Take a plane to Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand. A taxi ride past Cathedral Square and the Botanic Gardens will lead up to the steep Cashmere Hills. At the top is the range of snow-covered Southern Alps.

Descending a twisting, turning road, drive to Governor's Bay, always mindful of stray sheep and marauding wildlife.The Smugglers Arms will be seen before turning into Merlincote Crescent, and watch for a mailbox with "Number 23. M. Mahy."

Across a gangplank, over a gully, across three levels of gardens, shrubs and fruit trees into a house filled with "stuff" like icons to her life is where Margaret Mahy will be found.

She is among the paraphernalia of her writing, her collections and past life. Many of the things have turned up in her 24 picture books, 11 collections of stories, five junior novels, six books for older readers, a book of verse and one of non-fiction. Besides her fiction, she has written over 40 textbooks appropriate for "emergent readers."

Margaret Mahy is mindful of her young reading public and talks to many classrooms of children. But, a former librarian, she doesn't just read to the children and tell them stories; she dons costumes that make her visit memorable, indeed. One day she may be dressed as a penguin, flippers and all. Another day she may come dressed as a possum ("The possum suit is easier for the hands, but tricky for sitting down on the large bushy tail. . ."). On other school visits she dons a bright green wig, with highlights of red, blue and silver lurex or a long scarf with badges of all kinds. This author is a favorite visitor!

The children of New Zealand (and other countries where she visits) ask the same questions repeatedly: "Where do you get ideas for your stories?" "Why do you write about pirates so much?" "What awards have you received?" "What would you do if you were really rich and had no need to work for money anymore?"

To the first question, Mahy admits that she "writes about things that she already knows about. Or to tell the truth and exaggerate it!" While many of her books have a New Zealand flavor, they are really universal themes, with plots that could happen anywhere.

"The Changeover" began when a child in a library asked to have a stamp put on her hand as well as the library card. Suddenly, a story came to mind. "Does stamping someone's hand mean that you owned them and had power over them? That is what happens in the book, when a wizened old man puts his stamp on a little boy and drains him of his youth."

Margaret Mahy's fiction has received awards in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Britain. Her books repeatedly appear on the "Best Books' lists of the American Library Association, and she has four times won the Esther Glen Award in New Zealand and twice the prestigious Carnegie Medal in Great Britain. Her works have been translated into Dutch, German, Russian, Finnish, French, Danish, Spanish, Japanese, Catalan and Afrikaans.

Margaret Mahy loves her work and, to the question about what she'd do if she were really rich, says with assurance: "I would go on writing. I would go on living in Governor's Bay. I would like to study astronomy . . . and read more philosophy. Perhaps I would travel more . . . to look closely at the landscape around me. . . ."

These are the words of a woman who has reached and grasped the golden ring.