Here are some things I learned by traveling to New Zealand for the first time. Let me know if you have any to add!
- If you’re from the U.S., it’s a LOONG flight so be prepared. To make travel feel better on your body, follow some of the tips I gave for India. Thankfully you don’t need vaccinations, but do try the No-Jet-Lag and most of all, hydrate and stretch as much as you can.
- This may be your first experience of time travel, so pay attention. We left on Wednesday Nov 19 and arrived on Friday Nov 21, completely skipping Thursday. When we came back, we left in the evening of Saturday Dec 6, and arrived in San Francisco that same MORNING. Another hop to Austin and by the time we were asleep it was 10 pm, SAME DAY. So coming home was a 2-day Saturday, yikes!
- Kiwi’s (the people of New Zealand) speak English and are all very friendly to Americans, but you may be surprised to sometimes find the accent difficult to understand. It’s a bit British-sounding in tone and word selection (i.e. “Lovely!”) “Yes” becomes a long drawn out “Yeeeeeeees” and “bed” turns into “bead”, for example.
- If you’re renting a car, note that Kiwi’s drive on the opposite side of the road, in the opposite side of the car, and there are many roundabouts to deal with on top of it. Pay attention at all times, and STAY LEFT.
- Although the situation is improving, DO wear sunscreen, especially on your face and ears (head too if you’re bald). I generally don’t when at home, but the hole in the ozone there isn’t kidding. If not, you’ll scratch your ear one day and not realize how much it stings, or find your neck peeling for no apparent reason.
- New Zealand is PARTICULARLY finicky about bringing anything into the country that might disturb their ecosystem; they even ask whether you’ve worn your shoes hiking anywhere. So, make sure any food you bring and don’t devour on the plane is packaged up when you land, and avoid having vegetables, fruit or meats with you. The benefit is that New Zealand has birds and plants we don’t have in the U.S,, and sometimes just walking around smells like a flower gently exploded inside your nose.
- In the city of Auckland you will find just about every type of food you might want. It’s a lovely big city, with lots to walk to (mind all the hills!), especially sushi. However, it is quite expensive, as any large city is. They deal in New Zealand dollars, or NZD, so check the conversion rate when you’re going.
- As of this writing, Christchurch is still rebuilding from the earthquakes. One side of the street will be perfectly normal; the other might look as if a bomb just went off. Rebuilding couldn’t start until mid 2013 because the earthquakes just kept coming. Still, supporting the lovely people of this city as they rebuild is very important. If you go before Feb 2015, check out all the painted giraffes scattered across the city: 99 to be exact. They will be auctioned off on the anniversary of the quake.
- If you like wine and/or coffee, you’re completely in the right country! Also, if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, you’ll likely enjoy all the cows and sheep (literally millions) that are used for dairy and meat. But if you are, you’ll find many places that are accommodating.
- November/December (when we went) is spring headed toward summer. In my opinion, it makes the whole “holiday season vibe” a bit more chill, though somewhat strange at first.
- The best local phrase to know is “Kia ora”. It is a phrase spoken by the Māori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. Māori are often the people who will show you around their home–e.g. through caves, museums, gardens, etc. In fact, they own the land that contain the caves, therefore they own the caves themselves! Many non-Māori people in New Zealand seem to pronounce it “Mary”.
- Your iPhone will work in New Zealand, but talk to you carrier about a global data plan if you need, and watch the roaming charges!
- What we noticed as we drove around was that a lot of the rivers in New Zealand look terribly sparse and therefore quite ugly–but this is not for a lack of rain. Rather, it’s because the water from the rivers is irrigated elsewhere.
- The other thing for those of you who like to frequent public places is that SO many people smoke! I hadn’t realized it at first, but especially at restaurants with outdoor space, you would sit outside and there could be three out of six tables smoking cigarettes. As we waited to come off the Waiheke ferry, a guy stood there rolling his own cigarettes. It can be a little rough if you’re sensitive to the smoke, so just be aware.
- Lastly, when you see the grocery store “Countdown” while you’re driving, do NOT start thinking of the song The Final Countdown. Really, just don’t.
For the specific stories about our trip, see New Zealand (2014).