
Some of the music was controversial, especially RNZ studio operator William Saunders, who picked Motörhead as his first song – “headbanging music”, a lot of people texted in.
We learned what gets played in the Black Ferns tour bus (and what All Blacks do for karaoke), in kitchens, and baches. We spoke to unionists and business about the year ahead, and Kaikōura Mayor Winston Grey, who was relieved to have a road again.
Scientist Dr Siouxsie Wiles talked about her musical namesake, but also a recent experience with bullying.
“I am happy to encourage girls to go into science, but I think they should go in with their eyes open,” she said. “I think a really important thing is for us who are in STEM to be working on those around us.
“Because of some of the things I’ve faced, is that I don’t look like the perception of what a scientist is supposed to look like, and that actually affects the behaviour of the people I work with.”
Musician Tami Neilson talked about her forthcoming album, and challenging misogyny and sexism.
“I don’t’ know if it’s a combination of turning forty this year, or being a mom, or having lost my Dad a couple of years ago, but I have no tolerance for people’s crap anymore.
“It’s just like, ‘why am I worrying about people’s opinions, I am just going to stand up for what I believe in.’”
And RNZ’s Wallace Chapman put his on air enthusiasm down to his health issues.
“I live with a bit of pain. I’ve just never seen anything else from an optimist’s point of view. I love life.”
On his first overseas trip, he was worried about being able to make it around, because of problems with a mobility without a cane.
“Just this blimmin’ 1.5km track along stones, but I found it extraordinarily hard….And yet, I am still the optimist. I can recall just cracking up through the tears, thinking ‘shit, just think about this, you couldn’t find this funnier. Here I am, trying to get to this temple…and it’s only 1000 metres away.”