My Impressions of New Zealand
been in the beautiful country of New Zealand for two weeks now. Overall, I like New Zealand but my opinion
about the country is
a bit mixed. What has impressed me the most so far are the people here --
Kiwis are pretty darn terrific. By the way, that's "Kiwis" as in
native New Zealanders, not as in the birds (though I'm sure the birds are
terrific too). I've visited most parts of the U.S. and I
think that New Zealanders are, in general, nicer and much more polite than Americans
-- myself included.
found most Kiwis to be a lot more
"civilized" than Americans and they treat people with a
lot of courtesy (jaded
Americans might say "naiveté"). Just about every Kiwi I've met
so far, regardless of age or gender, has been honest, cheerful, and very helpful. People in the U.S.
had told me how nice Kiwis were, but it didn't really sink in until I got over
here. At first, and being a typical American, I was a bit suspicious of their
friendliness but now accept that it's just how most New Zealanders are. If the
contrast is so striking for me, I wonder what Kiwis must think about Americans when
they come to the U.S.? Or what I'll think about Americans when I return.
Left: The motels in New Zealand have
been a pleasant surprise. Most are small, family-run affairs like this one
in Christchurch that costs only US$38 a night, about half as much as it would cost
in the U.S. Note the full kitchen with dinnerware and separate bedroom.
of the big surprises is how much Kiwis know about what's going on in
America. People here seem to know where Oregon is (I've stopped explaining
that it's on the west coast of America). There's a New Zealand version of CNN here that
broadcasts a lot of news about America, especially about the U.S.
economy. And American TV shows are quite popular here, such as
"Friends," "Home Improvement," "Ed" and yes, even
"Monday Night Football," though I'm not sure what Kiwis make of Dennis
Miller. Anyway, now I know why people here can understand me and my
American accent. Don't misunderstand, though, because most Kiwis are
glad they're Kiwis and not Americans, and most New Zealanders seem to be very
proud of their small country.
are some positive experiences and impressions that I've had here.
Unfortunately, I've also had some less-than-positive experiences. The
biggest problem is that, due to my poor planning, I managed to arrive here in
mid-December just as the summer holiday season was starting up. Because of
that, things in general have been pretty crazy as I mentioned
Another disappointment is the camping situation here. I was hoping to
camp my way across New Zealand but I've had to stay in motels so far, and
haven't spent a single night yet in my tent under the stars. The
campgrounds in New Zealand are much more communal and I haven't seen anything like an American-style public campground
yet, with individual campsites, picnic tables, and a bit of solitude. Furthermore, because of the summer holiday, the campgrounds here have been jammed
literally with wall-to-wall tents. Fortunately, the motels here are really nice --
still, though, it's not
camping. On the positive side, though, campgrounds in New Zealand, while
having fewer amenities than campgrounds in the U.S., are much less expensive.
I don't want to impose my attitude about what camping should be onto the
Kiwi culture -- it's been a bit of a surprise, that's all.
Another thing that will take getting used to is New Zealand
cuisine. It's a lot like English cuisine and much of the food I've
bought in grocery stores so far has been -- to my Americanized palate --
somewhere between bland and disgusting, including the repulsive "mutton
sausages," which I'll describe in more detail on my next page. The
food situation here is definitely going to take some getting used to, but,
for better or worse, that's one reason I like to travel.
opinion of this country is pretty darn positive. Here's a list of the
positives and the negatives of this country based on my experience here.
I Like Most About New Zealand)
People. Most New Zealanders are
incredibly nice. In general, they're kinder and more civilized than Americans. They're how Americans used to be
maybe 30 or 40 years ago, before the U.S. became so
loud, pushy and "in-your-face."
Motels. The motels in New Zealand
are wonderful. They don't have a lot of large-sized chain motels here,
like Holiday Inns or Best Westerns. Instead, New Zealand motels are
mostly small (5-15 units) and family-operated, often run by middle-aged
couples. Unlike the U.S., most of the motels here are
"self-contained," with full kitchen, refrigerator, and dinnerware, which is
a real treat. The owners take a lot of pride in their establishments,
much more so than in the U.S., and they are truly concerned that you enjoy
your stay. In the U.S., they just want your money.
few other differences: many proprietors here insist that you
the room before taking it, most motels have laundry facilities (often
free), and you pay when you check out -- in the U.S., you
don't get the key until you hand over a credit card, drivers license,
birth certificate and first-born child. And, perhaps it's a bit quirky, but when you
get a room for the night here, the desk clerk will give you a small bottle
of milk for your tea.
I've always thought that the U.S. is the most
scenically-diverse country in the world, and perhaps it is. However, in the two
weeks that I've been in New Zealand, I've seen places here that have reminded me of
almost every state in the U.S. Within a few hours, I've driven through
areas similar to Hawaii, Alaska, the Maine coast, Florida, southern
California, the northern California wine country, the Oregon coast,
the Washington forests, and even the Nebraska sandhills. It's as if
all the scenery in the U.S. has been scrunched down into an area the size
Weak NZ Dollar. Last year, the New Zealand dollar was worth
about 50 American cents. Today, it's worth about 40 cents and it
continues to fall. Consequently, food and lodging is very cheap, about
to 50% less than in the U.S., while most imported goods, including cars and
gasoline, cost about the same as in the U.S.
Every time I see a
price, I first gasp, but then I multiply it by 0.4 (having spent many years in college, I can do that
in my head -- usually) and realize, "Hey, that's not very expensive after all."
Items. Each AC outlet
in New Zealand has a little toggle switch next to it that you can flip on or
off. Cute -- I like it. And many toilets have two flush buttons
that provide you with either a mini-flush or a maxi-flush. Americans are much more egalitarian -- if a bit less practical -- with one flush serving
Towns. I love the layout of the small towns in New
Zealand because they're
pedestrian-oriented, not car-oriented.
compact with most businesses
located adjacent to each other on one or two long blocks. Towns here
aren't spread out like they are in the car-crazy U.S. and strip development,
which is so common in the U.S., is negligible here. No Wal-Marts here
either, which is a plus.
The Kiwi accent is very pleasant, though I still have trouble figuring
it out. It sounds like the English accent except they
convert the short "e" to a long "e." For instance,
"best" is pronounced "beast," "check" is
pronounced "cheek," and "west" is pronounced "weest."
So if you head out weest, you beast have some traveler's cheeks. Most
distracting, of course, is that when they say "seeks" they mean "sex."
Dang, now I know what that cute woman in Hastings was asking me... (har, har).
on the Left Side. At first, I was a little nervous about
driving on the left side of the road but I've gotten comfortable with it,
and in a
surprisingly short time. In fact,
when I watch American movies on TV I think how odd it looks to drive on the
right side of the road.
There are lots of roundabouts (traffic circles) in New Zealand, instead of four-way stops or
signalized intersections. Roundabouts take some getting used to but
they make a lot of sense.
Just remember to yield to traffic entering from the right and to all traffic
in the roundabout. And remember to exit at the right place, like I
sometimes forget, or you'll have to go around another time or two, like I
Rugby is the big sport in New Zealand, but it's cricket season
now. They've been showing a lot of cricket on TV and I'm
starting to get hooked on it.
Cricket is something like baseball except there are only two bases and no
foul balls and the entire team bats until everyone's out, instead of
alternating like in baseball. The bowler (i.e., pitcher) runs for what seems like a
throws the ball into the dirt (and on purpose, to make it harder to hit). You can read an
entire novel before a batsman is retired, and it's not unusual to hear the announcer say that a team
is leading by "only" 342 runs.
Negatives (or What
I Miss Most About the U.S.)
This goes without saying and it's what
I've missed most during my trip, though I have met a lot of nice people
Campgrounds. I really miss the campgrounds found in U.S.
National Parks, State Parks, and National Forests with their designated
sites and picnic tables at each site. Being a person who enjoys
solitude in the outdoors, I haven't warmed up yet to the "communal
camping" philosophy of New Zealand with wall-to-wall tents.
Related to this is...
Even the hiking trails are busy this time of year, so it's been hard to find
anyplace in NZ that has a semblance of solitude. I can always find
places that are peaceful and quiet in the U.S., even during the summer,
but hopefully things here will improve.
Trucks. In the world of trucks, single-cab pickups are the
norm in the
U.S., so I decided to buy one when I got over here. Fat chance.
In New Zealand, for some reason, there are very few
single-cab pickups (or "Utes," as they call pickups here). There
ARE lots of dual-cab pickups with a tiny bed, although that doesn't help me. I like my
single-cab Toyota truck because I can drive in it by day and sleep in the
bed at night. I
couldn't find anything like it here, so I rented a Corolla and have been
staying in motels.
Being a history buff, I've
been disappointed with the relative lack of interesting historical sites,
signs, and attractions here. I don't know if that's because there
isn't much history here compared to the U.S. or if it's just not documented well.
Because I'm visiting during the summer holiday season, most of the roads
here have been pretty packed.
Spicy Food. New Zealand food is something like English
food and, compared to American food, it's pretty bland and spiceless.
I really miss Doritos, salsa, chili, and bratwurst (though not all at once). And forget about relish
-- the stores here sell a dozen kinds of relish including tomato relish
(huh?) and corn relish (huh???), but not pickle
relish. Go figure.
Instead of dollar bills, New Zealand uses one- and two-dollar coins which
are a hassle to deal with. They end up all over the car floor
after traveling each day and all over the bedroom floor at night. Now I know why dollar coins have never
caught on in the U.S. On the positive side, New Zealand has abolished
pennies which is something I wish the U.S. would do.
Even though I've had a few bad
experiences here, my overall opinion of New Zealand is pretty positive. More than anything though, I've really been impressed with
how courteous the New Zealand people have been. I wish Americans (myself
included) were more like Kiwis. I'm definitely going to come back here
some day... just not in December or January.
Above left: If you visit New Zealand, be
sure to get an AC adaptor since they use a different type of plug here. If
you have something more than a laptop or shaver, you also might need to get a
converter to change the 240V power here to 120V. I like the little
switches on the side.
Above center: One of my biggest
disappointments in New Zealand, though, has been the camping situation. Most
campgrounds are privately-owned (which I don't like in New Zealand any more than
in the U.S.) and they've been pretty jammed. The relatively few public
campgrounds, like this one, are communal and have also been jammed. On the
positive side, though, they're pretty cheap -- typically costing only a
few dollars a night.
Above right: Cricket is becoming one of my real passions 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.
Travels (2001-02) >
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New Zealand and Cook Island Stories > My
Impressions of New Zealand