After living an entire year abroad, I have learned a lot about the people and the culture of New Zealand.
After completing the Appalachian Trail last year, I wondered how I could top such an adventure? And so I decided to travel to the other side of the planet to visit the great country of New Zealand. With only a working holiday visa in hand and my belongings stuffed in a backpack, I flew across the Pacific (with a quick stop in Hawaii) to a land down under.
My year abroad was an incredible adventure. I tasted some of the world’s best wines, jumped off the third-highest bungee platform, went on great walks, stood under waterfalls, visited sets from Lord of the Rings, cruised fjords, climbed mountains, played with parrots, spotted rare penguins, and so much more. Even though the common tongue was English, I noticed many differences between this faraway land and my homeland of the United States. But first, here’s a video of one of my many road trips across New Zealand:
The most obvious difference in New Zealand was driving. Kiwis drive on the left side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the right side of the vehicle (just like in the UK). I had the opportunity to own a wonderfully ugly 1992 Toyota Camry and only managed to drive on the wrong side of the road once or twice. I quickly adapted to driving on the left side of the road and it’s become quite natural now. However, I never did remember that the driver’s seat was on the right and frequently went to the wrong door of my car!
Because my car, the Chariot of Dreams as I christened it, was so old, I was required to get a Warrant of Fitness (WOF) every six months to make sure the car was up to snuff for driving. Newer cars only need do this once a year. To obtain my WOF I took my car in for a comprehensive assessment of the vehicle to make sure nothing would impede its ability to safely drive. For example, I had to pay $200 to install new door handles on the passenger doors because they had cracked. However they did not seem to mind that the car was missing the airbags. Go figure.
Having previously worked as a transportation engineer designing roads, I noticed a lot about the New Zealand highway system, or lack thereof. The rural nature of New Zealand meant that most highways are two-lane roads that twist and turn so much it’s nearly impossible to pass anyone! And the speed limits are rather low for good reason. I would be driving along at the speed limit of 100km/hr and a sharp turn would come out of nowhere and the speed limit would abruptly drop to 50km/hr. It made me appreciate how safe and well designed American highways are.
While the road system may not compare to the U.S., kiwis are ahead when it comes to adopting contact-less payment systems. Almost every store accepts credit cards and had contact-less payment as an option, or Paywave as they call it. All of the credit cards came equipped with the function, unlike in America.
When it comes to cash, the dollar bills are made of plastic with each denomination a different color. This is way more sensible than paper money! The coins get bigger as the denominations increase which makes complete sense. And even more sensible is the lack of pennies; New Zealand dropped the penny with everything rounded up to the nearest ten cents if paying in cash.
Sales tax is included in the price of items and there is no tipping. So the price you see is what you pay! Very easy and simple. And for those working in New Zealand, income tax is automatic based on your tax code and the revenue service calculates your refund or bill and deposits it automatically into your account. Why can’t America make things easy?
Rent is typically paid by the week which is odd at first but also makes it much easier when moving. You don’t have to wait until the end of the month to move out of your place and what you owe each week is much less than paying a monthly bill.
Though there are many similarities between Kiwis and Aussies, the accents are actually different. Kiwis are soft-spoken and Aussies are loud like Americans. Everything is spelled as in British English, like colour and aluminium. The letter Z is pronounced zed. When spelling or reciting a phone number, recurring characters would be recited as “double ___”. My name, Danny, would be spelled as D – A – double N – Y. This was very frustrating when I was working reception at a lodge and people would spell their name or give me credit card numbers over the phone. I always think they are saying W and it would really be double something else.
Here are some common Kiwi terminology:
All Blacks – the national rugby team that is world renowned
Bench – counter
Capsicum – bell pepper
Coriander – cilantro
Entree – appetizer
Heaps – a lot of something
Kumara – sweet potato
Main – main course or entree as Americans would say
Takeaway – to go, as in food to go
Till – cash register
Track – a hiking trail
Tramping – hiking
Wee – small amount, or a wee bit
Kiwis also don’t like to finish similes. For example, instead of saying something is cool, one might say “sweet as.” Or I am tired as. They never finish the comparison.
Here are a few other random observations that stood out to me. Cucumbers come shrink-wrapped in plastic. Red onions are already peeled at the store but yellow onions are not. I heard the ice cream truck playing the Christmas song “We Three Kings” and it was not Christmastime. And lastly, New Zealand has done a much better job than America and Australia at trying to right the wrongs done against the native populations. Maori culture can be seen everywhere from the names of places to the haka challenge performed before each rugby game by the All Blacks. The familiar Maori greeting of “Kia ora” is used widely.
MORE TO COME
Though my one year working holiday has come to an end, I am not finished with New Zealand just yet. In a few weeks I will begin hiking 3,000km from north to south across New Zealand on the Te Araroa trail. I will be keeping a detailed blog just as I did on the Appalachian Trail. Also, stay tuned for more blogs about my time working in Milford Sound, the eighth wonder of the world!
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