If you drive as far south in New Zealand as you can before running into the Pacific Ocean, you’ll be in the small town of Bluff, population 1750. Named after the steep hill (aka – bluff) overlooking it, the village possesses some of New Zealand’s natural beauty with its rocky shores and sweeping ocean views. The cargo port, cranes and storage facilities do give it a bit of an industrial feel, but every square inch of this country can’t be stunning and gorgeous, right?
During our stay in Bluff we ventured east to the Catlins, a protected natural area encompassing the southern tip of the island. At first the drive in wasn’t overly impressive, that is according to the jaded mentality we’ve developed in New Zealand where everything is expected to be breathtakingly gorgeous. However, as we came around a bend in the road the view opened up to that gorgeous scenery we’ve become accustomed to these last few weeks. We went on to explore the famous Nugget Point lighthouse and McClean waterfall.
New Zealand has certainly lived up to its reputation as one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. The beauty was rather expected, but some of the more unique and unusual aspects of it have come as a surprise.
Giggling over decks
During our time in New Zealand we’ve had the luxury of English-speaking television, something we haven’t seen often throughout this trip. We’ve even started following a reality show called “Our First Home” where families compete in renovating and selling houses. There’s a lot of talk about decks on this program. Large decks. Small decks. Beautiful decks. Someone wishing they had a big, gorgeous deck. Now replace the “e” with an “i”, per the Kiwi accent, and you’ll understand why this show has had Brian and I giggling like silly 12-year-olds.
Seriously though, the Kiwi accent is very unique and while it might initially sound similar to an Australian accent in our Americanized ears, after just a few weeks here we can clearly hear the difference. We’ve also learned a lot of new words and phrases. For instance, I’m often asked if I’m planning on going tramping. This comes up frequently since it’s something locals do a lot and I usually look like I’m dressed for it. Confused yet? I was too until I learned tramping means hiking. A bach is a vacation rental house, wops-wops refer to places out in the middle of nowhere, chocka means very full, jandals are sandals and a tiki tour involves heading out on a journey with no particular destination planned. We might be in an English-speaking nation, but we’re still expanding our language skills.
No Shoes, So Socks, No Problem
Bare feet are everywhere in New Zealand, which we found a little surprising at first. After all, it’s late fall and the temperatures are dropping every day. Nevertheless, bare feet are not a problem anywhere, as they’re simply a part of the culture. We’ve seen bare feet on hiking trails while tramping. (Sorry, but I just really like using the wholesome version of that word.) We’ve seen bare feet in restaurants, in stores, in parking lots and gas stations. In spite of the chill in the air, Kiwis seem to love to expose those toes.
A Country of Polar Bears
On a related note, Kiwis don’t seem to get cold. We’re experiencing days with highs in the 40s and lows in the teens, yet shorts, t-shirts and those bare feet or maybe some jandals are still the fashion of choice as if it’s summertime. Either the Kiwis’ affinity for cold weather meant little focus was put on heating houses, or perhaps the cold houses led to the citizens’ hardy constitutions. Either way, our family has made the adjustment to cold nights without central heat. Most houses have a heat pump in one room and space heaters in the bedrooms or perhaps electric blankets on the beds. To be honest, it’s been a surprisingly easy transition, so perhaps we’ll be saving on our heating bills when we return to the U.S. with our new Kiwi cold weather hardiness.
Stoat Is a Dirty Word and Possums Make Good Sweaters
New Zealand is extremely protective of its natural environment. This is made very clear to newcomers on arrival when completing the lengthy customs questionnaire. A “biosecurity risk item” includes anything used in outdoor activities…so, pretty much every piece of clothing we own. Information about environmental awareness is posted everywhere, so in just few days we learned a lot.
Ferrets, stoats, possums, rats and weasels aren’t indigenous to New Zealand. The little rascals stowed away on the European ships bringing settlers and traders to the country. In fact, New Zealand didn’t have land mammals throughout most of its natural history. As a result, flightless birds like kiwis and penguins evolved since they didn’t have the need to fly away from predators.
Unfortunately native birds are now under attack from this vile gang of mammal thugs who sneak into their nests at night and eat them. The herbivores, such as possums, gobble up the native flora and fauna, consuming an estimated 22000 metric tons of forest plants every night. New Zealand has declared war on the little invaders. While out tramping (there it is again), we’ll see wooden box traps that have been set up by conservation groups to catch these cute, but destructive critters. The New Zealand people have even found a good use for at least one of these loathed animals. Possum fur apparently makes incredible sweaters when combined with New Zealand’s fine Merino wool, so we might be coming home with one of those in our suitcase (a sweater, not a possum).
Sheep Outnumber the People
The ratio of sheep to people in New Zealand stands at about 7 to 1. Suffice it to say, we’ve seen A LOT of sheep. In fact, this country actually had a sheep that rose to international stardom a few years ago. Shrek the Sheep grew a massive amount of wool in the years he spent on his own wondering the hills of New Zealand’s southern island. When he was eventually found he became a media sensation and raised millions of dollars for children’s charities throughout the country.
Dual Cultural Heritage
The indigenous tribes of the Maori people arrived on the islands of New Zealand about 800 years before the Europeans first set eyes on this land. While a similar story of explorers arriving to find an established local culture occurred in North America as well, the blending of these two cultures in New Zealand serves as a unique outcome of colonization. When arriving at Auckland International Airport visitors see the word Aotearoa, the Maori’s word for the country which means “land of the long white cloud”. The Maori language can be found everywhere – city names, street signs, advertisements. Radio and television stations are dedicated to covering Maori news and culture, and the council of Maori tribe chiefs plays a significant role in the country’s policymaking. New Zealand appears to be a cultural success story the rest of the world could learn from quite a bit.
Tiny Flies from Hell
It can’t all be beautiful scenery and harmonious culture, though, can it? There had to be some small nuisance in this land of natural wonder. That small nuisance is called the sand fly, a blood-sucking pest whose bite lasts for weeks. They’re hardy little buggers, too. I thought the cool temperatures and morning frost would have taken them out for the season by now, but just yesterday I got two more sand fly bites. They’re probably the only thing we won’t miss about our time here.
Despite being in an English-speaking, westernized country we’ve still learned a lot. Everything from bugs to culture to language differences have made our time here interesting and a little surprising.