I recently posted a top 10 of Australia and felt their friends across the Tasman shouldn’t be forgotten. In honour of ANZAC Day, I’ve compiled a celebration of my time in New Zealand.
I lived in Auckland for a year at the beginning of the noughties. I loved it there: with the hills, the water, the culture and the weather, it seemed to have have everything I could ever want. Living had to be funded by working, of course, but I was fortunate to have some pretty awesome gigs at some great organisations, including the University of Auckland and the Health and Disability Commission. Sadly, all good things must come to an end: I was gutted when my visa expired and it was time to return back to the UK.
Here are some of the things I observed and that I loved most about the country:
1. Kiwis are not to be confused with Australians
This is the first and most important point: Kiwis are not Aussies. Australia might have stolen the pavlova and try to claim Crowded House as their own, but it is a different country. How to tell the difference? The accent (see point 2).
I love Kiwis’ accents: hearing the strangled vowels always brings back fond memories of the land and people. It brings entertainment to those with an infantile sense of humour (ie me): for example, the word ‘six’ can sound like ‘sex’. Tee hee!
New Zealand packs in an amazing amount of natural beauty. Even on the briefest of whistle-stop tours you could take in the miles long, unspoilt beaches in Northland, beautiful bays of the Coromandel, volcanic Rotorua, Art Deco Napier, the fjords of the Marlborough Sounds, the vineyards around Nelson, the unspoilt Canterbury countryside or the snowfields of Cookstown. Even with seeing all of these beauties, you would be missing out an incredible amount of the country.
Drivers need to factor in lots of time between destinations because there is a wealth of stunning scenery to be found, such as waterfalls just off the beaten track. Get in to the swing of the laid-back nation and go and take a look – you won’t be disappointed.
4. Pride in their nation
Kiwis’ pride in their country is palpable, as it should be. This pride seems to manifest itself in the some of the friendliest and kindest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
5. Friendliness and kindness
Kiwis are an incredibly friendly and welcoming bunch. Travelling throughout the country, I experienced such kindness from strangers. The front door of one hostel read: “Come in, find a bed and we’ll sort it out later.” I’d arrived at that hostel, in the tiniest of towns in Northland courtesy of a bus driver who asserted we did not want to go to the town we’d intended to go to and phoned up the landlady of said hostel to ask her to come and pick us up, which she did. The town, next to Ninety Mile Beach, was stunning; we were grateful to the bus driver. Another bus driver (of a regular timetabled bus, not a tourist coach) would regularly stop at spectacular viewpoints so we could pop out and take photographs.
It’s not just bus drivers and hostel landladies who have taken their happy pills. I had many temp jobs during my time in Auckland; temping can be a hard way to make a living as often colleagues can’t be bothered to get to know someone who is transient. Temping NZ style was different and I was made to feel very welcome at each and every one.
The country seems to have its work/life balance figured out, which probably helps. At every organisation I worked at, staff left their desks to have a proper morning, lunch and afternoon break in a separate room. Coming from London working, I wasn’t used to this strange habit but I was actively encouraged to join my colleagues in their breaks. Having a defined break made the staff calm, happy, friendly and, from what I saw, productive.
While Australian chocolate is pretty foul, Kiwi chocolate is yummy. Check out their Moro bars: they’re like Mars bars, but with a less intense flavour.
I used to work off said Moro bars with a run up Mt Eden, the local volcano. Thankfully it’s dormant and has been for hundreds of years. If you’re feeling less energetic, you can walk up, or if you’re lazy it’s possible to drive. Either way, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf.
If running isn’t your style, there are plenty of walks or bike rides to enjoy. More sedate pleasures can include delicious food – seafood and kumari chips being particular favourites, while Japanese fare is very available – and drink. NZ wine is divine.
If you’re feeling especially brave, get the adrenaline pumping by trying one of the extreme sports the country is famous for: bungee jumping, zorbing or swooping.
It’s not possible to talk about New Zealand without mentioning the national sport. Even the smallest country town boasts a dairy, a pub and a rugby field. For a time, I lived in a house share in Auckland’s Marlborough Street. Just down the road from Eden Park, the street was the scene of an anti-Apartheid riot in the 1980s. Our household benefited from the proximity to the famous ground every match day: we’d charge $20 a car for parking in our backyard, which provided a useful contribution towards household bills.
The Maoris call New Zealand Aotearoa – the Land of the Long White Cloud. It’s a cliché, but as per the Crowded House song, you really can experience four seasons in one day: sunshine, rain, wind and cold. The saving grace is the weather is less intense than in Australia and the winters are milder than those of the UK. Be prepared with layers of clothes.
10. It’s a long way away
The one downside to New Zealand, especially for Europeans, is that is just so blinking far away. However, perhaps its distance from anywhere else is why it has managed to preserve its way of life and its natural beauty – and long may that remain.