I recently returned from three weeks of work and play in New Zealand. This was my fifth trip to and from this distant land half a world away, which means I’ve now flown 80,000 miles through the years in a silver tube five miles up doing nothing more than coming and going.
But every mile is worth it. Here are ten reasons why:
10. New Zealand changes more slowly than other places. The pace in New Zealand has not been pureed to a blur speed by technology, TV talking heads, relentless ad blizzards, all-time online saturation, guns and fear-mongers, nor billionaire con men. When I first went to New Zealand in 1988, the pace reminded me of how things were when I was growing up. Now, 25 years later, it reminds me of how things were in the 1980s — before guns, technology, and same store franchising ruined American style and innocence. There is a purity to life in a simpler form and New Zealanders clearly “get it.”
9. The scenery isn’t just remarkable, it’s comfortably remarkable. This country is the most compact example of extraordinary geography in the world I have been lucky enough to visit, which is most of it. And if five different geothermals topographies aren’t enough and you simply must see Antarctica, Christchurch is where you jump off point. Regardless where you stand in New Zealand, you are never more than 100 miles from the sea. The country has it all, and it’s all right there for your learning and jaw-dropping enjoyment. From the thick-as-silos 2,000 year old kauri trees up north to the billions of fiery, glowing roadside flowers lining the roads of the south, to the jagged peaks of the Southern Alps to the placid grace of white wine vineyards, the nation’s ever present green blanket of changing countryside terrain shares secrets that soothe the soul. I do not know how anyone could see it and not love it.
8. New Zealand is simple to navigate. Gas (petrol) is sold by the liter and expensive by American standards. There are 3.78541 liters in a gallon and a liter currently goes for NZ$2.17 or so, which translates to NZ$8.21 per gallon. The Kiwi dollar is worth about 82 cents on the U.S. dollar, so the converted gasoline cost to Americans in gallons and U.S. dollars is $6.78 — about twice what Americans are currently paying. Because of that they often overreact. But they shouldn’t. What that money buys are fine roads, open spaces, and fuel efficient vehicles. Gas is high because it’s taxed; and tax revenues go straight back into the roads. It shows: New Zealand roads are a pleasure to drive. Getting around is an easier, less stressful, and more pleasant experience than burning gas in America.
7. The people are kind and helpful, except for car burglars. Cars parked in remote places are a major target for thieves, so car theft and theft of possessions from cars account for about 20 percent of all New Zealand crime. Many fishermen and hikers (“trampers,” as they are called) almost expect a problem when they park in a desolate spot. These thefts are an annoyance and something to be aware of but not fear, since common sense minimizes the chance of a disturbing inconvenience marring an otherwise idyllic holiday. Kiwis are friendly and helpful folks without a big city “attitude.” They laugh easily and often and make fast friends quickly. A few bad guys hiding in the bush are irritating, but certainly nothing compared to armed-to-the-teeth bad guys in most U. S. cities.
6. Bored birds will tear up your car for fun.
The kea, a large green indigenous parrot, loves to cause mayhem throughout its South Island habitat. They are curious, inquisitive, and opportunistic. When bored they may burgle your car or rip off your wiper blades or rubber windshield sealing strips. I owned a pair of parrots for 30 years and have always been a sucker for a bird with a personality. This guy is one. New Zealand has plenty of others. If you like birds, you’ll have fun everywhere you go.
5. There are no snakes, coyotes, or predator animals.
Australia introduced the brushtailed possum as a furbearing cash crop into New Zealand in 1858. A few got out. Now an estimated 30-to-50 million of the buggers climb, raid, and destroy the underbrush all over the place, harming native flora and fauna, endangering birds such as the flightless kiwi. Without an enemy to control their numbers, possums are a national nuisance.
4. It has a lot of sheep. When I first visited in 1988, New Zealand had 70 million or so — about 18 per person — and they were everywhere. When I asked my corporate business liaison, Lloyd Hill, how the heck farmers thought up so many names — he laughed. Once I knew my jokes worked in the Southern Hemisphere, I was hooked. In the past couple decades, the growth of fleece (fake wool) and a growing Asian demand for beef and dairy products have changed things. Sheep numbers are down to 10 per person — about 40 million — and dairy cattle, now more than 6 million and rising, are taking their place. Way up north you see more sheep. Throughout much of the North Island cattle seem everywhere. On the South Island, which is far less populated and lives at a slower pace, sheep still dot the countryside. Sheep are calming, innocent animals. Soothing to the harried soul.
3. The cities are charmingly unique. New Zealand’s population is ranked 119th in the world. Roughly 4.5 million call this idyllic land home, a number expected to rise to 7.5 million by the end of the century. One third, about 1.4 million, live in Auckland. About 400,000 are in the capitol city of Wellington and another 400,000 brave souls remain in Christchurch, the South Island’s largest but earthquake tormented city. In a country 1150 miles long, when half of everybody lives in three places, you certainly have room to roam — or get lost quickly. The weather is cold down south, hot up north, and varies in between. If you don’t like the weather, hop in the car and drive a couple hours. It will change.
2. Life in the outdoors is spectacular. New Zealand is to be experienced, whether by car, camper, motorcycle, bicycle, boat, raft, helicopter, plane, hang glider, bungy cord, or on foot. Whatever you enjoy doing, chance are you can do it without a crowd in New Zealand. The air is clean and invigorating, the stars at night remarkable in number and clarity, and things like golf and fishing are extraordinary. New Zealand has the second most number of golf courses per capita in the world, trailing only Scotland. Courses are rarely crowded and many are breathtakingly beautiful. The fishing is so good — whether you go a few miles offshore for monster marlin or wade one of the two dozen rivers dumping into famed Lake Taupo in pursuit of New Zealand’s famously large fly rod trout — people travel from all over the world to catch the memory of a lifetime. You need to know nothing to catch great fish. All you have to do is hire a decent guide and go.
1. I am happy there. Several times during this trip’s two days and four flights home — this time from Auckand to Sydney to Honolulu to Los Angeles to Denver, thanks to United Airlines’ always reliable global flight cancellation program — I thought about what it is about New Zealand that I like so much, and why I keep going back.
The answer is I am happy there. Thanks to the friends I’ve made throughout the years, the instant feeling I get when I walk out of Auckland International Airport that part of me is home, and my growing respect and appreciation that a simple life in a magic and decent little nation can be a very good life if, and when, you live it right.
All of us need a happy place, our own private New Zealand. When we feel it, we need to recognize it. And when we recognize it, we need to be grateful for it. We need to trust the power of having a special place in life, where we are safe and comfortable and happy.
From time to time, our special place will beckon. And when it does, we need to hurry up and go.
Bill Beck saysDecember 17, 2013 at 6:32 pm
Why have I not gone to New Zealand? It sounds wonderful!
Ocean Palmer saysDecember 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm
You’ll have to search your soul for the answer to that one, Mr. Beck. It’s an overnight flight from Los Angeles . . . a snoozer’s glide to paradise.
P.S. Don’t forget to send me a postcard!
Tim Briggs saysDecember 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm
What a great article. This is definitely on my list now!