(Posted by Kristin and Xavier)
We started this list at the beginning of the trip, and it just grew and grew as the days went by. Here they are, in no particular order, the things we love about New Zealand:
Sheep: Sheep and more sheep (see Sheepspotting post). We love sheep! The only thing more plentiful in New Zealand may be all the rabbits! Even the locals say there are too many rabbits.
Kiwis: What’s not to love about these adorable birds. Save the Kiwis!
Free national parks: You pay through the nose for action-packed activities, but just wandering through national parks is free. The parks and trails are so wonderfully set up and managed, so it is easy to drop a few coins into the donation boxes to support the parks.
Everyone is nice: The people are wonderful, absolutely wonderful. We found ourselves smiling a lot at each other after meeting so many New Zealanders.
Super tourist-friendly: Every town big and small seems to have an “i-Site” where you can get maps and advice on the area. Everyone backpacks, hikes, camps, bikes, etc. There are heaps of lodging options for all budgets: well-equipped hostels (aka Backpackers) — some much better than others, hotels, motels, inns, resorts, B&Bs, homestays, Holiday Parks, and Department of Conservation (DOC) campgrounds.
Savoury pies & sausage rolls: They’re everywhere, inexpensive, and delicious! Mmmm…steak and mushroom, mince and cheese, Moroccan lamb, you name it! They are relatively small, so you don’t feel toooo guilty eating one.
Our bus drivers and guides: Bruce, Graham, Craig, Johnny Boy. These nice guys were lots of fun and gave us lots of good information and tips!
No tipping required: This is just a lot less stressful, also knowing that restaurant staff are making a decent wage. But feel free to tip for outstanding service!
Hot water dispensers: most of our hostels had these wonderful wall units that dispense BOILING hot water at any time of day for your tea or coffee (or ramen noodles).
Cool phrases/expressions/words (many of them from the English, of course)
– Sweet as = Very New Zealandy, and on many tourist t-shirts, this means “awesome”!”
– Wee = Little
– Give Way = Yield
– Takeaway = Food to go
– Top up = Refill
– Panelbeaters = Auto body shop
– Hire = Rent
– Trade = For sale
Beautiful landscape: thick vegetation, ferns galore, rivers, lakes, snow cap peaks, fjords, glaciers, countless waterfalls, and rugged west coastline. This is mega outdoor life, on steroids, country.
Loos: They have nice, clean public toilets everywhere, dual flush toilets are standard — and the soap usually smells really good!
Non-scary (and generally cute!) wildlife: Unlike their neighbor to the NW, there are no dangerous predators (for humans) – none!
Environmental awareness: There are recycling containers everywhere or direct you to the nearest recycling center. They have separate containers for cans, bottles, plastics, food scraps, paper (sometimes combined with food scraps because its compostible) and rubbish (also referred to as landfill).
Standard gasoline prices by region or at least by city/town, which means that you don’t need to look for the best deal, the price of gasoline is about the same at all gasoline stations.
Strict dog and cat leash laws: We saw few dogs and cats in public, and the ones we did see were on leash. The main reason for this is for the protection of the fragile native wildlife. Example: In one area a dog in killed over 100 kiwis in 1991, so dogs are barred from most national parks we saw.
Serious liqour laws: Low tolerance for drunkenness and many “Liquor Ban” areas.
No billboards! There were just a few safety ones like “Drink = Die” or “Tired, pull over and rest,” “Traffic behind you? Let it pass”, and general tourist information signs.
Cleanliness: This is a seriously clean country, meaning no litter and no graffiti! Even in public bathrooms. Oops, just once Xavier did see some, but it was drawn by someone who did have good comic strip drawing skills. We saw more graffitti in hostels, probably by foreign travelers.
Old cars: We saw countless old classic cars, usually in really good shape and driving well.
Skate parks: Neither of us skateboards, but we were impressed by the number of skate parks in towns big and small. They were usually occupied by kids on skateboards, scooters and bikes.
The “7’s” Rugby Tournament!: Think of NFL size players without an ounce of fat on them, super fit, seven per team, running around a football-size field trying to cross each others’ goals, no timeouts — and in this tournament each national team plays 3 games per day for 2 days straight. All the New Zealanders made a point of also mentioning that in this game they wear no padding. We quickly became fans and got caught up in the excitement. Plus the fans were all dressed up in the stands. Think of Halloween meets Rio’s Carnival. We want to go to the next “7’s Rugby Tournament” in Wellington!
Maori people and culture: First of all, the New Zealanders seem to do a much better job of honoring the culture of the indigenous people than other countries (ahem US, and even Australia). Signs everywhere are written in English and Maori, in varying order depending on the context. Maori art (including tattoos) is really beautiful and rife with symbolism, rich in history passed along through many generations. A national repect for Maori language and culture.
Kapiti ice cream: This is just really good ice cream, in both sticks and scoops, with unusual flavors. Our favorites were affogato, white chocolate raspberry, yoghurt passionfruit, and boysenberry chocolate. Mmmm.
…and not so much
“Summer” weather (particularly in the South Island): NZ summer is cold! At least fifty percent of the time we were bundled up in fleece and hats!
Sand flies: These are tiny, wretched, awful little things that attack you in hordes, bite you, and the bites itch for weeks!
Elusive wifi: We’re so used to having free wifi in stores and cafes, not to mention just being able to get a signal in the U.S., not so here. Free wifi? HA! Even Starbucks will only give you 30 minutes of free wifi or 2mb, whatever comes first. And that is only after you buy something. This is pretty much standard here, and only in the places that offer it. The locals say it’s pretty expensive here. Oh, and good luck on getting a signal once you’re out of the city.
Everything is on the left side. Besides the steering wheel and left side of street driving, but also when walking on the sidewalk. Stick to the left side.
Hours: Most if not all stores close at 5pm. Restaurants, bars, everything closes by 10pm.
Prices: Gasoline, compared to U.S. standards, is expensive. Food, also compared to U.S. standards, is a bit expensive. A lousy dollar doesn’t help.
Locks: This is really petty, but they all seem to turn in a counterintuitive direction.
Earthquakes: we felt a little jiggle of our own in Christchurch at 9:15pm on Jan 19, but nothing compared to the one that decimated the CBD two years ago.
One Lane Bridges: don’t really know if this is a bad thing but there are many one lane bridges, particularly on the West Coast of the South Island. Although they post signs at both ends of bridge indicating who has right of way, you still need to keep alert to oncoming traffic before and while you are on the bridge — it makes crossing bridges very exciting.