New Zealand is a country that captured my imagination as a CEGEP student when I took a course called Geography of Tourism. I learned a lot about the island nation that term, and made a point of visiting it en route to and from Australia back in 1992. The landforms are reminiscent of Canada, but in a much more compact area. It’s a place where you can see mountains and glaciers on the same day as you drive through rainforest and relax on a beach!
Our friends in Fiji had given us the “heads up” that the New Zealand quarantine officers at the airport are very thorough in their search for biohazards or invasive species. As an island nation that has already been ‘invaded’ by many introduced species, they are serious and cautious about any possible new additions. So we made sure we declared absolutely everything: camping equipment, footwear that could have dirt in the treads, shells, and food (I think I only had some powdered milk, but I said ‘yes’ to having dairy products). We had to do a big unpacking job at customs, and they took our hiking shoes and tent for cleaning. They were returned to us about half an hour later, wet but sanitized. And we avoided the possible $400 fine for not declaring.
One of the things we were looking forward to about New Zealand, was cooler weather (especially night temperatures that would allow us to sleep more easily!) Our Canadian metabolisms had been severely challenged by the South Pacific heat! So, we were happy to walk out of the airport terminal into sunny and comfortable 22 degree weather. (Right now, however, we are in northern Queensland, Australia, and it is stinkin’ hot again!)
Without firm plans (as usual), we picked up our rental car in Auckland, and started looking at a map. We had arrived right smack at the height of tourist time; the week between Christmas and New Year. That is when many New Zealanders are on holiday themselves, because of course it is in the middle of summer vacation! We started driving north and soon realized that many others had already done that, as the campgrounds were full!
Some European travelers (who were also looking for somewhere to camp) told us about a free app we could download called “Campermate”. It turned out to be a great tool for finding campgrounds. All you do is zoom in on the part of the map you want, and colour-coded icons appear. We tended to go for the green ones since they are places where you can camp for free! Sometimes near a lake or river, and always with some form of a toilet, but not much else. There are also “DOC” sites (Dept. of Conservation) that cost about $6 for adults and $3 for kids. Having the car was really going to pay off by allowing us to access cheap accommodation. Many tourists travel in rented vans that have a built-in kitchen and bed — smaller than the RVs we normally see in Canada, but very practical for NZ.
Our little car and tent did us well (especially at the gas pump where the price was almost $2/litre). Our first indication that NZ prices would be higher than in Canada was at a Dunkin Donuts on the first day — one donut cost $2! And, in general, a cup of coffee cost about $4. So, needless to say, we shopped at grocery stores and cooked our own meals on the camp stove.
Some initial observations about New Zealand and its people (kiwis):
1. The roads follow the landscape and are very windy, and they haven’t wasted any money on bridge-building or paving shoulders.
2. There are a lot of sheep! OK, I guess we already knew that, but there are a lot of sheep!
3. Primary schools are small, tidy, and seem very inviting.
4. The New Zealand accent seems to be a case of “promoting” short vowels to the next one in the alphabet: a becomes e, e becomes i etc. We noticed this when ordering “fosh and chops”, looking for a “bid” for the night, or when we asked fellow “trikkers” how they were doing and got the answer, “Nut bed!”
5. We also noticed that many Moari words are very commonplace in New Zealand English. This speaks well, I think, for inter-cultural understanding. The only words I remember are “pakeha” which means “white person” , “waka” = canoe, and “marae” which refers to a gathering place (some marae are run as campgrounds, and we stayed at one near Raglan.) In fact, Maori is taught as a second language all over New Zealand. The Maori are of Polynesian descent and arrived in Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud) in the 13th century, which means that New Zealand has the shortest human history of any country. Europeans became aware of its existence in the 17th century. The Maori are still very connected to their “iwi” (tribe or people), their “hapu” (sub-tribe), their “whanau” (family), and the land. Most place names in New Zealand have Maori names only.
So, all in all, our first impressions of New Zealand were that it is a welcoming and comfortable place to travel with lots of opportunities for outdoor adventure.