EpicTrip: New Zealand

May 22 – June 3, 2013

For those of you playing that at-home version, there are LOTS of photos and links to follow — please enjoy the first leg of the EpicTrip: New Zealand!

“I’m currently doing the most amazing thing I’ve ever done, and it’s only consisted of sitting thus far.” ~ AJB, Journal Entry from Plane

Most notable cultural difference:

If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between not being treated badly and being treated with dignity, book your flight to New Zealand. I think most of us know how to keep from treating people badly, many of us are used to that being the “norm” in service industries, but the Kiwis endeavor to treat you with dignity.

I know you’ve seen and experienced the less-involved type of interaction between strangers…

  • Ignore completely, do not make eye contact.
  • Glance at, recognize them as an object… like a tree.
  • Look at and nod, acknowledging their existence.
  • Look at and smile, acknowledging their existence and approving of it.
  • Saying (some form of) “Hello,” acknowledging their existence in a polite way that raises them to the status of “person.”
  • Saying more than “Hello,” like “how are you?” but not expecting (or waiting for) a response.
  • Saying more than “Hello,” like “how are you?” but not expecting (or wanting) a response beyond a polite “fine.”
  • Inquiring about your well-being while both waiting for and expecting a response beyond a polite “fine,” including follow-up banter.

…but have you encountered much of the more-involved type of interaction? I hadn’t. I didn’t even know people did this — not strangers, anyway. It was an intriguing and delightful surprise. From time to time, full-blown conversations came out of these “Good morning! Lovely day… where are you off to?” encounters. It’s a country full of people with “Talk to Me” signs!

“I’ve never been on a bird this big! I didn’t’ think I’d want to, but it’s quieter, smoother, take-off & landing is less turbulent, “rough air” has less of an effect… and I slept 6 straight hours with ease. My Releaf neck pillow certainly didn’t hurt matters, either.” ~ AJB, Journal Entry from Plane

Items of Note

These are things of which I’ll take special note in each country.

  • Recycling, Reducing, & Reusing Culture: Ingrained is the word I’d use for NZ. It’s not really optional, it’s not something people even think about, you just do it. This is reflected in the amount of packaging that’s used, too.
  • Rubbish Mindfulness: Everyone is mindful of their own rubbish. With this reduced amount of packaging — grocery items have less waste, socks have less packaging, if you already have a bag, they’re happy to use that one instead of giving you another, some places now charge 10 cents for bags — you don’t see trash around town. The streets and sidewalks are spotless. If you see trash, it stands out so much that you’re compelled to pick it up.
  • Ease of Walking (space, crosswalks, hills / steps, etc.): Everyone in NZ is intended to coexist. I’m not asserting that the entire country is altruistic, but cars do not take priority over pedestrians. Footpaths are ample, both in number and in size — some are roughly 6-people wide — and they even have sidewalk washers, like a Zamboni but smaller. Unless you’re down by the waterfront, though, it is very hilly. However, even if you’re a desk-jockey, you get used to it pretty quickly.
  • Ease of Public Transport (bus, train, taxi, ferry, etc.): People walk, they take ferries and buses. You are able to move about without a car if you’re going places where others would also go. Related to the mindfulness of one’s rubbish is the state of public transport vehicles: spotless and comfortable. The seats are upholstered yet clean, and there are no “mystery sticky bits” on the floors or handrails. Since fewer “cleaning up after slobs” precautions have to be taken (for those in ATL: think “plastic seats”), public transit is quite comfortable and rather affordable. (I took a no-frills bus down to Mordor that was comfortable and inexpensive, then rode a scenic train back to Auckland, complete with dinner and drinks. The city buses are just as clean an inexpensive.)
  • Politeness of Traffic: I should probably point out that it’s a lot easier to be polite when you’re not traveling 50+ mph. While there’s not a lot of gregarious “waving people in,” there’s also not a lot of egregious “cutting people off” either. Roundabouts are awesome, by the way. They also only work well if those using them also use their turn signals (or “indicators”). Let people know what you’re doing so everyone can work together. A honking horn is a very unusual thing to hear. Patience is shown to those who are parking (the parallel parking skills are amazing!) or are trying to turn but having to wait on something.
  • Graciousness of Service Personnel: I cannot say enough about this. For starters, they’re paid a reasonable wage and do not have to rely on tips. As a matter of fact, tipping isn’t really part of the culture. As such, it really doesn’t matter how long someone takes up a table, and simply being “done” doesn’t mean a check will be delivered. You can sit and relax as long as you’d like (which I did on several occasions). When you want your bill, you’ll need to ask for it.
  • Connectivity (Internet / Cell): Spotty. DSL is slower than what I’m used to, but works well when you can get a connection. The city provides several wifi hotspots around town, and many restaurants and cafes also provide wifi to patrons — the private connections are a little less reliable than the city-provided hotspots, but easier to come by.
  • Public Events: Didn’t really notice any, but there are always interesting paid events going on. Adventures, short-film competitions, Maori cultural demonstrations, museums, wine tastings, tours, etc.
  • Operating Schedules (Restaurants, Shops, etc.): Not sure what time things tend to open (they’re always open when I get there), but there isn’t a shortage of places that are open late. Most restaurants and cafes are open during the afternoon, even if they’re resetting for dinner.
  • Weather Preparedness / Accommodations (Homes & Public Areas): I found this incredibly interesting: no matter what time of year it is, the windows/doors will be open. This is true for public and private spaces. Most public spaces have walls that are designed to completely open up. After hearing several people talk about how the buildings aren’t designed well for such damp winters — very few places have central heating, most are outfitted with fireplaces or aftermarket heaters that mount on the wall, which work really well — I asked about the reasons behind leaving the windows and doors open. The response: how would you get fresh air otherwise? And they’re right… how would you? Fresh air is valued over creature comforts. I rather liked that, except that my feet were cold.

    • Prevalence of Fire / Heaters: They’re everywhere! Seriously: everywhere. They know they have the windows and doors open, and that you’re probably cold and wet… so come’on in and warm up.

  • Variety / Quality of Foods: A highlight for me: the food is amazing and I can eat most of it! A lot of meat and veg, very fresh, high quality cuts, and not a lot of fillers. Fish & Chips is a staple and they take great care in making it perfect. Chicken that tastes like chicken (contrary to popular belief, chicken has a flavor), high quality beef cuts in everything from steaksto meat pies, and oh the meat pies! I’ll also say that I intend to look into the sugar being used in US foods… because I had a chocolate-covered ice cream (which I’m really not supposed to eat) and had zero ill effects. None. Felt fine, even the next day. Curious.

  • Incorporation / Respect for Indigenous Peoples: Immense, from my perspective. The Maori are incorporated into the government and own much of the land in NZ. Some of the land that had been taken years ago is also being given back to the Maori — places they deem sacred. You will hear a good bit of rumbling about the Maori and how they make progress difficult, are lazy, have substance-abuse problems, and the like, but if you ask those who rumble, you’ll also get a more tempered response: progress is difficult because the Maori are preserving the land and want to ensure that progress does not mean destruction, which is good, because without the Maori, New Zealand wouldn’t have the resources, beauty, or reverence for the environment that it has.
  • Pet Culture: Pets are welcome just about everywhere. Since all the windows and doors are open anyway, most places have “patios” where you can bring your dog. Cats do what they please, but there’s not an overpopulation of them eating up the birds and such.
  • Preservation Culture: There are many areas that are simply ribboned-off as reforestation areas (anywhere from 10 sq. ft. to entire hillsides) to give the vegetation a chance to regrow. When walkways are built, they are designed to incorporate the environment around it — not only for preservation, but for visual minimalism as well.
  • Public Access to Amenities (Coasts / Beaches, etc.): Public access to the coast is considered a right. You may develop waterfront properties, but you must also provide public access to the beach. Businesses and wealthy people may have wonderful views, but the citizens are granted access to the natural resources inherent to NZ. I really like this.

  • Spacial Awareness: Since no one is in a dreadful hurry, there is also no reason to get pushy. People are aware of how much space they take up and allow you your space as well. Since walking is such a big part of the culture, people also tend to be polite when passing or stopping. If there’s room, they’ll pass; if not, they’ll just slow down a bit. If they need to stop, they’ll move to the side so others can keep moving. Easiest way to spot a tourist: stops in the middle of the walkway.
  • Coffee Culture: Coffee is everywhere! And we’re talking espresso machines, not brewed coffee. You cannot get brewed coffee unless you make it at home. The local drink of choice: Flat White, which is similar to a latte, but has a higher coffee to milk ratio and is a bit more velvety. Homemade coffee is generally instant.

  • Wine & Beer Culture: Plenty of local options. Moa and Tui beers are solid lager choices, and it’s hard to go wrong with the local wines. The organic wine is delightful, and there is one vineyard that goes to great lengths to make a natural, clean, environmentally-conscious wine (lots of hand-cleaning, using gravity to help the wine through the different stages instead of pumps, and absolutely no chemistry sets — there’s a lot of chemistry tampering going on in most wineries). Wine can be made anywhere in the country, but the wineries are concentrated on Waiheke Island. The tours are a good price for the ferry to/from the island, transportation while on the island (even when you’re not on the tour itself), all the tastings and the delightful commentary. Honestly, the people who work in the service industry in NZ really shine.
  • Cell Phone / Personal Entertainment Culture: Minimal. People have cell phones, but you don’t see them out during dinner, or while riding public transportation, or while walking around town. You’ll see a few headsets, but they stand out because so few people are “plugged in.”
  • Smoking Culture: Rare. Most of the smokers I saw were Europeans on holiday. 1) it trashes that whole “fresh air” thing, 2) it creates waste, and 3) it’s an unnecessary expense. In a country where you can turn off an electrical outlet when it’s not in use (brilliant!), spending money on things you cannot share with others (like drinks!) is considered wasteful.

 “I’m in awe of everything.” ~ AJB, Journal Entry

What I Learned

  • I love meat pies, soft boiled eggs, and Vegemite. (Judge me all you want!)
  • I love winters that are really just cold falls.
  • I love clean and efficient buses, trains, and ferries.
  • Clanking coconuts together: Kiwis did it before Monty Python, but for a different effect.

This is the “Pick your Adventure” part of the post.

Follow these links to the adventure stories you want to read!


If you cannot tell already, the EpicTrip is off to a great start!


Note: Uploading videos really isn’t going to happen from my current location, but I’ll update this post with some videos in the near future!