This distant island country on the other side of the world had been capturing our minds for quite a while before we visited it. It was one of our top destinations to visit, not only because people who have been there can’t stop praising it with all possible superlatives, but also because, you know, if you love travelling, there are some destinations you simply want to visit without any particular reason. It’s not actually about wanting, or having to, it’s about feeling it. It’s about feeling the country before you even set foot on it, and so it was for us: we felt New Zealand was going to be a big something for us before we even knew why.
We arrived here with the working holiday visa without knowing whether we were going to spend here a day or a year, and now it turns out that we’re leaving the country just before our visa expires. Man it’s been an intense year of working, travelling, but mostly learning, so here we are now, sharing what we’ve learned about this amazing country after 356 days and 8014 km.
1. NEW ZEALAND HAS THE MOST STUNNING NATURE ON EARTH
We’ve been posting regularly about our adventures, and there came a point when Nejc suddenly said to me: “I’m so sick of writing the same thing over and over again. All we write about is how beautiful, amazing, stunning and mesmerizing everything is. Aren’t there any other adjectives we can use?” Please let us know if you can think of any other words to describe something so indescribably beautiful. There is simply no such country in the whole world as New Zealand. In this small territory that it covers, you can find absolutely everything: beautiful beaches, wild ocean, volcanoes, active thermal areas, colourful lakes, mountains, glaciers, forests, jungle, fiords, in short, if I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING! The only thing New Zealand doesn’t have are highways (except for about 100 km of highway north and south from Auckland that is pretty much useless).
2. KIWIS ARE THE FRIENDLIEST PEOPLE EVER
Don’t mess with this people! If they ask you “how are you doing today” (and they will, and they’ll do it way over just a couple of times a day), you better start telling them how your whole day has been. This question is much more serious than you can possibly imagine. It’s not just a polite gesture to break the ice; wonderful conversations and everlasting friendships may start with this simple question. They trust each other, help each other, laugh with each other even though it’s with a stranger. Being warm and helpful is part of their nature; it’s the way they were raised the way they live, the way they simply ARE.
3. MEETING FOR BRUNCH IS THE FAVOURITE WAY OF SOCIALIZING
We have never seen such a big coffee-drinking culture anywhere else in the world, not even in Italy! The constantly busy cafes in New Zealand open at 7 am and close at around 4 pm. The rush starts as soon as they open when people come for coffee and breakfast right before they start working, and continues through the lunch time that usually finishes at 3 pm. Breakfasts are huuuuge and coffees thoroughly prepared; a large latte with a thick foamy flower design on top was our favourite sin 🙂
The very funny thing for us was that after 4 pm, there is NO WAY you can get a coffee anywhere in the whole New Zealand. Whaaaaat?! Afternoon is the perfect time for us to sit and relax over a cup of latte, but, sorry mate, it’s just not gonna happen.
4. IF YOU’RE 30 OR LESS AND WANT TO BUY A BEER, ALWAYS, ALWAYS BRING AN ID WITH YOU!
I still don’t completely understand this weird alcohol policy. The age limit for buying alcohol is 18, but if you look 25 or less, they are obliged to ask you for an ID. Even more: if there is two of you, and you both look under 25, and only one of you has an ID to prove their age, you can both say good bye to this refreshing beer looking at you from the arms of the supervisor that is about to put it back in the store. People, I am 30 and it’s happened to me more than once that I couldn’t buy alcohol from a store just because I wasn’t carrying my ID with me. That kind of makes me feel good because it means I look younger than I actually am, but there were a couple of times that I left the store a little pissed off. This whole alcohol and ID thing seems so strange to me that even after a year I still haven’t quite gotten used to bringing my Passport with me to the store.
5. THIS WETA CREATURE … WHAT IS THAT ALL ABOUT?!
New Zealand has a very reach wildlife, and really makes its best to take a good care of it. While walking through the forests, you’ll always find boards explaining what kind of wildlife you can find in the area. During one of those walks, we came across a board with a picture of a creature you can see below. This fellow is called Weta. I don’t know if it’s just me, but this looks to me like a very ugly version of a cockroach with grasshopper’s genes. While this is one of the ugliest creatures in NZ, locals seem to be very proud of it as every second hotel, cafe or even a restaurant is named after Weta.
In Wellington, we visited a very famous workshop where they make all those cool props and costumes for movies such as The lord of the rings, The Hobbit etc. Guess what the workshop is called like? The Weta cave!
I’m about to google right now what’s this all about.
6. THERE ARE FENCES ALL OVER THE COUNTRY
When we first started travelling here in our new camper van, we were like: “Yeah, New Zealand is super vast and there will be heaps of places to park our car and camp there for free.” While there are hundreds of free camp sites all over the country, there is absolutely no other way to camp anywhere else but on camp grounds provided. Literally, I mean literally ever acre in New Zealand belongs to someone, either it’s a private house or a farm. When you drive down the New zealand roads, you will much likely see never ending fences enclosing everything that is on your left or on your right side.
7. DON’T BOTHER ABOUT GOING A BIT TOO FAST, BUT WHEN YOU’RE GOING TOO SLOW, THE POLICE WILL BE SOON AFTER YOU
This was probably the funniest thing that happened to us. The speed limit on New Zealand roads is usually 100 km/h, but driving around with a heavy camper van we thought that going 80 km/h would be a reasonable speed to save on gas. One day when we were driving at our chilled pace, we got stopped by the police. We freaked out, not knowing what the hell was going on. A super kind man in the uniform approached to our van and said politely: “No worries, guys, it’s all good, I just wanted to let you know that the speed limit on this road is 100 km/h, and if you decide to drive slower, that’s ok, but just make sure to pull off when there are other vehicles behind going faster than you to let them bass you by.” He didn’t bother about checking our driving license, he just smiled kindly and continued on.
Ever heard of sandflies? No?
This little beasts are the worst! In summer, there are heaps of them everywhere. They love humid areas (tell me, which area in NZ is NOT humid? :)), but in the South island they will literally eat you for lunch. The thing is, they bite like crazy, and the sting is so itchy it can last for weeks! I even got allergic reactions to their bites and my feet got swollen more than once. Unfortunately, there is nothing to do about it as there are so many it’s impossible to avoid them (I wonder when will they become a highly respected part of NZ wildlife like weta). The repellent maybe does 20% of the job, but the rest is covering yourself with clothes from bottom to top. Antihistamine creme is a really good solution, though.
9. THE NEW ZEALAND SUN IS STRONG AS HELL
New Zealand is generally a cool country, but when the sun comes out you better hide from it, or put 50 SPF on your skin. The ozone layer over New Zealand is extremely thin, and you need to be very careful with the sun even in winter time. Forget about endless sunbathing hours on the beach, even though your skin is used to the sun. No skin is used to the New Zealand sun, I’m repeating: no skin!
I don’t know if it’s because rubbish bins destroy the view or what, but for every 100 rubbish bins you’ll find in Europe, you’ll find one in New Zealand. Sometimes you can go the whole day looking to get rid of your rubbish bag and it just seems mission impossible. Now, try buying yourself a can of Coke in a supermarket to drink it on the street and throw the can away. Good luck with that!
11. THERE ARE TOILETS EVERYWHERE
New Zealand is a pee-friendly country, there’s no doubt about it. There are picnic places or camp grounds with toilets every 200 m. There are public toilets in every single town so that you don’t have to knock on the door of any random cafe and ask them to use their toilet. There are toilets in the middle of the bush while hiking in the mountains (I’m not kidding!). In a word, there are so many toilets all over New Zealand that even if you’re one of those people who urgently need to pee every 20 seconds like me, you can actually choose which toilet you’re going to use. That’s really awesome, and I am a 100% serious about it because you can’t possibly imagine how much I appreciate that.
12. I-SITE IS THE BEST PLACE TO GET ALL THE INFO YOU NEED
Every destination in New Zealand has its local i-site, and for what we’ve experienced it’s very useful to stop by and have a nice chat with the person working at the counter. No tourist guide book will give you the amount of top information about the area as the i-site. Whether you want to ask for the best places to stay, see, eat, shop, they will provide everything! Ask what you can do for free and you’ll be nicely surprised how many free things you can do in such an expensive country.
New Zealand is a cold country, that’s the fact we all know. What you don’t know is that, if you come here long-term and spend the winter, you’ll be feeling cold as hell. We heard stories of people living in a house where they had to put seven layers of blankets to sleep under, and weren’t able to flush the toilet in the morning because the water in the pipes got frozen. Luckily we didn’t live in such extreme conditions, but in cold winter days there was still no way to warm up our bodies properly. Words such as “insulation” and “central heating” don’t seem to exist in New Zealand English vocabulary 🙂
This is a pretty crazy thing, but we saw many local people walking barefoot on the streets, in the supermarkets, and even having breakfast in cafes! We still don’t know what’s the reason behind this attitude – another thing to google I guess 🙂
As every thing in this world, New Zealand has good things, and bad things, and many good things, and few bad things. In a year, we’ve experienced all of its aspects, but the fact is: we fell in love with this country, its people, its nature and its culture, and we are going to miss it more than we can imagine. One day we would love to come back and explore more of its hidden corners and make more friends over a nice cup of cappuccino.