It’s been a whole two months since we landed in New Zealand, although it definitely doesn’t feel like it. We’ve spent the majority of that time travelling throughout the North and South Islands in our trusty campervan, Cecil. I’ve learnt a lot about life here on my travels, so I thought I’d share 20 things I’ve learnt about New Zealand in the last two months!
1 – Kiwis speak a whole other language – and I’m not talking Maori. Supermarket trolleys are ‘trundlers’, flip flops are ‘jandals’, swimwear collectively known as ‘togs’, a corner shop is a ‘dairy’ and car park spaces are simply ‘parks’. Throw in ‘sweet as!’ and you are good to go!
2 – A lettuce can cost you $2 or $12 depending on the day. Groceries are not cheap here. OK, $12 may be an exaggeration but we’ve seen cauliflowers for $7, bell peppers for $3.50 each and aubergines for $8. Madness! Shopping around can save you a lot – Pak’n’Save is a winner amongst travellers for selling everything about half the price of other supermarkets but even this gem can have its off days.
3 – You really do get four seasons in a day. The rumours are true – you definitely need to pack everything from an umbrella to sunglasses for a day out here. Also, the sun is crazy hot. 15°C will be warm enough to bust out your shorts (until you get in the shade, or the wind picks up, then you’ll need a coat, hat and gloves) and 25°C will feel like 50!!
4 – Everyone is SUPER friendly. Coming from a somewhat frosty British background where everyone happily ignores everyone else most of the time, the first few days felt in NZ felt like I was starring in the Truman Show. No matter where you are, people here always want to say hello or have a chat. We’ve been parked up at campsites on the beach and had people come out of their way to say hello and ask us about our travels whilst walking their dogs. We asked a volunteer at an event in Hamilton what time a show was on in the evening and ended up chatting for 20 minutes, were given tips for our whole trip and shown a number of photos of places we should go! We also witnessed a local lady happily take a bag of rubbish off some backpackers when they couldn’t find a bin in a Nelson car park!
5 – Cash isn’t a thing. Cards are accepted everywhere, and you won’t get evil-eyed by the lady behind the counter when trying to buy $1 chewing gum by card as there’s no minimum spend.
6 – EVERYWHERE is stunningly beautiful. You’d think after travelling around for the last two months, we’d be used to it but we still collectively sigh WOWWWWW every five minutes whilst driving. You are never more than 15 minutes away from a beach, lake, mountains or valley. The wildlife is also insane; it’s commonplace to spot seals, dolphins, whales, an array of rare birds.
7 – Wifi is terrible to non-existent. Some cafes offer wifi but the majority of places don’t. If you are lucky to find somewhere with internet, don’t hold out much hope. It will probably suck! Hostels often charge extra for wifi – on our first night in Auckland, it was $10 for internet! Ouch. On the plus, we bought Spark SIM cards which offer 1GB free internet every day from neon pink phone boxes that can be found all over NZ. These have been a life-saver for me as I try to keep the blog going as I travel!
8 – Alcohol and drunken behaviour are strongly discouraged. Show a hint of rowdiness in a bar and you won’t be served and will probably be asked to leave. You are not allowed to drink outside anywhere and alcohol bans are commonplace. Alcohol also costs a bomb and you’ll need a passport to be served – driving licenses are not acceptable proof of ID here!
9 – Domino’s do a $5 pizza. Living in a van is a lot of fun but sometimes you just can’t be arsed to plug the gas cooker in, set up and cook a dinner. On the other hand, we’re trying to travel frugally and eating out can’t be a common occurrence when it sets us back around $20 each. Domino’s have a $5 value range which includes a veggie pizza – just remove the cheese to make it vegan. Thank you Domino’s!
10 – There are A LOT of foreigners here and many don’t know how to drive! We’ve encountered more tourists here than anywhere else on our eight month trip. Every other traveller seems to be French or German which might be why campervans are often caught driving on the wrong side of the road! It’s also not uncommon for mentalist drivers (foreign and local) to overtake four cars in a row, just before a concealed bend, on the edge of a mountain…
11 – NZ streets are almost completely smoke free. There’s nothing worse than a lungful of second hand smoke, but you won’t have that problem here. Cigarettes are super expensive and smoking is prohibited outside nearly all buildings/ pedestrianised streets and is frowned upon by many. Already, 85% of Kiwis are non-smokers and NZ is aiming to reduce this to less than 5% by 2025.
12 – I don’t know how to pronounce half the places I visit. Many of the towns and cities in New Zealand have a Maori name which is pronounced differently to how it looks in English. The biggest difference is that ‘Wh’ is pronounced ‘F’. This leads to some interesting place names such as Whakapapa and Whakahoro. Snigger..
13 – Whittaker’s chocolate is freakin’ delicous.. and they have a bunch of vegan options. Manufacturing heavenly chocolate creations since 1896, Whittaker’s has a huge range of plain and flavoured chocolate. Their Artisan range uses local produce and includes flavours such as Wellington coffee, Black Doris plum, Fijian ginger and mandarin (one of my faves!), Kaitaia fire chilli spice and Waikato Oolong tea – all vegan!
14 – Coffee is always great. I’ve enjoyed fantastic coffee in every cafe I’ve been in so far – it’s also pretty cheap in comparison to everything else here. My usual soy latte will set me back around $5, that’s just £2.66.15 – Tipping doesn’t really exist. You can tip, but it’s not expected here. This is especially good for us backpackers – you’ll know exactly what your meal will come to without worrying about hidden service charges. Woohoo.
16 – They put milk in everything. Being vegan in New Zealand is definitely not difficult. There are plenty of options and supermarkets often stock vegan yoghurts, snacks and cheese (albeit only one type at the moment). It’s not quite as advanced as the UK yet, but I’ve found loads of places to dine out and most places offer soy milk. However, I’ve definitely found they put milk in SO MUCH more here. Nearly every packet of crisps, regardless of flavour, contains milk powder and all tinned spaghetti has cheese paste in!! Whyyyy.
17 – People walk around barefoot, everywhere. It’s pretty common to see people walking around without shoes, in supermarkets, museums, towns, cafes. We are travelling in Autumn so it’s a bit chilly to be getting your toes out, so I imagine we’ll see much more of this in Summer!
18 – New Zealand has the best starry skies. The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the only dark sky reserve in the southern hemisphere and one of only 11 reserves in the world. A controlled level of light (street lights etc) means on a clear night you get a pitch black sky with an incredible array of stars; you can see the whole milky way! Amazing.
19 – Wellington really is as windy as they say. Don’t bother doing your hair here – it will be ruined in minutes! We also happened to be there at the tail end of Cyclone Debbie so we had winds of up to 140km an hour at one point which made for an interesting night in the van…
20 – New Zealand is probably the best place in the world. I’ve heard SO many people say this after visiting this beautiful country – I’m not surprised most people try to stay for as long as possible. I’m already looking into extending my working holiday visa! The stunning scenery combined with the friendliest locals I’ve ever come across and a relaxed approach to life makes this place a pleasure to explore.