In the three weeks since arriving in New Zealand, I have made all kinds of new discovered and had great/terrifying adventures.
First, some of the things I have learned so far:
- New Zealand is beautiful. It doesn’t matter if you are in a city, village, country roads, or standing on the edge of a cliff. Everywhere in New Zealand is beautiful. The most beautiful place I have ever been is now Cape Reinga, the northern most point of New Zealand.
- Kiwi’s (the people) are weird. Not in a scary, uncomfortable or even confusing way; they are just weird. Everyone is incredibly friendly, easy going and eager to offer advice/recommendations but there is something about the way they talk (in addition to the accent) that makes then seem a little bizarre. This is probably just my English and American familiarity tripping up when encountering new speech patterns but it is fascinating and I’m having a great time decoding it.
- Kiwi’s love talking about the weather just as much as Brits. This is a good thing because, as most people know, the weather is my go to topic for small talk.
- It has been 2 months (or nine weeks or 63 days) since I have graduated and I’m already feeling a lack of intellectual stimulation. This is a very strong indicator that I will be back in school (hopefully a PhD program) sooner rather than later.
- I have more farming than I thought I did. I haven’t even started woofing yet but conversations keep coming up that reveal that I know all kinds of random, and sometimes obscure, facts about farming, livestock and a range of similar topics.
- Friends are quite easy to make while traveling. One of the things that I was most concerned about when starting this adventure was how I would make friends. Luckily, my friend Jessica decided to join me for the first 3 weeks of my adventures so it wasn’t an immediate issue. However, in our adventures we made connections with a bunch of other young travellers. People who are doing similar things as me so it was easy to connect and bond over them. I always underestimate my abilities to be chatty but in those kinds of situations (mostly hostels) the chatty hat goes on and doesn’t come off for awhile.
- I consider myself more English than American. Whenever you meet new people, they inevitably ask where you are from and I usually tell them the US but I have realized that I actually, personally, feel more connection to the UK. Unfortunately, I don’t have UK citizenship or the correct accent so that one is hard to explain. It is a weird realization to accept; I don’t really belong anywhere.
- My navigation skills are actually pretty good. In the past, such as my trip to Europe, which was less than 2 months ago, I have been known for getting lost very very easily. Fortunately, I haven’t gotten lost a single time in New Zealand. I don’t know if this has to do with me, clearly sign posted directions, logical street layouts, or extensive use of paper maps and Google Maps. Whatever the case, I hope my paths continue to be clear and smooth.
- I never want to leave New Zealand. This country is beautiful, outdoorsy, full of culture, friendly, and just feels right. People (you know who you are) warned me that I would move here and never want to leave and I think they might be right. I haven’t even made it off the North Island and already I am in love with New Zealand!
The ways that I learned some of those things came through fun stories, a few of which I will share.
Two weeks in a rental car and the adventures that ensued
This was originally going to be the name of this blog but I decided to add some other (non rental car stories). The adventures associated with our rental car are mostly negative but they were also excellent learning experiences.
Jessica and I picked up the rental car from the Auckland Airport on July 1st. The rental agency was a small company (that we are pretty sure only has one employee) but picking up the car went smoothly. It was shortly after that, as we headed north of Auckland, that I commented, “we probably should have gotten gas there” as we passed a gas station with the car telling us we only had a quarter of a tank. We shrugged it off and kept driving. Awhile later, when the car was down to one tick mark of gas and there was no sign of civilization, we realized that we had two options: backtracking 30 mins to that same gas station or driving for another hour to the next gas station. Skeptical about our ability to make it another hour, we made a u-turn and headed back. Rolling into the gas station, essentially on fumes, we breathed a sigh of relief. During the 30 min backtracking, we hadn’t encountered a single other car so had been concerned about being stranded on the side of the road. After filling the car up (with extremely expensive gas) we headed off again.
As we drove, clouds rolled in until we were driving through a torrential downpour. This occurred quite a few times which led to the creation of a new word.
Rainfuddled (adj) – the feeling of befuddlement when your wiper speed can’t be increased.
As the rain continued and the sun began to disappear, we made a new and terrifying discovery; the headlights didn’t really work. They were technically on but they provided basically no light, especially in the rain. This led the last hour of our journey being driven with the brights (or high beams) on. While not the the best idea, it was our only option on a road with no shoulder and our destination not too far off. We made it safely to our destination, an RV parking lot, where we were planning to spend the night.
That was the night that we learned winter in New Zealand is too cold for car camping without adequate blankets or sleeping bags. That was the first and last night we camped in the car. As we huddled in the cold and slightly defective car and waited for the sun to rise (so that we could safely drive to a coffee shop and warm up) the feeling of adventure really started to sink in.
After warming up, we were back out on the road, headed to Cape Reinga. A little while later, the low tire pressure light kept coming on and off, prompting us through stop and check them out. Seeing that two tires did look kinda low, we decided to top them all up. This is how we found our tires had pressures of 12, 19, 21 and 23. They should all have been 30. Slightly worrying but we just filled them up and continued on our way, noticing a significant reduction in our gas consumption. Other than navigating narrow twisting roads, steep inclines, dozens of construction areas and other regular road obstacles, we fortunately avoided any other issues relating to the car. The rest of the trip had us constantly a little on edge, afraid something else would happen with the car but it all worked out alright.
Kiwi’s are a unique bunch
One of my most entertaining and exemplary stories about the strangeness of Kiwi’s is when Jessica and I went to Davenport, a small town on the other side of the bay from Auckland. During all of our adventuring, Jessica and I have gone into a LOT of bookstores. This day was no exception. Wandering into the bookstore, we saw that there was a man (who initially appeared to asleep) on the squishy couch a the back of the store. After a moment of browsing, he began engaging with us. Asking the usual questions of where are you from, what are you doing here, how long are you staying, etc, before he moved on to serious questions, like ‘do you believe in magic?’. As Jessica and I were both caught off guard, we mumbled responses and he offered to show us a card trick. The trick wasn’t very impressive and we both realized quickly how he did it but we humored him anyways. He then went on to tell us his life story, weirdly invasive facts about his daughter (also called Jessica) and a bunch of random local gossip. Not sure how to excuse ourselves and leave, we continued to smile and nod. Our chance to leave arrived when a local (who was similarly over friendly) joined the conversation and then turned it to someone they mutually knew so we dipped out. The whole interaction was bizarre but friendly and only a little uncomfortable when we didn’t know how to leave.
Stag-dos (aka bachelor parties) can be a riot
In our hostel in Taupo, we encountered another group staying in the hostel. The group was a bunch of 27 year old Kiwi’s who were from a small local town and were celebrating the engagement of one of their members. We met them in the hostel bar/kitchen/communal area at about 5:30 pm. They were already very drunk. We found out later that they had started drinking at 8 am and had been drinking the previous night as well. I think it is a miracle they were all still standing. There were many games of beer pong played (only one of which I participated in, and did very badly), which was hilarious to watch. They chatted with us about all kinds of things, even giving us a bunch of advice about our trip to Wellington. They were very clearly drunk but they were always very polite, respectful, friendly, and just generally a good time which made the whole evening a great time. It was definitely an exciting evening, especially when the deer antler helmet came out, but we never felt unsafe. Also, the benefits of a bar in a hostel was that I could wear fluffy socks and then walk to bed which was just down the hallway. Overall, it was a unique and highly entertaining experience.
Accidentally following major sports events around the world
As mentioned in one of my previous posts, on our trip to Amsterdam, we ended up in the middle of a major football (or soccer) event. When I arrived in Auckland, I arrived amidst a sea of rugby fans. Unbeknownst to me, there was an enormous rugby match in Auckland just a couple days after I arrived. As Jessica and I headed south (and a little bit in the north, as well) we saw swarms of Lions (the UK team) fans in their distinctive red jackets. It seemed like everywhere we went, they were there. Once again, unbeknownst to us, the final game was in Auckland but while we were out of town. However, we still didn’t miss out on that excitement because people in Taupo, and the next day in Tauranga, didn’t seem to be able to talk about anything else.
During brief respites from the talk of rugby, everyone seemed to be talking about the other big win: the Americas Cup. A big yachting competition that New Zealand heroically won as the underdogs on the same day Jessica arrived. In addition to being an exciting win because of their lack of funding and the rest of the world’s skepticism about their chances of winning, people were excited because the team redeemed themselves. During the last competition, 4 years ago, they just barely lost so this was a proud redemption. Also, as the winners, they get to choose where the next competition is held and there is a strong chance that Auckland will be chosen so locals are already getting excited for that (even though it won’t be for another 4 years).
First football, then rugby and yachting, which major sporting event will I stumble upon next???
Stay tuned for more of my adventures and check out all my photos HERE.