Why I Love New Zealand

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It’s easy for a young person to feel suffocated in New Zealand. I, like so many before me, couldn’t wait to get out and see the rest of the world. I spent three months travelling through eight different countries last year. Yes, it was exhausting and yes, we really needed more time in each place, but it was exactly the breath of fresh air I needed. By the end of it, I had a new appreciation for New Zealand; a new understanding of why I love it so much.

Here are just 10 reasons why I love New Zealand:

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1) It’s relatively safe.

New Zealand came in third on the latest Global Peace Index, after Iceland and Denmark. Also, you don’t have to worry about pickpockets, which was a relief after travelling through Europe.

2) It’s relatively uncorrupt.

New Zealand came in second on the latest Corruption Perceptions Index, after Denmark. Yes, some of our politicians might occasionally get involved in something ‘dirty’, but – face it – you’re not in danger of having your family shot if you speak out against them.

3) It’s relatively uncrowded.

New Zealand has a population density of just 17 per square kilometre – compare that with the UK’s 257, or Germany’s 235. It was actually a relief to get back here after being in Europe; relaxing not to have to queue for ages everywhere, or fight through traffic.

4) It’s got EFTPOS.

For me, Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale was something I never thought about until I missed it. Most people in New Zealand use it as a matter of course; we have become a population unused to carrying cash around, which, thinking about it, is probably why we don’t tip.

5) It’s got grass verges.

My family all come from the sort of working-class, Victorian-built areas of England that have narrow pavements crammed between brick houses and grey roads, with no sign of greenery to be had. That’s only romantically nostalgic up to a certain point.

6) It’s unpretentious.

You may remember – or not, seeing as it was over thirteen years ago – that New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Helen Clark, was treated rather rudely by the British media for daring to wear trousers to a state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.  This miffed me somewhat, even though I am British and don’t at all mind the royals. Seriously, anyone who thinks like that can f**k off. I love that New Zealanders aren’t snobs.

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7) It’s laidback.

New Zealanders live life at a peaceful pace. There are fewer “jobsworths” here.

8) It’s got a temperate climate.

New Zealand is neither too hot nor too cold. It’s got less of the miserable, chilling sort of rain than the UK, but still enough rain to keep it green. It’s a climate that smiles on the great outdoors.

9) It’s got bloody good food.

I still thought this after eating the best pizza of my life in a small family restaurant in Tivoli, near Rome. What’s so great about New Zealand’s food is it’s an absolute fusion of European, Maori and Asian cuisine, with the freshest of seafood and the finest of wine thrown in.

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10) It’s got an astonishing amount – not to mention an amazing range – of incredibly beautiful scenery for such a small country.

“Is it true that in New Zealand you can go skiing in the mountains and swimming at the beach in the same day?” a guy in Germany asked us. Why, I suppose it is.

The Middle Ages Come to Hamilton

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Hamilton may be the City of the Future, but that doesn’t stop it celebrating the past. The Waikato Waldorf School’s annual Medieval Carnival is set to become a destination event, attracting people from all over New Zealand. I went to this year’s carnival and, for a school fair, it was very impressive.

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The banners and painted stone walls at the entrance stood as testament to how much effort had gone into the event. There were so many people in costume – and not just the kids. I was surprised at how big it was.

MedievalCarnival2There was a craft market, wooden horse jousting, sword whittling, crystal panning, fishing, archery, a re-enactors encampment, a blacksmith’s, a combat ring and so much more – including a display of Roman soldiers (accidentally wandered in through a time portal, perhaps?) and proper jousting.

MedievalCarnival4The whole thing was great fun, and it’s supposed to be even bigger and better next year. So grab your cloak, dust off your gauntlets and head to Hamilton. The Medieval Carnival is free to attend, but it is a school fundraiser, so don’t be stingy.

MedievalCarnival3To see what events are on in Hamilton, go to visithamilton.co.nz

Rose Hellaby House – Hidden Gem in the Waitakeres

View Auckland Rose Hellaby House

The best places are the ones you find accidentally. For me, West Auckland’s Rose Hellaby House is such a place. On a quiet Sunday morning, my boyfriend and I were driving home after a party. Leaving our friends to nurse hangovers of varying severity, we had decided to take advantage of the cool sunshine and take the scenic route home. So it was that we were trundling along Scenic Drive, a winding country road with marvellous views over Auckland, when I spotted a sign next to a driveway that disappeared into the bush.

RoseHellabySignTim, who’s lived in West Auckland all his life, had never noticed the sign before. We had all day, so we turned back to investigate. The first thing we noticed upon the cresting the driveway was a garden gnome. Then, through an island of trees, there appeared a colonial-style house. Someone obviously lived there, so it seemed strange that it would be open to the public.

We got out of the car and followed a mossy path up the side of the house, discovering more garden gnomes along the way. Under the shade of an enchanting tree, draped in golden ribbons of sunlight, there was a bench. Next to it was a birdbath and, next to that, a cat. It meowed at us and slunk off further around the house, as though inviting us to follow. We did so, and were confronted with somewhere that immediately made us wish we’d had a picnic with us.

RoseHellabyPicnicAreaBehind Rose Hellaby House is a lawn on the edge of a cliff. There’s a picnic table and a lookout platform.  From the lookout platform you can see the forested hills and houses of West Auckland, the volcanoes and skyscrapers of the city centre, and out to the harbour beyond. There’s a helpful sign to point out exactly what it is you’re seeing. It’s a view you can look at for a long time.

But Rose Hellaby House isn’t just a great picnic spot. Someone does live in the house, but they keep part of it as a wonderful antiques shop. This is only open on weekends and public holidays, however, so it was lucky for us that it was a Sunday. Tim and I have a thing for antiques shops. The woman running the shop was lovely to chat to, even if she did mistake us for brother and sister.

She was also rather taken aback that we’d be interested in antiques in the first place, being so young. At that point, the cat we’d seen earlier came in and jumped up on a side table. I asked the lady if she was at all worried, having a cat in an antiques shop. She replied that the cat had only ever broken one vase, going after a fly in a window. How sweet.

So if you’re looking for somewhere to have a picnic in the Waitakeres, Rose Hellaby House on Scenic Drive is an interesting spot. It’s a real hidden gem. Rose Hellaby herself was interesting too: an adventurous, green-fingered philanthropist with a penchant for garden gnomes. She gifted her house to the people of Auckland to enjoy the views and gardens as she had. You can see a display dedicated to her at the Arataki Visitor Centre.

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Huntly. Yes, It’s That Bad.

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There’s one place in New Zealand more maligned than Hamilton… Huntly. It’s a small, ugly, industrial hole with literally nothing to do. And it’s embarrassingly close to Hamilton, on the highway down from Auckland. We drive through it all the time, and every time I wonder: what’s the point of it having a tourist information centre?

Yes, Huntly is nicely situated on the banks of the Waikato River. But the view over the river is somewhat marred by the monstrosity that is one of New Zealand’s largest power stations. The twin chimneys of Huntly loom over the town like Martin Freeman giving it both fingers. Still, it’s the nicest view in Huntly. They’ve even put picnic tables there.

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Huntly is a mining town.  Not the romantically depressing sort of mining town, no. Not the sort where you can hear the sombre notes of brass instruments just by looking at it. Huntly is simply a carbuncle slashed by a railway track. It’s dull. How many tourists have been briefly fooled by the café and souvenir shop?

I had a look at Huntly’s tourist information website – to show willing, you know. “Huntly,” it boasts, “a stones [sic] throw to anywhere.” In other words, the best thing about Huntly is that you can leave. It goes on to say that, as well as having one of New Zealand’s largest power stations, the town is known for “the last remaining D*E*K*A sign.”

As an immigrant, I had to look that one up. According to Wikipedia, “DEKA was a nationwide chain of general merchandise stores,” operating from 1988 until 2001. In fact, the DEKA brand ceased operating on July 30th, 2001 – the day before I arrived in New Zealand! So I have a good excuse for not knowing about it.

As for sign, in 2013 Huntly residents “requested” that the sign, which had “stood alone for more than a decade since the store’s closure… stay as a national icon.” Which gives you an idea of just how boring Huntly is. And it explains the meaning of that random T-shirt I saw a few years ago that said, “DEKA: Huntly’s answer to the pyramids.” (The DEKA logo has triangles in it.)

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Surprisingly, the Huntly tourist information website does actually have a “Things To Do” section, but admittedly only “if you’re spoiled for time.” There are a grand total of five activities in Huntly: you can go to the swimming baths, the coal mining museum, the speedway, the alpaca farm, or the vintage railway.

Okay, maybe I was a bit harsh (and grammatically incorrect) with the “literally” nothing to do. I mean my dad would be quite happy visiting a vintage railway. (And now he’s going to read this blog and want to go. Sorry, Mum. And, before you ask, no. I don’t have to go places with you anymore – I’m an adult!)

There’s also apparently a lake you can walk around, but, frankly, why bother? New Zealand has heaps of pretty lakes. Huntly has one use: if you’re on a self-drive New Zealand holiday and you really can’t make it any further before nightfall, it’s somewhere to sleep and fill up your fuel tank. Oh, and I suppose I should mention the Topp Twins, as they’re from there. Here’s a video of them.

Hamilton’s Italian Paradise

ItalianGardenHamilton3There’s only one reason to visit Hamilton: the Gardens. Follow the Waikato River south out of the city centre and there you are. I’ve written about the Hamilton Gardens before, but last weekend I went again and discovered an entrance I never knew existed. I thought I’d seen all there was to see, but it turns out the Gardens are even more wonderful than I already believed.

They’re so extensive, with so many different sections, and they’re growing all the time. The fact that they’re free is an amazing gift to the people of Hamilton. And tourists. When I went on Sunday evening, there were a lot of families wandering around. As well as countless peaceful nooks for picnics, the Gardens have plenty of open spaces for playing.

ItalianGardenHamilton6It’s difficult to say which garden is my favourite. Possibly the Italian Renaissance Garden in the Paradise Collection. That’s where all this article’s photos come from anyway. It’s a very romantic place to sit and write. Of course, I’ve been to the ultimate Italian Renaissance garden, the one belonging to the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, near Rome. But Hamilton’s is pretty good.

ItalianGardenHamilton5I’m rather excited after reading about the Hamilton Gardens’ possible future developments, especially for the proposed eighteenth century garden, which could include classical ruins and a hermit’s cave. I absolutely adore classical ruins, even if they are fake, and find the subject of eighteenth century garden hermits quite fascinating.

ItalianGardenHamilton1(It was a bizarre practice wherein some rich people decided they fancied real life garden ornaments, so employed poor – or extremely eccentric – people to play the parts of hermits. These hermits would dress in rags and live in artificial caves in people’s gardens for a set number of years, during which time they weren’t allowed to speak, or they wouldn’t get paid at the end.)

Watch this episode of Tony Robinson’s The Worst Jobs in History – the garden hermit bit starts at 11:11 – to find out more.

ItalianGardenHamilton2Other possible future gardens include a surrealist garden, which I hope will be like Alice’s Wonderland, and an early twentieth century garden modelled on the one described in Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Garden Party. (Katherine Mansfield is an important figure in New Zealand literature. She was born in Wellington and spent the first nineteen years of her life here.)

Italian FountainBut even if they weren’t to make any new gardens, Hamilton Gardens would be a place to go again and again. I know I gush about them, but I do love them. They’re amongst the best gardens in the entire world. And that’s not just me saying that – they won International Garden of the Year last year.

Go Hamilton!

Exploring Hamilton’s Parks

New Zealand Citizenship vs. Permanent Residency

new-zealand-654980_640I’ve lived in New Zealand for over half my life, but I’m not a New Zealand citizen. I’m only a permanent resident.

People are often surprised at this. Why haven’t I gone for citizenship, they ask?

Because I’ve never had to. New Zealand permanent residents have pretty much the same rights as citizens. We can vote, we can come and go as we please, and we have access to free healthcare, education and, should we need it, the benefit.

That, and going for citizenship would be extra hassle and cost a lot. My parents never applied when my sister and I were children because it would have cost thousands to do the whole family at once.

I’ll apply one day, when I can afford it. When I do, I’ll go for dual citizenship. I definitely don’t want to give up my British passport – it gives me the option of living and working anywhere in the EU indefinitely! A New Zealand passport only gives you that option for Australia.

The option of living and working indefinitely in Australia is one of the few advantages that New Zealand citizens have over permanent residents. Luckily for me, I have no desire to live in Australia.

The other things New Zealand citizens can do that permanent residents can’t are stand for public office and represent New Zealand at international sporting events. I have no desire to do those things either.

So it would seem I don’t ever need to apply for New Zealand citizenship. I mean a New Zealand passport would entitle me to New Zealand consular protection, which could be important one day. And it would mean that I could never be deported from New Zealand, which would be an unfortunate occurrence. Not that I’m planning on doing anything that could result in my deportation…

Like I said, I’ll apply one day. It would be nice to actually be a New Zealander, having spent most of my life in New Zealand. I’m still definitely British to everyone that meets me, though – the existential crisis of the immigrant child.

There have been a couple of times when not having a New Zealand passport has inconvenienced me. I don’t mind having to wait in a longer queue at the airport when returning to New Zealand, but I’m extremely annoyed by the following:

Sometimes, you’re asked to give identification in the form of either a driver’s licence or a New Zealand passport. And I don’t have a driver’s licence. (I know – oh my god – I’m twenty-three and I don’t have a driver’s licence! In New Zealand, not having a driver’s licence is like not liking rugby. Maybe I’m not qualified to be a New Zealander after all.)

wallet-26089_640Thankfully, I’ve only encountered this flawed identification system twice. If your company uses it, PLEASE change it. I don’t want to have to either learn to drive or go through the New Zealand citizenship application process just to prove to you what my British passport, my HANZ identification card, my student ID and my bank statements already prove.

But that’s by the by.

10 Totally Awesome New Zealand Holiday Tips

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New Zealand has so many great places to visit. I’ve written about a lot of them, here and on other websites. Lately, though, people have been asking me for some more general New Zealand holiday tips. So here they are.

1) Wear sunscreen.

Seriously, even if you think you won’t get sunburnt, you will. Hole in the ozone layer and all that. People have come to New Zealand from Sub-Saharan Africa and got sunburnt.

2) Swim between the flags.

The sea around New Zealand is dangerous, with strong currents that drag you under even when the waves are small. Don’t ignore the Surf Life Saving warnings, and don’t try to swim when the flags aren’t out.

yelloweyedpenguin3) Respect the nature.

New Zealand is an island nation with a delicate ecosystem. So many of its native plant and animal species are endangered. Think carefully about what you bring into New Zealand, resist the temptation to take natural “souvenirs” and try not to kill anything.

4) Be careful with your money.

New Zealand’s more expensive than people think. Some of the tourist attractions are extortionate, but you’ll be shocked by food and fuel prices too. If you’re on a tight budget, New Zealand’s the perfect country for couchsurfing, what with Kiwis being so friendly and laidback. To save money on food, shop at supermarkets and Asian grocery stores, but be prepared for shops to be closed on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and public holidays, especially in more rural areas.

5) Learn the road rules.

Warning SheepPublic transport here isn’t the best. No wonder so many tourists see little choice but to hire a car in New Zealand. The most important rule to remember is to DRIVE ON THE LEFT. (That did need to be in capitals. A surprising number of tourists forget this with occasionally fatal consequences.) When you’re driving in New Zealand, you also need to keep in mind that the country is bigger than you think, and full of hills and windy roads. The speed limits are probably lower than you’re used to as well. It’s easy to underestimate journey times.

6) Hire a campervan.

If you can afford it, this is easily the most convenient way to travel around New Zealand. You can hire campervans cheaply in New Zealand, especially in winter.

7) Don’t rely on your mobile phone.

When you’re travelling around New Zealand, you’ll enter some pretty remote areas and find yourself without a signal. Even the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, for example, which is on the edge of New Zealand’s largest city, has very limited mobile coverage. Always tell someone where you’re going before you trek off into the wilderness.

8) Decide what kind of holiday you want before you come.

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Lake Tekapo, a point in favour of the South Island

The North Island is very different from the South Island, and you shouldn’t try to do both unless you’ve got at least a month to spare. Basically, the North Island has beaches and volcanoes; the South Island has glaciers and mountains. I go into more detail in The North Island vs. the South Island on Not Australia.

9) Beware Kiwi-isms.

New Zealand is an English-speaking country, but some of the vernacular may catch you out. Take, for example, the seemingly innocuous ‘yeah-nah’. When a Kiwi says this it can be, as a friend of mine put it, “affirmative, negative, or neither, or both.” Listen carefully. For more Kiwi-isms, see 10 Silly Things Kiwis Say.

10) Don’t go to Huka Falls.

All the tour buses go there and all the tourist information sites tell you to go there. They’re New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction. But they’re not THAT great. There are better places to see in your limited time here. Less crowded places. Trust me.

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