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Why New Zealand is a Great Country

(Reprint from News: February 2, 2002)

January 29, 2002


This is my first trip to New Zealand and, now that the crowds are starting to diminish and the weather has improved, I'm really starting to like this country.  However, my experience here continues to be a bit polarized.  I got pretty drained during my first six weeks here by dealing with the massive crowds and the crummy weather, but Iím glad I came to New Zealand so I could see what all the fuss was about.  The crowds and the rotten weather were the "Bad," but there's a lot more that's "Good."


The best part of New Zealand is definitely the people.  The Kiwis here, young and old, have all been really terrific.  Not to sound stereotypical, but without hearing a person speak I can usually tell if theyíre Kiwis, Americans, or Germans just by the way they react to me.  Kiwis are definitely the friendliest and will often come up to me and start chatting away.  Germans tend to be the least outgoing and friendly, while Americans are somewhere in between; usually pretty nice but often a bit arrogant and sometimes obnoxious.  During my Doubtful Sound cruise last week, I ran into a group of 60-somethings from the U.S. who epitomized the phrase ďUgly AmericansĒ -- loud, crude, and rude.  Jeez, is it any wonder that Americans have such a bad reputation overseas?


I also really like the geographic diversity in New Zealand.  Iíve said it before, but this country is just about as scenically diverse as the U.S. but in a much smaller package.  During my 6 weeks here, Iíve seen areas that reminded me of each of the 50 states Ė all in a country the size of Oregon.  New Zealand seems like it's a heck of lot bigger than Oregon though, probably because of the diversity and because of all the narrow, winding roads which seriously restrict how far you can travel in one day. 


I've driven about 5,000 miles around the country so far and yet there are a lot of places that I haven't seen.  In contrast, although Oregon is beautiful, driving 5,000 miles around the state doesn't sound very appealing to me -- I can hardly imagine driving 500 miles around Oregon!   Although I've been here for almost two months, it would probably take me at least another two months before I got a really good feel for this country.  There is a HECK of a lot to see and do here.


The towns and cities here are great and are much more vibrant and interesting than towns and cities in the U.S.  Partly, I think that's because they are more oriented to pedestrians than to vehicles.  The U.S. is dotted with plenty of towns and cities that have decaying downtowns while the strip malls and Wal-Marts on the outskirts flourish.  There's hardly any of that here in New Zealand.  Urban planners in the U.S. could learn a lot by coming over here and studying how cities are supposed to work.


Another thing I really like about New Zealand is that every town or village, no matter how small, has at least one fish & chips takeout shop.   Fish & chips are even better, dare I say it, than bratwurst, my staple back in the U.S.  And they're infinitely better than the mutton sausages, which I was living on during my first week here (yes, they taste as bad as they sound). 


Best of all, fish & chips are really cheap.  Most fish & chips shops charge fish by the piece, usually about 75 US cents each.  Chips -- which Americans call French fries -- are charged by the scoop, usually about 75 cents per scoop, with each scoop equivalent of about three large orders of McDonald's fries.  Largely thanks to the very weak NZ dollar, you can usually get a large meal of fish & chips (three pieces and a scoop of fries) for about US$3.  The same takeout meal in the U.S. would cost about six or seven dollars.  What a deal, huh?  Just remember, though, to bring along ketchup -- oops, I mean "tomato sauce" -- and, of course, malt vinegar.  I carry mine in the trunk of my car.  Oops, I mean the "boot."


One other thing I like here is the game of cricket, which Iíve gotten pretty hooked on.  I watched my first televised cricket game a month ago in Whakatane and, being well-steeped in American baseball, I sat there all afternoon completely dumbfounded.  It was an interesting experience, though, trying to figure out a sport just by watching it on T.V. without having the luxury of someone, including the announcers, explain it to me.  Over the next several weeks, I watched cricket almost every night and learned the rules bit by bit, and now I think I understand it fairly well.  Iíve been pulling for New Zealandís national team, known as the ďBlack Caps,Ē in their current televised series against Australia and South Africa.  


Watching American football is a great way to waste three hours, but watching Kiwi cricket is a great way to waste eight hours.  Honestly, once I turn on a cricket match at 4 p.m., I usually end up watching it until itís finished at midnight, especially if the Black Caps are playing.  Cricket is something like American baseball except that each team bats only once (until all 11 players are out), there aren't any foul balls, and best of all, the players don't go on strike every four years.  And because the teams in cricket don't alternate at-bats like they do in baseball, it's not unusual to hear the announcer say that one team is ahead by "only" 273 runs.


2-1889_Fish_and_Chips_Shop.jpg (43508 bytes)    2-1891_Fish_and_Chips_Shop.jpg (33533 bytes)    2-1894_Cricket_on_TV.jpg (26205 bytes)

Above left:  Every town in New Zealand has at least one Fish & Chips place.  Lord Thompson's restaurant, here in Picton, is the best one I've eaten at, so far.

Above center:  You place your order at the counter, they cook it and when it's done, they wrap it in brown paper.  

Above right:  Cricket is my other passion here.  Cricket games are long, though, typically lasting 7 or 8 hours.  Now you know why I haven't updated my website in a while.


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