Travel Observations, featuring New Zealand, part 1

By Stewart Grant

Travel is so much more than the places that you see, it is the experiences that you have. These experiences include seeing new sights but also just adjusting to different ways of doing ordinary things; even things as basic as driving a car, going to a restaurant or using the bathroom.

Beautiful Whangarei Falls was the first stop on our tour of the Northlands region. Renting a car and traversing the up-and-down terrain brought beautiful scenery at every turn.
Beautiful Whangarei Falls was the first stop on our tour of the Northlands region. Renting a car and traversing the up-and-down terrain brought beautiful scenery at every turn.

Laurie and I recently returned from a three-week trip to New Zealand and Australia. This involved a long flight to get there, a 12-day cruise starting in Auckland and ending in Sydney, with some extra days to travel both before and after the cruise. In this article, I’ll discuss the first few days of our trip, but also try and throw in some general travel stuff so it’s not boring for readers who have no intention of ever visiting New Zealand.

TIPS FOR A 33-HOUR COMMUTE

New Zealand is quite far away, even in today’s small world. From the time that we left our house in St. Marys to drive to Toronto airport, some 33 hours would pass before we pulled into our hotel in Whangarei on New Zealand’s North Island.

My advice for anyone traveling on such a lengthy trip is to dress for long-term comfort. On this long journey, I made the mistake of wearing jeans and running shoes instead of shorts and flip flops. Due to overdressing, it was hard not to feel sweaty and disgusting by the time we arrived at our hotel in New Zealand.

Another piece of advice that I have for a long flight is to have a game plan for what to do with the time. This could involve bringing a comfortable headrest, sufficient reading material, planning a project, or bring aboard comfortable headphones or earbuds for the movies.

During regular life, I’m usually too busy to watch movies so I always look forward to long airplane rides when I can just relax and catch up on films that I haven’t seen before. On the trip to New Zealand I watched five movies. Of these, I’d recommend “Why Him?” which was particularly crude yet hilarious, and “Battle of the Sexes”, a true tennis story that really exceeded my expectations.

This view near Matapouri encompasses some of the beauty of northern New Zealand with dramatic elevation changes, beautiful coastline, and distinctive trees.
This view near Matapouri encompasses some of the beauty of northern New Zealand with dramatic elevation changes, beautiful coastline, and distinctive trees.

DRIVING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD

I’ve driven on the left side of the road before, yet I had more trouble than normal on this trip with making the adjustment. Though I wasn’t driving the wrong direction, I was constantly confused about the placement of the turning signal versus the windshield wiper control. For the first few days, each time I’d change lanes I’d end up washing my windshield, and vice versa.

THEY SPEAK ENGLISH IN NEW ZEALAND, BUT…

Place names in New Zealand are extremely difficult to pronounce for English folks since most names originated from the indigenous Maori people. For example, prior to our cruise we stayed in Whangarei, which I tried pronouncing as “WANG-are-EE” which was not even close. Apparently, the letters “Wh” together make an “F” sound, which is not something you’d expect.   

CRAZY KIWIS

Kiwis are known as very adventurous sorts. Waipu Caves, which we visited on our drive in the Northlands, was a great example of this as we saw a couple guys walking across a log that spanned a rock chasm, saw another group repelling down a rock face, and saw families in general traversing difficult slopes with children in tow. We noticed here that people seem to be willing to accept personal responsibility and risk much more comfortably than we do in North America where our society is overly controlled by both insurance companies and the fear of lawsuits.

RESTAURANT PROCEDURES

Similar to what we found in Scotland last year, it is common to place your food and drink order and to pay your bill directly at the bar, as opposed to waiting for a waiter or waitress to visit your table. Tipping is not a normal custom in New Zealand, and taxes are priced in already. In other words, what you see on the menu is what you pay. As a result, the prices were higher than what Canadian menus would show, but the cost certainty aspect was refreshing.

From the coastal village of Piahia we took a memorable catamaran tour through the Bay of Islands to the famous “Hole in the Rock” near Cape Brett Island. The Cape Brett Lighthouse and the old lighthouse keeper’s residence can be seen in this photo.
From the coastal village of Piahia we took a memorable catamaran tour through the Bay of Islands to the famous “Hole in the Rock” near Cape Brett Island. The Cape Brett Lighthouse and the old lighthouse keeper’s residence can be seen in this photo.

HAND DRYERS THAT WORK!

Without exaggeration, EVERY TIME I used the bathroom in New Zealand I was very satisfied with the quality of the hand dryers. Dyson Airblade units were commonplace, and there were zero crappy World Dryer units to be found. It seems that the Kiwis have discovered that people will use the hand dryers if these units actually dry your hands. Certain Canadian establishments should take note!

COMING UP…

In the next travel article, I’ll discuss our cruise down the coast of New Zealand and make some observations along the way.

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