Find­ing more fish tales on tour down south

The Invercargill Eye - - FRONT PAGE - RE­BECCA MOORE

An inside joke with a friend has at­tracted the in­ter­est of hun­dreds through­out the coun­try for an Amer­i­can trav­eller.

Tom Chap­man, of Cal­i­for­nia, is a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to New Zealand.

The 62-year-old has vis­ited the coun­try more than 60 times and and has seen more of it than most Ki­wis.

He was in Bluff last week, af­ter re­turn­ing from trav­el­ling the length of the coun­try, from Bluff to Cape Reinga, and back again, with his plush toy Dori, from the Find­ing Nemo saga.

The trav­eller has toured ev­ery state in the United States and for the past year has done so with his ‘‘al­ter ego’’ Dori, but this was the duo’s first in­ter­na­tional trip.

Chap­man, who was a self­de­scribed in­tro­vert, said Dori was an ice-breaker and opened up con­ver­sa­tions with hun­dreds of peo­ple he has met through­out his trav­els.

‘‘She’s al­ways happy, ac­cept­ing of every­one and cu­ri­ous.’’

The pair re­turned home to the US on Mon­day af­ter four weeks.

Dori started as an inside joke with a friend who was al­ways for­get­ful, just like the char­ac­ter, be­fore it gen­er­ated pub­lic in­ter­est, Chap­man said.

‘‘The fish took a life of its own.’’ With no spouse or chil­dren, tour­ing was his way to tran­si­tion into re­tire­ment.

The for­mer school­teacher said he found pur­pose in tour­ing with Dori.

But his jour­ney will not only be re­mem­bered through mem­o­ries, be­cause Chap­man has doc­u­mented the trip to more than 450 Face­book friends, with 100 peo­ple who closely fol­lowed his jour­ney. Some of his friends could not travel, so lived vi­car­i­ously through him.

He shared photos that were based on hu­mour, irony and some se­ri­ous posts from land­marks, funny signs, cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences and food.

‘‘She [Dori] just kind of adds an el­e­ment.’’

On his first trip to New Zealand, in 1979, he vis­ited as a mem­ber of a heavy me­tal rock band and per­formed at sev­eral schools. He was bil­leted out to var­i­ous Kiwi fam­i­lies. ‘‘Since then I’ve got­ten to know more peo­ple here than in Cal­i­for­nia.’’

South­land had changed through­out the years, even since his pre­vi­ous visit three and a half years ago.

‘‘There’s a buzz about it, with new restau­rants and cafes.’’

RE­BECCA MOORE/STUFF

Tom Chap­man, of Cal­i­for­nia, with his plush Dori toy trav­el­ling from Bluff to Cape Reinga.

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