For only the second time, in order to describe my feelings for a country, I have to divide my thoughts into two, the physical country and the emotional country. I was describing this to someone the other day and he described it back to me in more simple terms, the scenery and the people, although I think it’s wider than the scenery on the physical side.
Physically NZ is lovely. Not to my mind spectacular, but really, really nice. One of the reasons it’s so nice is only having a population of 4 million, a quarter of which can be ignored as they are in one city, which can be bypassed easy enough if need be. Compared to the UK the place is pleasingly empty. Driving is easy, as the roads are so quiet. Camping and accommodation is readily available everywhere and is great value for money and provided to a really good standard.
In fact virtually everything is easy for the traveller. There are ATMs which work, well stocked supermarkets abound, cafes exist even in the tiniest of villages, fuel is available everywhere and is good quality, credit cards are accepted by nearly every business and so the list of easiness goes on.
The country is just amazingly accessible. Information offices, usually in the shape of iSites are common and the amount the country seems to spend on free maps and brochures which are dished out by those offices is amazing.
You don’t pay to enter the national parks. The hiking trails are gobsmacking, with car parks at the ends, sometimes along the way and you’ll suddenly find a composting toilet in the middle of the wilderness for your convenience. That’s another point actually, I’ve never seen a country with as many public loos as in NZ and they are all clean and all have paper.
Little things that niggle elsewhere, like in Britain for example, are not issues here, like parking charges. Only in the middle of the larger cities do you tend to have to pay to leave the car for a while.
The whole country is geared to campervanning. Supermarkets all offer dump stations for waste. Local towns label themselves ‘motor home’ friendly because they want the RV’ers dollars spent there, not in the next town. There are loads of free camping spots, as long as you have the ability to carry your waste away and can prove it with a ‘self containment’ certificate.
If you are a boater, there are public launch slips all over the place. Never have I seen a place so easy to get the bottom of your boat wet. Fishermen actually catch fish, because there are still some left here to catch.
I would say that if you are a mountain biking fisherman, who likes tramping and you travel in a motorhome, you would feel like you were in paradise, a word often used by Kiwis to describe their home country.
Physically New Zealand is a gem of a place.
On the emotional side, which I called as such, because I realised I have no emotional attachment to NZ, which has only ever happened to me before in Bolivia. I think you get emotional attachment from the people, so I guess it’s whether you label the thing from an input or output point of view. Beginning to sound like an essay now, isn’t it?
Getting conversations in NZ is more difficult than other countries and I think there are a few reasons chats are so much tougher to come across:
Kiwi’s are reserved. We British have a reputation for being standoffish, but we are extroverts compared to Kiwi’s. On some occasions I’ve realised it’s been a while since I talked to anyone and then I realised that’s because I haven’t spoken to anyone, if you get my drift. I’ve found I have to engage them first. If I don’t start a conversation here, it would be an incredibly quiet trip.
I don’t have Tara with me. She was always a great introducer because, firstly with all her luggage she was obviously a traveller’s bike, secondly she wore where she’d been on her sleeve with all the country stickers on her panniers and thirdly she had a foreign number plate, so was obviously far from home. So many people in other countries have approached me and started a conversation based on at least one of those three things Tara brings to the conversation party. Here I’m travelling in a local car. It just doesn’t work.
Next, I’m one of thousands of travellers / tourists. In the Americas I was one of the few and I was a traveller. Here I’m one of a hoard of tourists and yes, in my mind there is a massive difference between traveller and tourist.
Add to that, the fact I do not believe New Zealanders really like tourists. They want their money, but they just see them as a necessary evil and if their job has no connection with tourism, they don’t even add the ‘necessary’ bit to the description.
Lastly in my list, New Zealanders are incredibly insular. I thought the Americans were bad, but the NZ’ers have them beat. The limit of their world and of their interest is New Zealand and that’s the cosmopolitan ones. The rest only care about their own island or more likely, their particular patch of island. As a result, they just don’t care about you. They have no interest in where you are from, where you’ve been or where you are going. The one time they look overseas is, ‘how do we compare to Australia?’ They have a fixation with how they measure up to ‘across the Tasman’ or ‘over the ditch’.
I’m sure with a different style of travelling things may be different. Most Brits I meet here have relatives to visit and I expect that means they have had a friendlier experience. The youngsters on work permits will have had the advantage of settling down in a community for a while and that would help. Staying with the locals more, using say bed and breakfast, might give a different impression. To be fair, I was sent some local contacts details, mainly by people back in the UK. Had they introduced me in some way and checked those contacts were cool with hosting for a while or just meeting up, that would have been great, but I tended to get the contact details sent to me with a ‘I’m sure they’d love to see you’ message. Rightly or wrongly I didn’t pick up any of the offers.
Interestingly, I wonder if my conclusion would be different had I not had recently experienced the genuine friendliness of the South Americans and the more superficial, but incredibly high volume style of friendliness of the USA. I’m sure my expectations have been altered as I’ve gone along.
So my conclusion is, beautiful country, easy to travel around, but for me, no emotional attachment. I would compare it a little bit to going round a very nice National Park, but without the major wow factor of the American parks.
The other first for me and this is a result of the luxury of having so much time to explore a relatively small country and the lack of emotional connection, is that I don’t, at the current time anyway, so it may change, have any feeling that I’d like to return. A combination of, I’ve seen a hell of a lot of it and there’s nothing pulling me back.
I’ve met a lot of Brits in particular who have visited and decided this is where they want to live. I do get their decision, although it’s not something I’d want to do. NZ is too cut off for me, which is one of the major advantages New Zealanders quote about their country. Britain is joined on to Europe, which means I can drive to South Africa, or Korea, or India, or the Middle East and I’ve realised that for me, being part of something bigger geographically speaking is important. In NZ you have to fly out, end of story. That’s too restrictive for me and makes New Zealand way too small a place to be based and expensive to leave. It’s a personal view and one I realise is in the minority. It does however interest me, that roughly 20% of New Zealanders live in Australia.
Bottom line is I’ve really enjoyed the trip. I love the physical New Zealand and I’d highly recommend if you haven’t visited, visit and if you have visited, but haven’t spent enough time here, return. A quick word of warning though if you are British. Don’t look in the windows of any of the Real Estate companies, otherwise you’ll be moving here real quick.
If I was doing the trip again, I’d arrive two weeks earlier than I did, so I could do 2.5 months North Island and 3.5 South (I did 2 and 4) and still be out of the North just before Christmas. It would also mean I’d have avoided the recent Autumn change of clocks.
I enjoyed having the cycle, but again if I were to redo the trip, I’d bring an inflatable kayak instead, as they are the same weight for the plane trip. New Zealand is just so good for getting on the water and I’d personally prefer that ability to cycling. It would also be very easy to pick up a cheap secondhand cycle here and hence have the best of both worlds. As I write this bit I think I may be talking myself into wanting to come back sometime. Campervan, kayak, bike and walking boots would be a pretty good combination for New Zealand.
Facts and figures for the trip:
I’ve stayed in 65 different places, four of those places twice.
The tent has done 128 nights, cabins 41 and motels 11.
Total cost of my accommodation has been $5,700, so an average of $31.67 (£15.43) per night.
Goldie has carried me 15,672kms (9,740 miles) and the cycle 1,377 kms (856 miles). Guy also drove me about 300km in his 4wd and I’ve taken three ferries and a few buses.