Gold country. That’s what they call Central Otago. A nickname left over from many years ago, when there were nuggets to be found and fortunes to be made. But that’s not why I call it Gold Country.
April is when the real gold arrives. It’s all around and unfolds across the land like motley tapestry – the autumn leaves are on show.
Poplar trees stand to attention, guarding sleeping orchards on the Cromwell highway. Row after row, they’re dressed in vibrant yellows and oranges, tawny reds and browns. As you drive past these silent sentries, the sun beams low in the autumnal sky. Shadows dance across the road.
A yellow carpet covers trails and footsteps crunch as people walk through the park. The air is crisp and dappled with lukewarm sunshine.
Young children spend hours gathering this precious gold, piling leaves higher and higher, until they have to stand on tiptoe to peer over the top. Scooped armfuls are thrown into the air and giggles erupt as the leaves parade softly down.
A sudden gust of wind sends golden confetti spinning into the air, picking the leaves up, and up, and up into the bright blue sky. The children tilt their heads back, spread their arms wide and hope to catch just a single one.
The day begins to fade and it’s about time to go home. The children rush through the piles, selecting the biggest leaves and the prettiest leaves. They pull on shirtsleeves and hold them up for parents to admire. With permission, the best specimens are taken home and stashed in heavy books for safe-keeping.
And as the sun goes down on these autumn days, the sparse Otago highlands bask in the afterglow. Twilight spreads softly across the sky and our world is suddenly, perpetually tinted gold.
So if you were to ask me where I’m going this Easter, I would smile, wink and in a fervent whisper say, ‘Gold country.’
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