1) Open stretches of countryside, green covered mountains and palms and plants aplenty, New Zealand is undoubtedly a place of magnificent nature. Wild, unpredictable weather adds to the drama of the place and the lack of motorways enhances the romance of this wilderness. Mokau Road (which later becomes The State Highway) leading from New Plymouth towards Hamilton is such an example, a main route but a single lane that winds up Mount Messenger through a lush bush, fern and palm landscape. When I arrived into the country, a friend told me that New Zealand tends to get all weathers and all the seasons in one day, and boy was he right! I experienced beautiful sunshine, torrential downpours, serene evenings and battering winds. I also felt the force of the strong sun rays and the lack of ozone protection.
2) A short and sweet entry, but as a chocoholic, I’m now so done with Cadbury’s having tasted the bliss of Whittaker’s chocolate. The Macadamia Block was particularly amazing. Less sweet and containing 33% cocoa compared to Cadbury’s Dairy Milk’s 23%, I was quickly addicted. Already I miss it.
3) Arriving into Auckland, one can’t help but notice the racial diversity of the city, particularly a mass Asian population (the Chinese represent the highest amount of immigrants after the Brits) with over 350,000 making up 12% of New Zealand’s overall population. A lot of foreign students are also choosing to study here rather than in the UK because, as one Saudi guy who I met said, New Zealand came with higher recommendations, and ‘it’s just a better place to be‘. Come on! – the UK is okay!
4) I loved the musicality of the Maori language with its repetition and rhythm. Take some of the place names, for instance, such as Paritutu and Papatoetoe. With the language having somewhat of a resurgence and the fact that so many signs and names are in Maori, it gives a sense that there is pride in the culture alongside a real acceptance and integration between Maori and the pakeha (non-Maori New Zealander) populations.
5) Hitchhiking in New Zealand is easy with friendly people always willing to stop and give you a lift. When you meet so many good people, it’s easy to forget the reality of the bad people out there and the potential danger to hitchhikers.
6) I couldn’t get over the quiet emptiness of many places thanks to the low population of four million, two million of who live in Auckland itself. People are friendly and will stop for a chat and the roads don’t feel too crowded at all. This quiet, relaxed pace comes with its downsides, like the Yot Club in Raglan shutting at 1:00am just when my dancing feet had woken up, but overall it’s a laidback country with an attitude to match, and a real want to welcome you in. In fact, along the road from Taranaki back up towards Hamilton, two consecutive signs read: WHY? followed shortly by We’d love you to stay! Not surprisingly, they are trying to encourage folk to make New Zealand their home, especially now that the latest statistics show more people emigrating than immigrating.
7) I had always been under the impression that the Aussies were the big drinkers but as one guy brashly put it, ‘us Kiwis would drink them under the table’. This is supported by statistics that show 25% of the adult population are binge drinkers and where ‘harmful alcohol use’ is said to cost New Zealand somewhere in the region of $4.9 billion per year. The drinking culture in New Zealand, as in many places, ranges from tanked-up nights out in Auckland through to groups of lads refusing to hit the town until the crate is empty (‘it’s an NZ rule’, some told me) or sipping tasty home brew in a fairly mellow setting. Although young people are said to drink far more than recommended, the majority insist that they don’t go out with the intention to get drunk. Yeah right. In fact it seems like a fair few Kiwis are actually in denial about just how much they drink, so much so that FebFast has come into existence: get sponsored to go the whole of February without a drop of alcohol.
8) The romance-less nature of guys on the pull quickly became apparent. I had been told that Kiwi guys aren’t a good catch (by a Kiwi girl, before you say anything), that their style was overtly direct and that they played a game of averages. Others argue that alcohol is absolutely necessary to fuel the fire, so to speak. When I met Tim in a bar in Auckland he quickly said ‘I’m here to pick up a girl’, whilst another guy I barely knew from the hostel blurted out: ‘I’d love to see you in a really short skirt’. Eeeeuww! Well it’s never going to happen. Goodbye! But maybe this honest approach makes for less misunderstandings?! And it’s also worth remembering that on the whole, Kiwi guys are a good-looking, straightforward and athletic bunch. With a supposed drought of single Kiwi guys, if you’ve got a good ‘un, hang on to him!
9) People on P scare me. Since being in New Zealand I’ve been warned on many occasions to stay clear. And as one old boy told me whilst puffing on a joint: ‘I used to live in London back in the ‘60s, tried everything going, but I won’t touch P. It’s bad news.’ Clearly it brings out the worst in people and does some bad, bad stuff to the body.
P (standing for ‘pure’) is methamphetamine, often cooked up in ‘clan labs’ – people’s own kitchens. It is shown to be highly addictive and massively destructive to families and communities. Many Kiwis I met talked about problems with P, and statistically, it’s clear that New Zealand is doing some serious battle with the drug.