While flying home Saturday, I reflected on our four weeks in New Zealand. Kiwis kept asking us along the way, “What have you enjoyed most?” And I couldn’t tell them. We enjoyed so many things. You might think it’s a no-brainer; that everyone should go to New Zealand, even you. But the truth is more complicated, I think.
Two reasons NOT to go to New Zealand seem evident (to me).
- It’s REALLY far from almost everywhere. For our flight from Auckland to San Francisco, we were aloft for almost 12 hours (and then it took hours more to get home from the Bay Area.) That’s a long time to be cooped up in a metal tube at 36,000 feet. Even if the flight is free (as it was for us, using frequent-flier miles), the long passage takes a toll.
- The New Zealand dollar has lost almost a fifth of its value against the dollar over the last four years. But travel there still feels no less expensive than it is in the US. Meals in restaurants cost about the same, as do hotels — and why not? New Zealand is at least as advanced a country as America. If you’re on a budget, so many other destinations offer much more bang for the (US) buck (e.g. Ecuador or India or Vietnam or Portugal, etc.)
On the other hand, you still might want to come to New Zealand:
3. To experience nature. My good friend (and travel blogger par excellence) Doris has commented as she’s read my posts that she’s not terribly interested in New Zealand because it looks a lot like Iceland (where she has already traveled). I haven’t been to Iceland yet, but I don’t doubt that’s true. However, I’ve retorted that New Zealand is also carpeted with vast emerald farmland that reminded me of Ireland. It has deer farms… and The Shire. We drove through stretches of the South Island interior that felt like the American Southwest. We hiked through tropical rainforests that filled me with a sense of rapture. We floated through those caves illuminated only with incandescent larvae. We walked on beaches devoid of people but filled with sensuous driftwood.
Steve and I partly went to New Zealand at this point in our lives to take advantage of the hiking and trekking we’d heard about. We were not disappointed. Indeed Kiwis struck us as having more of a passion for striding through the outdoors than any place else we’ve been.
On the other hand, you can enjoy tremendous natural beauty in America too. It may be less concentrated than it is in New Zealand, but you don’t have to travel as far to get to it (see point number 1 above.)
4) Related to but different from coming for the nature is coming to participate in crazy action sports. Bungee jumping was invented in New Zealand…
To that a head-spinning list of other crazy adventures have been added: luging, sky-diving, jet boating, paragliding, whitewater rafting, and more.
I used to think maybe this was a marketing ploy — something Kiwis had dreamed up to attract tourists. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but over the past few weeks, Steve and I have come to think it also reflects something in the character of New Zealand’s residents. They appeared to us to be tough, hardy folk. Seeing the “pleasure” sailors out on Auckland Bay in icy winds so strong they would have caused the issue of small-craft warnings in San Diego… …watching a dad ignore his toddler daughter making her way up the climbing wall at the fabulous playground in Christchurch…… or trekking with the gang on the Routeburn in the storm. It made us suspect New Zealanders relish the wild adventure options themselves.
5) New Zealand exposes one to a different relationship between native peoples and their Anglo invaders than anywhere else we could think of. We didn’t know this before we came. We understood little to nothing about kiwi history. Learning that the first humans didn’t set foot on either island till around 1200 AD — and that they were Polynesians (hailing from Fiji or Hawaii or similar islands) startled us. The Maoris (as those first New Zealand settlers became known) had lived here less than 500 years before Captain Cook arrived. The Englishmen (and other white folk) who flocked here after Cook’s reports managed to get a whole bunch of the land out of the Maori hands.
But about 100 years after they did, the pendulum began to swing the other way. The Maoris have since gotten some stuff back. Reparations have been made. (We heard at one point that more than 98% of the “reconciliation” process has now been completed.)
The net result is that today, to us hasty visitors, it looks as if Maoris enjoy more respect and a more central place in New Zealand society than the natives anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. We liked that.
4) Visiting New Zealand is more like visiting one of the planets in the Galactic Association than anywhere else we’ve ever experienced. (The Galactic Association is Steve’s science-fictional invention. It promotes settlement of 8 planets by pioneers from earth.)
Before the first humans arrived just 800 or so years ago, no mammals lived in New Zealand (except for three tiny bat species.) It was all birds, a vast variety of them, including the giant flightless moa and the huge and terrifying eagles who hunted them.The Maoris brought invasive dogs and rats, and other animal (and botanical) invaders followed. Battles between the natives and the alien predators are being fought intensely today.
Still, where else on the planet can you hike through wild, wild country and know there are no bears, no snakes, no big cats or elephants — just birds, whose songs are slowly fading as the possums and wallaby and rats eat them?
Is that a good reason to travel to New Zealand? Certainly all of those (except for the adventure sports) were reason enough for us. As a bonus, we have memories of being stopped on that road to let modern shepherds guide their flocks across the highway.
There were amazing skies… and magnificent trees.
I’ll probably forget most of it. But part of why I write this blog is to help me remember.