My wife and I lived in New Zealand for six months and had an amazing experience. Despite its distance from almost everywhere, the country should top anyone’s bucket list in life. If you’re considering a trip to this great destination, here are some fun and interesting facts to know when visiting.
Every country is beautiful, but New Zealand really takes the cake. For such a small country, it has something for just about everyone. From bustling cities to rolling hills and all the gems in between.
Take Rotorua, for example. The Thermal Highway leads past spectacular lakes, mud volcanoes, and you’ll never get lost along the way because the rotten egg smell guides you to the city. After a few hours of being there, it becomes a part of you. To experience one of the best soda pools in the country, head to a remote area near Te Aroha.
2. The GPS-road less traveled
The best way to discover New Zealand is by renting a car, or else you’ll miss out on some of the most unique and stunning landscapes on Earth. However, keep in mind that when the GPS tries to navigate you from the South Island to the North Island it’s actually referring to Australia, not New Zealand. That’s right, the GPS considers Oz, which is over a thousand miles away, as the South Island. We had to reset the system to NZ every time, selecting the North Island, then a city, etc., otherwise, it’ll choose an Australian location. Many times the GPS gave us bad directions anyhow and, in the end, we found that the shortest route was actually a steep climb up and over a mountain or two. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to navigate New Zealand with an old-fashioned map.
3. Out of left field
It’s terrifying to drive on the left, especially for the first time in your life. It’s manageable when traveling on the highway, but what becomes frightening is when you have to deal with tons and tons of roundabouts. It’s scary not to know what to do when a parade of cars comes at you, tempting you to close your eyes, step on the gas and hope for the best. What raises the bar of fear is when your wife screams at you for every move you make.
A drive along New Zealand’s highways and byways also presents an entertaining string of road signs, including those that remind you “to keep left.” If you find yourself in a popular area for bungee jumpers, don’t be surprised to see “caution – falling people.” You’ll further see signs to watch out for kiwis (the bird, not the fruit).
On a side note, the police will gladly hand you a speeding ticket regardless of where you’re from. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.
4. Lifestyles of the rich and famous?
We had heard about the high costs, and the fact really hit us during those first days after arriving. I would love to say the local cuisine is delicious, because I’m sure it is, but the expense of eating out made it hard to determine. On those rare occasions in a restaurant, we spent more time amazed by the price that we had a hard time appreciating the dish.
For example, a hamburger at a fast food restaurant is almost double the cost than in the United States, and a small coffee is nearly $8 NZD and served in smaller quantities as well. On the bright side, we quickly learned to eat locally fresh produce, and we affectionately called it the “NZ diet.”
5. Feeling a little sheepish
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the country is full of sheep. They graze everywhere in the countryside. Every drive, hike and misguided GPS led us to these cute bundles of fluff. According to the latest figures, there are 29.6 million sheep in this nation of 4.6 million people. Furthermore, let’s not forget all those sweet cows. By the end of the trip, the country’s menagerie felt more like family and less like strangers in the night.
6. To surf or not to surf
“WiFi? What is that exactly?” This was an actual answer I received when I asked about Internet access. It’s either not available or sporadic at best. When we did find it, we thought twice about using it because it’s just too expensive. This applies to cell phone service as well. We had a small phone to keep in touch with family, but it cost us an arm and a leg to do so. Internet cafes are available, but they’re so pricey that you must have a strategic plan on how to use your time online: $10 NZD equals 2 hours.
7. Wellington: the other “windy city”
The country’s capital is the windiest, with an average wind speed of 18 miles per hour. What’s worse is when Mother Nature throws freezing rain into the mix. If you carry an umbrella, you may end up soaring over the Pacific Ocean like a wayward Mary Poppins. In the end, an umbrella is just plain useless. Even the locals will leave it at home.
8. An uphill battle
I swear this is the only country where it’s uphill both ways. I have never in my life faced so many different types of hills: steep and long, some with stairs or mud; some are dark, windy, and come with cows or sheep or bot. There are hills through thick bushes, or some simply have no real path at all. A word from the wise: proper footwear is a must.
9. Shake, rattle and roll
Buckle up baby, ’cause things are gonna get a little bumpy. They say you may experience three earthquakes a day in NZ, and they aren’t kidding. You may feel the Earth move underfoot from mini quakes, but they’re just nerve-racking. Remember the earthquake in Christchurch not long ago? That was a big one that nearly flattened the entire city. The preventive measures undertaken are everywhere and most building are able to resist a great deal of earthquakes in the country.
10. I’ll see your fortnight and raise you a stone
These are two terms we had to get used. First, a fortnight can mean 14 days, two weeks or every other week, depending on the context. A stone, which equals approximately 14 pounds, is the system they use for weighing large things, such as people. In weight-loss terms, to lose a stone is fantastic, but if we gain a stone? Well, we all know what to do.
11. Home is where the heart is
Since we were staying for an extended time, it seemed more economical to rent long-term housing. One day, while sipping our expensive coffee, we read the apartment listings in the local penny saver. $200-$300 NZD didn’t sound so bad, but the devil was in the detail. The fine print explained that the amount was per week. Welcome to New Zealand!
12. The forbidden fruit?
Although kiwi is expensive in the United States, it costs almost nothing in the country where it grows. We enjoyed kiwi for breakfast lunch and sometimes for dinner. We ate so much of the fruit that we’ll never have to eat it again. The country’s other kiwi is also small but with two legs. The native bird is hard to find, especially since it’s nocturnal. The best place to see one is in a zoo.
13. Wake up and smell the coffee!
New Zealanders drink flat whites, which is basically a latte without the foam. This hipster’s choice of java is delicious, but it’s not the typical brewed coffee you may need to start your morning. If you ask for brewed coffee, you’ll get drip coffee, which is more like hot water with a hint of coffee flavor. Feel free to order a caffè americano, but the barista will remind you that you should have a flat white.
14. Birds of a feather…
The tui is an unusual black bird with a white fluff of plumage like a bow tie on its chest. You’ll find them in forests and suburbs, and one became our “little friend” during our stay in Wellington. He sat on our path and sang to us every morning when we left and every evening when we came home, encouraging us to “climb that hill again.” We got to love this bird so much that we decided our son’s middle name had to be Tui.
15. “People who need people”
Are the locals friendly? Sure, they are. Most of our time there, however, was in the winter, a season when people prefer to stay in the warmth than out in the cold. So, deep conversations at an outdoor café weren’t an option. Plus, phrases such as “this is how much?!” and “wow, there are so many hills here!” weren’t exactly the best of icebreakers for me to use. In the end, maybe I gave them an unfriendly impression. By the way, a “good day” from someone may come across as old-fashioned, but in New Zealand it means both “hello” and “good-bye.”