This article was written on December 14th, 2014.
As I’m writing right now, I’m on the bus from Auckland to Rotorua, a beautiful city – or so I have heard – about 200km south of Auckland. I’m not going to stay there, I’m taking another bus there to go to Opotiki, a small town about another 200km up north from Rotorua along the East Coast. It’s going to be a long journey – it is now 8.20am GMT+13 (!) and I’ll be in Opotiki at 2.45pm. It is, indeed, the perfect time for me to tell you about the things that have surprised me, impressed me, or simply got my attention since I got here.
I’ve been in New Zealand for days now and it is already hard for me to remember the things that first stuck with me. Human beings adapt surprisingly fast to new environments! Anyway, here to you, my first Kiwi* stories.
- When I got to the city from the airport, it was 2 o’clock in the morning. My phone battery had died, so I asked my way to a man on the street. Three minutes later, a car stops right beside me and another man asks: ‘I saw you asked your way to someone just down there, are you lost? Do you need a ride?” I just told him I was ‘alright, thanks’, that I was looking for a hostel on the street somewhere. ‘There’s one up there, just after the bridge. Cheers!’ he said, and he was gone. At that moment, I was not quite reassured, but it did not take me a long time to realize that this was just normal for Kiwiland. People seem amazingly friendly here and yet, stay very professional at the same time.
- As you might know, NZ is a very green country – grass, trees and other plants are everywhere, even more when leaving the city, obviously, as I can see right now. You would think the weather was tropical, or very hot and sunny like it is on the Australian East Coast. No, no, NZ is very rainy, and I was not expecting it.
- The Maori culture, which I will gladly try to describe and investigate in other articles, is very present all over the country. To me, it was going to be past history (sorry Maoris for my non-existent knowledge) but no, no, it is everywhere. There are still a lot of ‘full‘ Maoris (as opposed to people who descend from both White and Maori), that you can recognize by their tanned skin, dark eyes, blue tattoos – I have gathered that girls usually have them on their chins and calves, whereas men are more likely to have them on arms and shoulders. Besides that, many cities, neighborhoods, roads, and streets have Maori names, very often misread by foreigners in the first place. E. g.: Whakatane is pronounced Fakatany.
- Auckland is full of smoke-free areas; in fact, the Government wants the country to be completely smoke-free in five years (!). As a result, you will have to pay NZ$20 if you want a pack of cigarettes, and 40 if you want a pack of tobacco.
- The Kiwi* accent – now, let’s talk about it, language people. In Auckland, it sounds like a sort of British accent, and that doesn’t really mean anything since there are so many different accents in Great Britain. But it is definitely closer to that than the American accent, with the marked ‘t’s and open ‘a’s (/æ/). Then there is a very special way to pronounce the /ɛ/ sound like in bed or head – I was first hearing the words bid or hid before replacing them in a context to understand them.
- Auckland is packed with Asians and it is as easy to get a burger as sushi, Korean noodles or an Indian meal if you fancy fast food.
- Earlier, I was telling you about NZ willing to become a smoke-free country. Well, it also seems to be a stress-free country. Everyone seems relaxed, laid back, and above all, non-judgmental.
- Finally, it is not only not looked down on to walk barefoot on the street, but it’s also very normal. It is common to see people in shops, on the street, everywhere, barefoot. Since I love walking barefoot (and since it is very good for your feet), I might start doing it very soon.
*Kiwi: a word used as an adjective to describe everything, everyone that is from NZ, e. g. a Kiwi family = a New Zealander family. Obviously, kiwi is much shorter than New Zeland.
Disclaimer: As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I got to Kiwiland about 15 days ago. This article aims by no means at being comprehensive nor reflecting reality; these are just my impressions.