Kiwi Jack: Chapter Seven

As I write this, we’re currently heading across the various straits and sounds, briefly into the Pacific and to the bottom of the North Island from the top of the South. We’ll spend the rest of the day and night in Wellington before continuing our sojourn north towards Auckland.

With just a shade under a week spend down under Down Under, I thought I’d try and give you a bit of local color. I don’t have photographs for this one, so if you’re just into the pics, you can wait for tonight’s Welly update.

Though of course strongly influenced by the former empire, New Zealand is certainly a bit more complicated than that.

Right off the bat is the two official languages: English and Maori. Though the Maori presence isn’t completely felt on the South Island, it certainly is there. Many signs are in both languages, and there’s enough Maori language publications available.

It may be just because I was in Scotland last year, but I’m detecting a fair bit of Scottish influence down here. The Kiwi accent tends more towards the rougher Scot version than the English counter-parts, and you hear a fair bit of “a wee bit”, definitely a Scottish phrase. One of the standard informal greetings also is “Hey-ya” (run together, so read it without the hyphen), which I heard a lot of in Aberdeen, the northern part of Scotland.

Clearly you hear a good bit of Australian as well, which makes sense both from a geographical and historical persecutive. Kiwis can say “Go’day mate”, though with a slight variation than their Oz counterparts.

Much of what’s going on here is very much Kiwi-centric though, and probably has developed on their own. Though it’s relatively easy to travel here from Australia by plane, New Zealand is still hundreds of miles from Oz and pretty much thousands of miles from everyone else. So what seems to have developed is a strong national identity based partially on pride of one of the most beautiful counties in the world and their own independence.

Kiwis are also pretty forward thinking as well. New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote, and in 1891, this was almost 30 full years before the US granted the same.

The Maoris have a much stronger influence in the culture than say the Native Americans, though as I understand it the Maoris also had more success fighting their outside invaders.

I strongly believe that New Zealand is at the forefront of green technology and poised to become a pioneer and leader in the field as we inch further into the 21st century.

The Kiwis themselves seem to take great pride in their greenness (recycling is a national obsession which I believe was begun in the 1960’s – another thing they did well ahead of the USA). Gas is expensive (NZ$100 to fill up our rental station wagon), so more people walk, use bikes or purchase smaller, more fuel efficient cars.

One piece of technology which is all over the country is the individual switches for each electrical outlet; if you want to use an outlet, you have to switch it on first. This means you aren’t powering these outlets or running power through connected lines; an amazing savings of electricity. Given that they’re virtually everywhere around the country, I find it hard to believe it would take much to make the switch…if I owned my own home, I’d switch out the plugs immediately.

Finally, the energy generation itself is green; I’ve seen any number of hydro-electric dams, wind turbines and solar panels nationwide.

Our rental car is nine years old and has 110,000 kilometers on it. When was the last time you saw a rental car with more than 30k miles and more than three years old? The newspaper also advertises a lot more used cars than new ones. Though a lot of this has to do with the import costs of cars (NZ has a strong manufacturing base for consumer appliances with Fischer and Paykel, but not cars), this makes sense, but also plays into the Kiwi obsession with making things last longer and go farther, rather than the American obsession with newer and better regardless of cost (both financial and resources-wise).

Conservation and preservation has created a forward-thinking culture that has pretty much all of the same technology and availability as the US (the mobile phone and data coverage is actually excellent), but yet the streams, lakes and rivers of the South Island are still clear and brilliant…and you can drink out of them. Though this is a country of relatively reduced population, it does show that you can be a modern society without completely trashing your natural environment.

When I went to Alaska, I had always heard that in the middle of summer, the sun stays up 24 hours a day. This was completely different than actually experiencing landing in Anchorage at midnight and seeing the sun 3/4 of the way up the sky, and trying to go to bed at 3am with something north of twilight outside my window.

Same goes for the flipped seasons of the Southern Hemisphere (it’s winter here). Though I was looking forward to and have enjoyed the cold temperatures of New Zealand, it was a bit of a shock to step off the plane into low 40 degree F temperatures. Very refreshing.

*If you check into a hotel, you are immediately offered milk. I was told last night that New Zealand is the world leader in milk production, and all Kiwis are proud of their milk.
*If you ask for a glass of water at a table, you are presented with a standard 1 liter, reusable glass bottle of water. I like this a lot.
*The food here is amazing; you never hear of New Zealand as a place to go to eat, but it certainly is. This all comes with the Kiwi focus on healthy, organic and fresh. If you eat a burger, chances are that cow was alive 72 hours previously. If you eat soup, the ingredients were probably picked last week. Very little salt, low sugar and no preservatives. It’s truly amazing how good the average food becomes.
*New Zealand is the land of the one-lane bridge. We’ve crossed at least 100 of these in our South Island travels (but this isn’t a big deal; there’s almost no one on the roads).
*There’s little worry about political correctness. Where a road sign might warn against texting and driving in the US, here the same sign might show your car flipped and you dead, while reading “Want to die? Text and drive.”
*It’s clear this place isn’t over-lawyered. Our national-park sanctioned walk to Fox Glacier the other day involved crossing streams on rocks and stepping over crevices; and certainly was not ADA accessible.

These thoughts and more are constantly rattling around in my head as we continue our trip. Just a shade past the halfway point, I hope to bring you more pictures, color and snarky comments along the way.

12:45pm, August 9
Cook Strait, New Zealand