During our time in New Zealand, my wife and I hiked the Milford Track, known as the finest walk in the world (unlike local claims such as “best burger in the world” or “best haircut in the world,” this one is possibly true). During the four-day trek, hikers stay in huts and every night the hut warden would gather everyone together to give a little talk.
“Welcome to my hut. Please clean up the place. Please don’t burn the place down.”
One night, after the third and most difficult day of the hike, we ran into a particularly verbose warden who wanted to talk about everything. EVERYTHING. As we were falling asleep, being told for a third time to be careful not to set ourselves on fire, the warden mentioned a TV show called River Monsters that had been filmed on the track.
“Eels,” he said. “Big ones.”
In the show, the host Jeremy Wade finds large, freaky looking fish and picks them up for some reason. The warden proceeded to tell us all about the giant eels in New Zealand’s waters, how that crazy bloke went swimming with them for the telly, and how to spot the filming location the next day as we went by.
“You don’t want one of them getting ahold of your leg, I can tell you. In fact, I heard tell of a bloke who…” On and on.
The next morning we walked, we looked, we saw no eels.
Last night I noticed River Monsters was streaming on Netflix and all the memories of New Zealand came flooding back. We had to watch.
The end of the show, the grand finale, saw the Jeremy Wade helicoptered in to the wilderness we walked through (a point of pride—Helicopters? We don’t need no stinkin’ helicopters). He covered himself in “fish guts and awful,” walked out into the water, waited a bit and let the eels take a bite. Yes, the eels the host found along the Milford Track were very large and pretty creepy, but before he played with the bigger eels he decided to go for a test run in a wildlife preserve to see what he was up against.
Slowly, cautiously, Wade slipped a toe into the water. He moved in and out of the brush, keeping a careful eye on the murky waters around him. Every breath seemed tighter. Steady now…this is it…the music swelled….
Jeremy Wade stood up holding a giant eel, and for a brief moment the camera betrayed him. Behind the host was a small bridge, a railing really, that suddenly went out of sight. Both our jaws dropped. My wife and I knew exactly where our intrepid explorer had landed because we had been there. Just around the corner, just on the other side of the railing that had appeared so briefly, just beyond the camera’s sight, was this…
Aww. He’s a cute widdle wallaby, yes he is! Yes he is! Wade did say he was in a wildlife preserve, but essentially he was in a petting zoo. I won’t take anything from him. I wouldn’t pick up that eel and certainly I’m not calling him a tv-fraud like Bear Grylls, it was just terribly amusing to know that, as he picked up the slimy beast, these two girls were only a few feet away…
It was wonderful to see New Zealand again, even if it was only on tv. I realized how much I miss the mountains and the Kiwi accent (a boat captain said “Te Anau” and I longed to be back chatting with my friend John). I just wish they had lingered in that zoo for a little longer. I would have liked to see what the other monsters were up to.