Just came across this post in our archives that we never published! What a fun time capsule. Here’s a post from March 2016 as we left New Zealand during our round the world trip!
Our two months in New Zealand were incredible. We’ve already shared our road trip itinerary, but we still have a lot of tell you about what a different world it is down there.
Nate did a great job driving on the left. I was surprised how nerve-wracking it was for me at first as a passenger. Intersections were awkward and scary. But rotaries in New Zealand are a beautiful thing: everyone uses their signals to indicate which exit they are heading towards and it always works seamlessly. We could use some of their influence in Boston for sure.
Of course with so much driving, we often had to find some sort of caffeine for Nate. Since regular drip coffee is very rare in cafes, it took us weeks to understand the difference between espresso-based drinks such as long blacks, short blacks, ristrettos, and flat whites. Nate was a trooper and eventually settled on a long black for his preferred drink. I learned to always ask if the iced chai latte is made with ice cream because apparently that’s the standard. Barf.
Nate finally finds some drip coffee in Christchurch, where every street has a construction site, still rebuilding from the 2010-2011 earthquakes.In our extended time on the road, we were also able to observe the copious amounts of roadkill in New Zealand. I have never seen so much roadside carnage in my life. Apparently, they are mostly stoats, a type of weasel, which are an invasive species, so no one frets about the stoat loss, but no one cleans them up either. It’s weird.
Speaking of pests, New Zealand also has a possum problem. Because they are often hunted, possum fur clothing is a thing. A gross thing, to us as outsiders, but a thing nonetheless. One night as we were falling asleep in our room in rural Wanaka, we saw two big flashlights off in the distance and several gunshots over the course of an hour. We later learned that it was likely possum hunters; either farmers trying to rid their land of possums or hunters out to kill them for wool – or both. Possum hunting: another new concept we experienced in New Zealand. Also, I also saw my first hedgehog in Christchurch while we went for a walk with our friends. It was incredibly exciting for me, an avid sonic the hedgehog fan in my youth. Those things are so darn cute!
The New Zealand accent only tripped us up a few times. I absolutely couldn’t understand our host explaining how to use the laundry and he had to physically show me a two dollar coin to make his point clear. (To be fair, the phrase “two dollar coin” isn’t one I’m used to even without the accent!). But we did hear a few nifty new words often such as keen, posh, busking, and dodgey, which are all completely worth adding to our vocabulary in the US.
95% of the homes in New Zealand are strikingly similar one-floor 1960s-style bungalows. These are a people who know mansions won’t make them happy. We saw only a handful of larger-than-average homes in two months of driving across both islands. New Zealanders know their treasure is their environment and their relationships. It’s evident everywhere.
Of course, the environment is exactly what brought us to New Zealand. Let’s face it: this country is far from everything. It’s a pain to get to and a little bit of a pain to even get through the airport, because there are so many restrictions on what you cannot bring into the country. I had to go into a special biohazard room to clean off my boots, which I had scrubbed well the night before in Vietnam. They treasure their natural resources, and they should. It is absolutely worth all the time, effort, and money it takes to get to New Zealand. The country’s land mass is relatively “young” geologically and has a ton going on. Snow-capped mountains, hulking volcanoes, cavernous caves, and geothermal phenomena blanket both islands. It really was like nothing we had ever seen before. With the exception of some rainy days, we spent each day exploring whatever amazing natural wonder happened to be nearby. It was a lifestyle I could definitely get used to.
There are several themed fences. Yes, fences. There’s a bra fence, a boot fence, and a toothbrush fence. Not much more to say about that. Fences with stuff on them. It’s a thing.
We found, frustratingly at first, that stores typically close at 5pm during the week, and many are closed on Sundays as well. It made us realize how natural it is for everything to be available anytime in the US, and it was nice to learn that’s not necessarily the norm in other developed countries.
The thing we loved most about New Zealand’s culture was the overall vibe. People are friendly, always willing to help, and very talkative in stores and on the street. The cashiers always say “see you later!” although it’s clear we’re from far away and it’s pretty obvious that we won’t, in fact, see them later. But it’s sweet. Things are also more relaxed than what we’re used to. There are bare feet everywhere. At least a few every time we go to the grocery store. And sometimes no pants. I do wish they would wear pants. A lot of these details are ones we would count as “health hazards” in the US. Like dogs in restaurants. Never an issue in New Zealand. In the US, it likely would be.
Our friends Alex and Katie, who we met while hiking in Bolivia and invited us to stay with them in Christchurch if/when we made it to NZ (we did!), introduced us to a classic New Zealand cult vampire movie, What We Do in the Shadows. We’d heard several comments about the unique brand of “New Zealand comedy” and this was a great example. As a bonus, it features Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords, which we also watched a lot of while we were in country.
Though New Zealand is far away, we do hope to return someday for a true vacation. If you’re looking to take a trip to New Zealand, check out our itinerary for a taste of what there is to do and consider spending a fair bit of time in Wanaka (South Island) or Taupo (North Island), our two favorite lakeside towns.
If you’re curious about the New Zealand portion of our world trip in more detail, check out these related posts: