We have just spent two months in New Zealand, a truly wonderful place. People are interested in nature and the outdoors, conservation is important, and kids are taught to carry their trash home from the beach at the same time they are taught to surf. I like the balance. Our interests are the outdoor variety and we leave happy. As always, we could have spent more time everywhere we were and we could have spent all our time in other equally wonderful places. No one place is really a must-see. As our daughter Lyra says, there’s no need to take the Hobbiton tour, the entire country is a movie set for Lord of the Rings.
Places we really wanted to see were beaches, the bush (forest), which is amazingly dense and different, birds, and Milford Sound.
We saw what was on our list, but also ended up with favorites that we hadn’t known about, like the round boulders on the coast near Shag Point, not far from the better known Moeraki boulders.
We were amazed at the number of unique, endemic birds we managed to see. New Zealand has a remarkably large native pigeon, a giant purple chicken (gallinule), and a bell-bird that has a song much larger than its size. And others. We saw a kiwi!!
Efforts to tame nature result in hedges at least 12 feet high that encircle–empty fields. Others surround houses with only a driveway opening. I liked the one with a “window” cut into it. Some hedges were so high that they couldn’t be trimmed into shape. Imagine large trees growing out of the top of your hedge.
I like New Zealand because I felt welcome. People were friendly, and took time to chat. The eye doctors I visited (!) I would like them as my friends. Their advice was excellent, too.
We had some fun with language, finding that we didn’t always understand people. There are entertaining names for things:
- Eftpos—Payment by credit card. The first time someone looks at you and says “Eftpos?” can be confusing. (The technical name for a credit card payment made by a machine in a store is: Electronic Financial Transaction at Point of Sale: Eftpos!)
- Forecourt Concierge—Gas station attendant
- Panelbeaters—Auto body shop
- Trolley—Shopping cart
Good to Know About New Zealand
They know we’re coming! The roadside is regularly punctuated with billboards of advice for visiting drivers: you’ll need extra time getting anywhere in New Zealand. They are correct. Take your time, rest if you feel sleepy, don’t use your phone. There was a billboard telling us not to drink coffee while driving, What!!!!!????
My version of Afghan biscuits.
Biscuits (Cookies): There are crazy and beloved sweets like lolly cake (broken up meringue-like neon colored candy in a paste of sweetened condensed milk and vanilla wafers. Other cookies harken back to the early 20th century wars that New Zealand took part in, the Boer War, and WWI & II. Women sent sweets to soldiers, including Afghans and Anzac biscuits, durable concoctions of corn flakes, oatmeal, coconut, chocolate and such.
Cafes: Our favorite cafe was the Bus Stop Cafe in Te Horo. Say hello to Kirsty for me when you are there. We also liked the corner store in Piha on weekends when they have delicious pastry.
Coffee: New Zealanders (do I have to call people Kiwis?) drink their coffee very, very strong. Order a flat white, but remember, it only looks white.
Driving: Drivers were rational, if generally opposed to passing. That’s not a bad thing, just don’t be in a hurry. We did not find any speed cameras or meet any of the local constabulary. On the other hand, we were never in a hurry. Some roads are narrow and lack shoulders, like places in Ireland and Scotland. You get used to it, sortof.
Sheep vs. Cows: Dairy products are uniformly delicious, from butter and cream to yogurt, cheese and anything else they make. I believe the dairy industry is creeping up on the famous woolen/lamb industry. We didn’t see as many sheep as we expected based on the statistic that there are 23 sheep for every person in New Zealand. All the merino wool products we saw for sale were blended with possum fur in a conservation theme for tourists. (Possums are an invasive pest with very soft fur. I bought gloves.)
Restaurants: We don’t eat out often, but Fleur’s Restaurant in Moeraki is very much worth a visit.
Shopping: Even the grocery store was friendly. The New World chain offers their discount card in visitor form, no local address required, yet it gives you shopping and gas discounts. Thanks, NW.
Weather: We timed our visit to be in the North Island in their Spring season (Nov.) and South Island in their Spring (Dec.), and both proved mostly cool and regularly rainy. People said that “Last Year”….it was much warmer in the spring. If I visit again, I guess I’d wait until January or maybe even February. New Zealand is never hot, it’s a bit like Ireland. People wear heavy wet suits to go in the water in the summer. Children and adults alike swim in wet suits with ear-covering caps. We admired their enthusiasm and did 99% more beach-walking than swimming.
Wine: We did not select a favorite wine since the country is wall to wall wine, but we did like the pink Pinot Gris from Weaver Estate. We visited a number of “cellar doors” (tasting rooms). Tasting is inexpensive compared to California, though wine prices are comparable.
Visa: No visa is required if you stay less than 90 days. That makes life easy. Contrast this with my post on trying to getting a six-month tourist visa for Australia. Stick to 90 days if you can.
I leave you with sunset over Kapiti Island.