I thought Australia was far away. But then I flew three hours south east to New Zealand. I had an opportunity to check out a globe the other day, and my proximity to any mainland besides Australia was shocking. I’m so far away in a land that is quickly exceeding my expectations, which were already very high.
I didn’t know this until I got to Australia, but New Zealand consists of a collection of islands, with the main bodies of land being the north and south islands. Jake and I started our New Zealand experience in Auckland on the north island. As I continue my descent into the south island, here are a few thoughts about my time in northern New Zealand:
- My Kiwi Experience. The best way to backpack New Zealand is either by renting a camper van or doing a hop on-hop off bus trip. We found a bus route that would cover most of the north and south islands in just over two weeks. Kiwi Experience is the name of the bus company, and it’s legendary here. I have a ticket for the bus which stops on a set route from town to town. I can stay as long as I want in each city, as long as I finish the entire route within 12 months. Buses run almost daily. These buses are driven by very knowledgable kiwi guides, who constantly get on the microphone to tell pertinent stories or point out cool landmarks (Quick side note-New Zealanders are called “Kiwis” because of their famous kiwi bird). Kiwi Experience guarantees available spots for hostels and activities in each city. The concept is brilliant, as it takes all the stress away from traveling while still giving you plenty of freedom to do what you please. We start each day with a hike and make plenty of stops for toilets and food.
- Indigenous culture is alive and well. In Australia and the United States, the native people and culture been have subdued or destroyed. This is far from the case in New Zealand, where visitors quickly notice that most signs are printed in English and in Maori. Maori is the name for the collective tribes of native New Zealanders; pacific people who have been on this land for over 700 years. The people of New Zealand are very proud of their land’s Maori history. The government reserves seats in their parliament for Maori representatives, the beloved national rugby team starts each game with a traditional Maori Haka dance, and all children learn Maori in school as their second language. Maori heritage is omnipresent here. It almost feels like white Europeans are still guests in their land. The amount of mutual respect between the different ethnic groups adds an auspicious touch to the culture of New Zealand.
- Planet of the sheep. New Zealanders get a lot of slack for being sheepshaggers. Why? Because New Zealand has 4 million people and 60 million sheep. One local explained to me that there are 30 sheep for every one kiwi male (“That’s a different sheep for every day of the month!” he added). Almost every mountain in sight is peppered with sheep, and almost every city I visit is seemingly void of humans. With the exception of Auckland (home to 1/4 of the entire NZ population) and Wellington (the tiny capital), each stop on my trip has been in nearly empty towns. After a day of hiking and other outdoor activities, we’ll venture out to the only local pub. Usually, there will be a table or two of kiwis, who always provide for amazing conversation (I’m still trying to put my finger on why kiwis are so funny/friendly/goofy). Other than that, the pub is empty and the town is quiet. Not because New Zealanders don’t like having fun (quite the contrary), its just that there are so few people in New Zealand. It’s such a different lifestyle than I’m used to, and I find it very relaxing and enjoyable. After being in cities like Sydney, Bangkok, and Hanoi, the pace of New Zealand is hitting the spot.
- New Zealand is beautiful on a different level. Not too much to say here, except that I’ve never enjoyed bus rides so much. Everything I see is basically a post card. Here are some of my pictures below.
I’m enchanted by this country. It is definitely due to a combination of the people (of which there are few) and the land (which is largely unspoiled). My eyes were glued to the bus windows as we drove through green mountains and pastures of the north. I hear the snow capped peaks of the south are even more beautiful. I’m confident my expectations will be exceeded.