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I hate to say it, but as the end of our New Zealand trip loomed we were definitely ready to leave. This was in no small part due to the weather. The New Zealand summer had been pretty much a failure and in our month there we probably only had about 6 or 7 sunny days. That sounds like a lot, but that leaves a lot of days in the cold, hanging about not doing anything. Admittedly, it wasn’t massively cold and I’m sure to everyone out there suffering freezing temperatures it is most annoying to hear someone moaning about temperatures in the mid to low teens (celcius – I don’t ever fathom Fahrenheit). But we had set out an itinerary to generally follow the sun, we didn’t have anything in the way of thick clothes and were loathe to blow our budget investing in some just to have to get rid of them in a few weeks when we left the country for (hopefully) warmer climes. This of course led to the hugely disturbing ‘Mark’s fat lady jeans’ debacle. He’d picked them up in the ‘free clothes bin’ in the Keri Keri farm stay – when we were indeed suffering in the cold and if it wasn’t bad enough him wearing them there, he proceeded to take them with him and insisted on wearing them around Wellington, the cool capital city. Not only were these jeans cut to a ladies style, they were also made of the lovely stretchy denim which allows more movement and stretching. This meant of course that over time, after sitting in the car a lot, they stretched…. and stretched…. and with no belt to keep them up, not only did he walk the streets of Wellington in the unflatterying jeans, he also had to walk along keeping trying to hold them up with one hand. Add to this the fact he hadn’t cut his hair or shaved for some time, and he was wearing socks with his flip flops, it did look somewhat like I was taking someone ‘special’ out for a walk. Happily, it was the fact that they no longer would stay up which eventually lead to him agreeing to leave them behind in Kaikoura. Oh happy days. I must confess that I too became responsible for major crimes against fashion when it got majorly cold – also rocking the sandles and socks look along with a Fijian floral shirt covered up by a leopard print cardie. However, I never walked the streets in such attire, this was purely to nip to the toilets when I had to go outside into the cold.
Anyhow, I digress, but the weather was a bit factor for us for a couple of reasons.
1. When you are in a hostel, if the weather is not nice, unless you have the appropriate attire and like going out and doing outdoorsy things in rubbish weather (no to both), you are stuck either in your small, basic room for hours, often days on end, unless you venture out into the shared living areas which are usually crammed with other travellers in a similar or in fact, worse situation if they are sleeping in the dorms. Although the idea before we left of spending hours reading was very appealing, after a lot of time, in small spaces, it can get extremely boring.
Anykind of wirless internet became our Mecca and even then that generally meant we’d coughed up loads of money for it and just had it on the laptop, which then became the biggest bone of contention and cause of arguments. Each of us pretending that the tasks we had to perform on the laptop were more important or that we hadn’t been on it all that long. We really did squabble like a couple of kids with only one toy to play with.
2. When you are travelling on a budget, the alternative to being outdoors, or stuck in your room, pretty much always costs. A lot.
Save the odd gallery or museum which would be cheap, nearly everything came at a pretty tidy price in New Zealand. Even a cup of tea to get out of the cold felt like a bit or a rip off (although nothing will ever beat the 3 quid I paid for a mug of tea at Giraffe in Brighton, which I’d upgraded from the 2 quid ‘cup’ and was delivered to me as a mug of hot water, a bog standard Yorkshire Tea teabag and a small jug of milk).
It was partly a bad exchange rate with the pound but even some New Zealanders I met said that the price of things had gone up and that the cost of things versus the fairly low average wage, was causing problems, particularly for families. People who once went holidaying in holiday parks where now going for cheaper self catering options, even hostelling. People were trying to get together and sell to each other produce that they grow or make, vegetables and fruit in particular, which in fact, rather unfairly the government was trying to clamp down on. There was also a nationwide scandal, discussed on the various news programmes about the cost of milk.
So the cost of everyday stuff was high and so, as is the way of the world, the cost of touristy things was then very high.
Trips to do anything were ‘blow the budget’ high and as we sat and thought about doing any of them, it always seemed the cost outweighed what we’d get out of the ‘experience’. The fact that we’d quite likely be very cold whilst doing much of them, also didn’t help.
I think you’ll notice on the blog that all our lovely looking, happy days out, happen to be the sunny ones (or at least sunny half days, or an hour or so!).
So, we spent a lot of time in New Zealand not doing things. We’d done much the same in Fiji, but when it’s warm, tropical and you’re by the beach, that’s a satisfying kind of ‘not doing’. In New Zealand, were were quite frankly down right bored a lot of the time. And yes I know that ‘only boring people get bored’ but you really do have limited options when you’re carrying your life around in your bag and you just don’t have that plethora of things that you have at home to entertain you and you don’t have your own space in which to do anything. If we were different types of people we would have gone off and hiked up something, despite the crud weather, but having never owned a fleece or a sensible pair of shoes, it was never likely going to happen. I can get much more with the concept, like in Fiji, of trekking when it’s somewhere tropical but the chilly, drizzly greenery on offer wasn’t going to make me have a change of character.
It’s not to say we didn’t enjoy or like New Zealand, it’s just that we felt we spent too long there because while we were there we started to feel fed up and frustrated due to the weather and cost. When we spent the week in the lovely seaside town of Kaikoura, we could have easily whiled away the hours happily on the beach if only the sun had stayed out for more than a few hours.
Instead, the highlight there was when we said ‘sod the budget’ on our last night and had an exceptionally good meal at one of the restaurants along the seafront. We had started at the nearest pub, in a slightly ropy hotel down the road from our hostel. We’d been there briefly when the sun was out as they had the most fantastic beer garden. Oddly, it doesn’t seem the New Zealanders appreciate them as much as us as the only people in the garden that evening were a bunch of mainly expats celebrating someone’s birthday by having a bbq.
So, upon our return to this pub, we had to be in door as the weather was pants as usual. Well, if you could take all the folks from ‘The hills have eyes’ and put them into a room, that would best describe the clientele. We are no stranger to weirdos or ruff’ns in Brighton – but this was on a different level. We have generally found that the pubs that have pokies or gambling slips for the horses etc in, although cheap, are often best avoided. So, after one drink we ran away from this place and ended up in a rather lovely boutique hotel around the corner where the wine was good and the menu had us drooling. But the plan had been to have a quick one and then go back and do battle in the hostel kitchen to make some kind of pasta meal with our left over food. So we left the boutique hotel and half way down the road concluded that maybe one more drink wouldn’t go amiss and ended up going into a restaurant bar of a place which looked pretty non-descript from the outside and was a bit dark wood/old skool inside. We made the mistake while supping our drinks to read through the menu. Big Mistake. All sense of will-power went out of the window and we convinced ourselves that we had ‘saved’ hundreds of pounds by not doing the various activities/trips which had seemed so pricey so we ought to spoil ourselves. And of course, the determination that ‘we’ll just have a main course’ slipped quickly to the wayside.
The meal was, unexpectedly, one of the best meals I’ve had in the last 9 months, including some of the best of Brighton. The decor and definitely the outside of the place did not convey the delights within and despite a hefty bill, it was a fabulous treat when we had been denying ourselves so much.
The name of the restaurant, by the way, was The White Morph. When I posted a picture of the sign on Facebook and commented that this was what Chas has been doing in his retirement, I was extremely disappointed that none of my UK friends picked up on that – shame on you!!
Anyhow, it did feel a shame that it was cheaper (and it wasn’t cheap, I can tell you), to go out and have a mind blowing meal than it was to go out for a couple of hours on a boat. But hey, that really was a great meal!
I think basically we just didn’t enjoy our New Zealand trip as much as we could have, but that really that isn’t a reflection on New Zealand itself, but more on our expectations and bad luck with the summer’s weather, the realisation that staying in hostels all the time isn’t for us and us struggling to budget in a country which felt like home and the where the pound was so weak.
I also think my lack of planning and knowledge of the country before we went didn’t help. I’d do the planning while in Fiji, which was scuppered when our macbook died. So we were doing a lot of things on the fly and I’m sure if we’d got ourselves in gear and got in touch with
Sally earlier, she and Adrian’s local knowledge would have put us on a better path (literally).
So that is my summary of our trip, but here is my summary of the country, which oddly is a contrast.
New Zealand is a great place. The people and life-style is much more laid back than the UK. It’s quite possibly more like the UK was years ago and possibly is in small corners, where you can leave your windows and doors unlocked. You are friendly to people you know as well as strangers. You help people out. It’s safer to let your kids out to play.
Obviously there’s dodgy areas, especially more in the citites and dodgy people to boot, but not so many. That could possibly also be down to population. According to some google statistics, there are 4,367,800 people in New Zealand compared to 62,218,761 in the UK. That’s a huge difference considering New Zealand is only slightly larger than the UK. I think in New Zealand they know that as the population grows, so will crime and social issues, but they’ve got a way to go. Not that they don’t have social issues of their own. There is, like in so many places, a wannabe gang culture amongst the disallusioned, usually poor teens and youngsters. Adrian, who we stayed with, works with young people and he told us that the red/blue colours, synonymous with the old school gangs in the US, are taken so seriously that his sons prefer to avoid wearing those colours, just to avoid any kind of trouble. Yet this is in the same area where Sally leaves her car door unlocked and the kids can play freely in the streets. It seems to be more about acceptance, machismo and boredom rather than wanting to trash your neighbourhood. But of course over time things can escalate and perhaps an issue for some of New Zealands poorer young people is that they don’t really have many options of where else to go.
But for now and probably for a fair while to come it is a safe country. We found it quite alarming when we stayed in the Keri Keri farm hostel that there wasn’t even a lock on our bedroom door and they certainly didn’t lock up at night but we the longer we were in the country, we got more and more used to not worrying so much about security and being more trusting of people in general. So much so we realised we’d better wise up to go to Oz, or we’d be in real trouble.
The friendliness, the helpfulness and the safeness are all reasons I can totally understand why people move here, particularly when they have kids. Although the weather is temperamental and you can have four seasons in one day and we have experienced a non summer, the weather is generally milder and life is much more outdoorsy – another bonus for families. Of course finally, outside the cities and even in the cities to a large extent, the size of the property you can get for far less money is also a big thing. It’s difficult not to stare into the estate agent windows and gawp at the house prices which with a lousy exchange rate seem crazy compared to the UK and in particular South East England. In some areas we could have a veritable mansion with acres for the price of our Brighton flat. But it’s not really about those extremes or being greedy about what you can get, it’s more about being able to get a reasonably priced, usually detached nice family home with a nice garden and space to park your cars. That’s pretty uncommon back home. Detached in particular comes at a big cost and although we’ve done well from the rising house market over the years, it has gotten to a depressing point where your average family often struggles to afford a quite basic, small, family home.
Of course the kids over here like the same things as all kids – TV, computers, mobiles etc, but they do also get more freedom and more of an outdoor existence, probably more like I remember when I was young. It was most charming when Tori and Jasmine, the two little girls we stayed with, whilst giving me a rundown on their life, listed their many pets, their neighbours pets and then went on to tell me about lots of fishing expeditions with their dad and holidaying down at the Coromandel. I only learnt that their favourite TV show was Sponge Bob Square Pants (yey – kindred spirits), when I specifically asked!
So there’s much to like about New Zealand and I could have easily settled down for a few months, but would have to be earning to counterbalance the cost of things. I was quite keen on Wellington and Auckland, Wellington in particular. Enough of an artsy scene to keep it interesting, with the seafront to let Mark lose on (if he’d ever be able to afford to dive) and lots of vintage shops. I think I’d find it tough in the smaller towns, where you definitely get a everyone knows everyone and everything that goes on vibe.
An important lesson I have learned here is that travelling the hostel way, you are in a bit of a bubble, you tend to barely talk to locals. For the younger travellers I think their backpacking experiences are more about meeting other travellers and having lots of major experiences, but we found that wasn’t really for us and definitely staying at Sallys and Adrians was a highlight to just chat about every day stuff and ask daft questions about stuff you’ve observed. Day to day life is more interesting, to me, maybe not Mark, than the big experiences or even hanging out at the beach. And funnily enough, when we felt at home with the New Zealanders, the sun finally came out big style!!!!!
New Zealand highlights, faves and funnies:
The thermal activity, despite the smell.
Staying in jail. Oddly fun.
Kune pigs – I love these ugly things:
Kia Ora means kind of hi/welcome in Maori, so it’s the first thing you see when you fly in and it pops up all over the place.
However, being around in the 80s, any kid who went to the cinema knows Kia-Ora as the soft drink with the cool advert.
Reminisce or enjoy this classic advert for the first time here
So we couldn’t help it, every time we saw it, we thought, if not said, ‘it’s too orangey for crows’ and ‘i’ll be your dog’
In all the Irish bars we went in, in New Zealand, they unashamedly played Westlife and Ronan Keating. Of course they are Irish, but no self respecting Irish pub I have been to anywhere else would class such music as worthy. It just always made me smile, I do like a bit of Westlife – I’m not ashamed. Oddly when we were in Fiji, from the not huge catalog of songs played on guitar and sung by the guys in both our Tuvunnu and Maqai resorts, they played both a bit of Ronan and Westlife too.
For some reason, all over New Zealand, north and south islands, in the middle of nowhere or in towns, there were loads of properties which had old buses outside. Just the one, that clearly hadn’t gone anywhere for 20 years at least. It just became a really odd thing that I noticed time and again. Maybe they use them as mini house extenstions – somewhere dry for the kids to hang out? Maybe bus owners get charged a fortune to scrap them after use – I have no idea. It’s something I observed but am clueless to the reason.
Bad, bad, buskers:
I have never known a place with worth buskers. Everywhere, they were terrible and for some reason, usually playing electric guitar.
From the metal head in Auckland with his amp up loud making a row, to the guy down the road doing some kind of jazzy jamming which may work ok at home but did nothing but sound a wreck for the masses. No matter where, they were always just terrible. Although, the really drunk bloke in Christchurch belting out irish songs, although not officially a busker, was at least entertaining.
For a nation which produces some good music, they really should up their game and at least ban electric guitar busking!
The latest ‘don’t drive and drive’ ad campaign:
Tipping isn’t a big thing in New Zealand and it tends not to go on the bill but there is often tip jar on the counter of restaurants and bars.
In Auckland, the bars tended to have little amusing signs on the tip jars. I can’t remember most of them, but here are the two I liked enough to remember –
– Tipping is sexy
– Everytime this jar gets filled a Justin Bieber fan dies
The fact that the supermarket trolleys are called trundlers:
I LOVE the New Zealand accent. I always have and this trip did nothing to discourage that. I could listen to it all day. It’s not quite so enjoyable of course to listen to Marks tragic attempts. Considering his attempt at an irish accent usually consists of him saying ‘I’m Irish’ in a mainly west country accent, it was never going to bode well for his attempts further afield. He started the trip to New Zealand solely talking in an Australian accent/with Aussie phrases which I was sure would get us beaten up. So, I suppose at least I could be grateful he finally noticed the difference and gave it a go. And he hasn’t ruined it for me, thankfully. Shame they got rid of Shortland Street at home
I also love the Maori accent and having watched the fantastic film ‘Boy’ at Sallys, have copied ‘Whale Rider’ from them, I at least can get my fix of that while travelling in Oz.