20 Common Surprises For 1st Time Visitors to New Zealand
IT’S NOT THE SAME AS AUSTRALIA
People often get Australia and New Zealand confused all the time when travelling overseas, but New Zealand is different to Australia. For one thing they prefer Marmite! On the North Island, the ties are much closer to Polynesia, while in the South Island you may think you’re in Scotland (some locals roll their r’s; and Kiwis say ‘wee’ a lot), while the scenery at times resembles Ireland (thanks to lashings of rain) or Canada in the Alpine regions.
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AUCKLAND HAS THE LARGEST POLYNESIAN POPULATION IN THE WORLD
Of New Zealand’s four million people, about 260,000 identify themselves as Polynesian, and most live in Auckland.
RUGBY IS NOT JUST A SPORT IN NEW ZEALAND
Rugby is a way for Kiwis to come together, feel national pride and they are bloody good at it. It’s a fundamental part of the country’s national identity. Unfortunately the country’s national psyche also waxes and wanes on the back of the All Blacks. Visit any café on a Monday morning after a loss, and you’ll see. The mood can be downright depressing.
THERE’S NOTHING MUCH THAT CAN KILL YOU
You can set off for a bushwalk, (sorry tramp is the correct term for hiking in New Zealand), smug in the knowledge that there are no venomous snakes, no lethal spiders, and no crocodiles to get you as you wade across that river with your backpack over your head.
FOUR SEASONS IN ONE DAY AND SUMMERS ARE SHORT
Kiwis almost faint when the temperature hits 30 degrees Celsius. New Zealand has a mild climate and plenty of rainfall – it’s definitely four seasons in one day as the song by Crowded House goes. Summer doesn’t officially arrive in the South Island until at least Christmas. You will need to pack a jersey (jumper) even in January, along with your jandals (thongs). Best avoid beach resort areas in winter, they’re practically deserted and it’s pretty cold.
NAPIER HAS THE BIGGEST COLLECTION OF ART DECO BUILDINGS IN THE WORLD, ALONG WITH SOUTH BEACH IN MIAMI
Thanks to a total rebuild after a massive earthquake that levelled the city in 1931, Napier boasts an impressive collection of art deco buildings and was nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nowhere else in the Southern Hemisphere has such a concentration of buildings in the styles of the 1930s – Stripped Classical, Spanish Mission and especially Art Deco.
KIWIS LOVE THEIR TIP TOP ICE CREAM
Kiwis claim Tip Top ice cream is the best in the southern hemisphere, and hokey pokey (it’s a flavor) is far and away the biggest seller (five million litres annually). They’re also partial to chocolate-coated marshmallow fish and pineapple lumps. You can usually buy these treats at the local dairy (milkbar).
YOU CAN GET FANTASTIC COFFEE
Kiwis are obsessed with coffee. A Kiwi from Invercargill apparently invented instant coffee (OK they can take the credit for that one), and they also claim to have devised the world’s first flat white (Australia argues it did). Either way, you can get great coffee here – though country areas are still hit and miss, just like Australia. Order a trim for skim or skinny, and you’ll be sweet as.
KIWIS ARE ASTOUNDINGLY FRIENDLY
They’ll stop for a chat, help you with directions, give you the finger (in greeting that is) as you drive by and tell you about their cousin living in Strathfield. They also want to know why you’re visiting New Zealand, where you’re going and how long you’re staying. Complete strangers will even feed lunch to your child playing with their kids on the beach. True story.
FIFTEEN PER CENT OF NEW ZEALAND’S POPULATION ARE MAORI
The indigenous Māori people are prominent in society and in government and Maori is an official language of New Zealand. Traditional Māori customs still play a big part in the lives of many modern Māori in New Zealand and are an intrinsic part of Kiwi culture.
THE SCENERY IS GOBSMACKING, ESPECIALLY ON THE SOUTH ISLAND
Your car will practically pull over to the side of the road of its own accord – at regular intervals. Snow capped mountains, stunning lakes, green rolling hills dotted with sheep. Driving anywhere takes twice as long on account of the awesome vistas out the window.
BLUFF OYSTERS ARE POSSIBLY THE BEST IN THE WORLD
A coveted oyster from the deep south of NZ, they are only in season a couple of months a year. Be sure and get some. They’ll change your life.
ONE THIRD OF THE COUNTRY’S POPULATION LIVES NORTH OF THE BOMBAY HILLS
More people live in Auckland than the entire population of the South Island, which goes someway to explaining the city’s horrendous traffic problems. And one third of Aucklanders own a boat, hence the City of Sails tag.
WHITEBAITING IS A HUGE SEASONAL SPORT
Described as a “religion” by the famous Kiwi novelist Keri Hulme, the pursuit of whitebait has long been an iconic part of New Zealand life and culture. During whitebaiting season, visitors and locals alike flock with nets and buckets to the region’s rivers in the hope of catching some “white gold”. Be sure to read up on the strict rules and regulations before trying your luck.
IT TAKES A LOT LONGER TO GET PLACES THAN YOU THINK
And not just because of the unscheduled photographic stops. Although Auckland to Otama Beach doesn’t look very far on the map, New Zealand roads can be windy, narrow and cover hilly terrain. There are also heaps of one-way bridges. Allow extra time and be realistic.
BACKWARDS IS FORWARDS
Also speaking of driving, Kiwi roads have a backward arrow marked in the opposite direction to which you are travelling. Don’t panic, you are in fact going the right way.
AUCKLAND IS EXPENSIVE
In a survey of 44 cities, Auckland was ranked as most expensive when buying items such as a cup of coffee, a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, sunscreen and a three-course meal for two. Eating out is pricey, and you won’t find a plethora of cheap and cheerful Asian eateries. The upside is Auckland is ranked as the third-best lifestyle city in the world, according to the Mercer Global Lifestyle Index.
NOBODY DOES LUXURY LODGES LIKE NEW ZEALAND, BUT THERE ARE PLENTY OF OTHER OPTIONS
If you’re counting your pennies travel like the locals do and book a bach (holiday house) or crib (as they’re known on the South Island). Every man and his dog will be at a bach over summer (when prices are highest), but throughout the rest of the year you can nab a bargain and experience a slice of Kiwiana at the same time.
WH IS PRONOUNCED ‘F’ IN MAORI
This makes Whakapapa, a ski field, and Whakatane, interesting to pronounce. The vast majority of place names are indigenous such as Onehunga, Whangamomona, Kahikatea, Waitangi, Nguru and Whangarei (pronounced Fangarei).
DON’T PUT OFF GOING
The people are welcoming, it’s staggeringly beautiful, has a unique Maori heritage and culture, incredible food and wine and it’s only three hours tops across the ditch.
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