Kiwis, Kiwis and Kiwis: The People of New Zealand

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!

Maori Proverb

Korubrighter

A koru I found while walking in the bush

One of the most important, fundamental differences between England and New Zealand is one that is often overlooked when juxtaposed with the landscape, wildlife and weather: it is the people.

The people of New Zealand are called kiwis. This can cause a certain amount of confusion among tourists, as there are two other distinct entities in New Zealand that also bear the name kiwi:

1)      The endangered, native bird that is a symbol of New Zealand, the equivalent of Australia’s kangaroo.

2)      The fuzzy, green fruit also known as the Chinese gooseberry, the growing of which is an important industry in New Zealand.

Despite this, kiwis (the people) are in no way confused about their identity. They are a proud nation of do-it-yourselfers, tough and laidback at the same time. They embody the spirit of adventure – a relic, I suspect, from the colonial days of old, when you had to both help and accept help from your neighbours to survive. Above all, it is their attitude – their niceness – that sets them apart from their distant cousins in Mother England.

To illustrate just how different New Zealanders are from the English, I’d like to tell you a story, something of my personal journey since immigrating to New Zealand at the age of ten. You see, I was first awakened to how different kiwis are on my first day of school here. As usually happens when a new kid shows up in class, the teacher introduced me by getting me to stand up in front of everyone.

“This is Abigail. She’s from England. Abigail, why don’t you tell us a bit about what England’s like?”

So, shaking under the scrutiny of thirty pairs of eyes, I tried desperately to think – what was England like? For me, it was just normal, a more overcast version of New Zealand. It was August at the time this was happening; I’d just taken a plane ride from the middle of summer to the middle of winter, but the weather hadn’t changed. It was hot in New Zealand. Well, not hot for New Zealand, but hot to me. I was sweating, yet somehow frozen. My throat was stuck.

“I know,” the teacher said, gently. “How about the class asks you questions – would that be easier? Does anyone have a question about England?”

Of course, I don’t remember everything they asked me, but how could I forget these four questions:

 “Is there grass in England?”

 “Do you speak English in England?”

 “Do you have a butler?”

 “Have you met the Queen?”

I had come to a country of morons.

I suppose they were only ten, and New Zealand is rather cut off from the rest of the world. Some of them must have only seen England on the news, or in American cartoons. They must have thought my home country consisted of the brown and grey streets of London stretching from coast to coast, populated purely by toffs… Not that they were familiar with the word toff. I’d grown up physically and culturally so far away from the world they thought I’d come from! They all thought I was posh, not realising how ridiculous the idea was, or quite how much it offended my Northern, working-class roots.

Me

A younger me looking not quite at home in the New Zealand bush

I soon found that what kiwis lack in general knowledge, they make up for in moxy.

The first break time of the day, or, as kiwis call it, morning tea, arrived. When I’d entered the classroom, I’d seen that most of the other kids had bare feet, which I’d thought was strange, but maybe it was the custom to remove shoes inside wherever you were, so I’d taken my sandals off, leaving my socks on. Now I hurriedly put my shoes back on, realising as I did that no one else was. They were actually going outside in bare feet!

You see, kiwi feet are like hobbit feet – though in most cases less hairy – with thick, rubbery soles. My classmates were not just walking across grass and smooth concrete, but across gravel and bark chippings! One of them had a bit of broken glass stuck in the ball of their foot and, when I asked if they were all right, they responded, “Yeah, it’s been in there a while.”

After a few days, some of my classmates coaxed me into taking my shoes and socks off outside. They ended up having to carry me, as my soles were as delicate as a baby’s bottom. They haven’t improved much in the last eleven years.

Another thing I discovered during those first few days of school is how confusing the kiwi accent is. My classmates decided to play a game of hide-and-seek, but, as I wasn’t yet familiar with the layout of the school, one girl offered to team up and hide with me.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go and get on the dick.”

I blinked. “On the what?”

“The dick.”

I looked around, bewildered.

“That dick over there.”

She was pointing, but I still couldn’t see what she meant.

“The big dick! The big, brown dick!”

My mind reeled.

“All that wood! It’s right in front of us, by the school hall.”

And before the unintended puns could get any worse, I clicked. “Oh, you mean the deck.”

Skimming Stones

Two friends, one a kiwi and one a British immigrant like me, skimming stones on the shore

I got used to the accent fairly quickly, and could soon tell it apart from the Australian accent, something you need to learn fast if you want to survive in New Zealand. Kiwis are very touchy when it comes to Australians, like us Brits with the French, I suppose. Except Brits are nothing like the French, whereas Australians and New Zealanders are practically the same people. ***Ducks a volley of ANZAC biscuits*** (ANZAC biscuits are what the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were given as rations in the First World War, and it was said they were so hard it was better to lob them at the enemy than eat them.)

My nana, who now lives in New Zealand with us, once met a kiwi on the London Underground. By this point, she’d visited us enough times to recognise the person’s accent, and the person was so grateful that Nana hadn’t assumed they were Australian!

Speaking of the London Underground, let me fast forward my story a few years. I was now seventeen years old, in my final year of high school, (or college, as kiwis call it,) and my drama class was going on a very expensive field trip to England, to perform a show at a performing arts school in Devon, to watch a few musicals at the West End, and to take in the sights. I hadn’t been back to England since leaving it seven years previously, and I’d got used to how safe New Zealand is – you don’t have to be paranoid about locking things or walking through parks on your own at night. Well, in most places, anyway.

After travelling around the southwest of England and encountering mysterious, new wonders like squirrels and stinging nettles, my kiwi classmates and I made it to London. We were on a tube train, packed in like sardines in the middle of this sweltering, July rush-hour, when the train stopped and a dry announcement came on:

“We apologise for the delay, as a body is being removed from the line.”

Immediately, the kiwis began to freak out. The Londoners, on the other hand, didn’t bat an eyelid; they remained engrossed in their newspapers, or the Underground map opposite them. There were so many pairs of eyes around, but none of them would move in case – horror of horrors – they ended up crossing paths with another pair. I had been living in New Zealand long enough to find this unsettling.

Then, when the train got going again, the motion sent me stumbling into a middle-aged woman.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said.

“WATCH IT!” she growled, turning her back on me.

That moment shocked me. A kiwi would never do that. They’d smile at you and say, “That’s all right.”

I needed reassurance. I needed some kindness. I tried to catch someone’s eye and smile. They weren’t having it. I realised I’d changed. In this aspect, at least, I’d become a New Zealander.

A sneaky photo of my grandpa relaxing like a kiwi on our driveway

A sneaky photo of my grandpa relaxing like a kiwi on our driveway

I used to be like those Brits on the tube. Cold, isolated, mistrusting of every stranger I met. I remember when I was a child – quite a young child, like four or five – my family and I were walking over a hill in the Lake District. Whenever we walked past fellow hikers coming in the opposite direction, my dad would greet them, and they’d politely say something back. I didn’t understand.

“Why did you talk to them, Dad? You don’t know them!”

Dad explained that there was an unspoken truce amongst mountaineers. Everyone on the mountain was your friend. I found it very strange and quite uncomfortable. Then we moved to New Zealand and it turned out that kiwis are like that with everyone they pass on the street. It’s just nice. If you drop your shopping, you know that someone will stop to help you pick it up, and they won’t nick it. If you’re waiting for a bus, people will ask you how your day’s been. I’ve noticed it is changing in the busy centre of Auckland city, which is unfortunate, but in general it’s far nicer to step out of your front door in New Zealand than it is in England.

Maybe kiwis are so nice because there are so few of them. They aren’t elbowing each other out of the way to get to where they need to be. The population only exceeded the four million mark a few years ago, and the landmass of the country is larger than the whole of Great Britain, which has a population of sixty-something million. When my family was travelling around the South Island in a campervan, we kept bumping into people we knew from the North Island, on holiday just like us.

Kiwis are generally outdoorsy-types: they like hiring campervans and sleeping in tents. They like doing silly, adventurous things. They are responsible, for example, for the invention of commercial bungee jumping, jet-boating and zorbing. Of these, I’ve only done jet-boating, but I’ve done it a few times in various locations because it’s so incredibly fun. My favourite jet-boating experience was when we were on our Great New Zealand Campervan Holiday, on the Shotover River, which was one of the locations Peter Jackson used for the River Anduin in The Fellowship of the Ring. Not only was this the fastest jet-boat ride I’ve ever been on, I kept expecting to see the Argonath looming up on either side of us!

So anyway, that’s kiwis for you. Not fruit or birds, but a genuinely nice ilk of people. Completely mad, of course, but wonderfully mad. Caring and relaxed, yet hardy and adventurous; fiercely independent, yet always happy to help. Perhaps the difference in attitude between Brits and kiwis can be summed up like this:

Something bad happens. The Brit thinks, ‘At least it’s something I can complain about later.’ The kiwi thinks, ‘It doesn’t matter.’

A New Zealand sunset

A New Zealand sunset

Smells Like Breakfast: Rotorua

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Rotorua is one of the most exciting tourist destinations in New Zealand despite the fact that it smells like rotten eggs! This is because Rotorua is a city bubbling with geothermal activity: hot pools, mud pools and geysers release hydrogen sulphide into the air, which is responsible for the sometimes pungent aroma. Far from being a repellent, the smell adds to the Sulphur City’s charm. It is a constant reminder that you are in another world, one very different, at least, from this pom’s home town in the North of England. Besides, I never thought the smell was that bad – eggs, yes, but not necessarily rotten eggs. In any case, whenever I’m in Rotorua, I always start craving a hearty cooked breakfast.

???????????????????????????????To get to Rotorua, you could catch a domestic flight from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Queenstown, or book a coach, but the best way is to drive yourself, as you don’t have the cost or hassle of flying, it doesn’t take as long as in a coach, and you can pull over and get out whenever you see an interesting attraction on the way. You can hire cars cheaply in New Zealand, or, even better, you can hire a campervan. This gives tourists a great amount of freedom, as your accommodation is already taken care of. Even though we’ve lived in New Zealand for eleven years, my family feels no need to travel overseas to take a holiday – we just hire a campervan and go. I don’t know why we don’t just buy a campervan.

???????????????????????????????There are heaps of holiday parks in New Zealand, where you can park your campervan for the night and take advantage of the facilities, and Rotorua is no exception. They’ll all have fliers in their receptions advertising Rotorua’s top visitor attractions, but – take it from me – the best places you can go in Rotorua are FREE.

KUIRAU PARK

My family takes a walk through Kuirau Park every single time we go to Rotorua. It’s free to enter, and contains wonderful examples of exactly what you come to Rotorua to see. The park is an uneven patchwork of steaming, yellow rocks, native scrub, boiling pools, geysers and wonderfully smelly mud pools. These are my favourite: imagine blowing bubbles in a massive glass of molten chocolate, each bubble swelling and then bursting with a tremendously satisfying, gloopy pop. New vents open up in the park all the time, so there is a slight risk of having your skirt unexpectedly blown up in full Marilyn Monroe-style, although, if a new vent were to open up beneath your feet, this would probably be the least of your worries. There are barriers separating visitors from the dangerous patches of the park, but these don’t seem to mean much to small children and idiots, so, if there is a small child or idiot in your party, it is important not to let them out of your sight.

ROTORUA MUSEUM / GOVERNMENT GARDENS

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One of my favourite buildings in the world is the one that houses the Rotorua Museum. It’s essentially Tudor in style, with magnificent windows and a warm, terracotta roof, topped with a spire of the sort I always seem to associate with Venice. Walking up to it, you’d almost think you were in Victorian England; the paths are lined with old-fashioned lampposts, traditional-looking flowerbeds and perfectly manicured bowling greens, but the towering presence of palm trees reminds you that this definitely isn’t England, rather one of “the colonies”. On a sunny day, I feel completely at peace there.

The building used to be a Bath House, which I find both romantic and creepy: romantic for the image of Edwardian elite taking to the geothermal spring waters; creepy for the image of mental patients being held down in pools and subjected to electroshock therapy. The museum, while not free, is well worth a visit. The Tarawera exhibition in particular is a must-see, as it brings to life the most disastrous volcanic eruption in New Zealand’s recorded history. If you don’t want to pay to get into the museum, however, it’s still worth a visit to the area it’s in, and not just to gaze upon the building.  The museum is situated in the historic Government Gardens, which are free to enter and very nice to walk through, with an array of beautiful flowers and geothermal features. It’s another thing my family always does in Rotorua. We like doing free things – we’re Northerners.

LAKE ROTORUA

Here’s another thing you can do for free in Rotorua: take a walk around Lake Rotorua. The water at the edge of the lake is a strange colour – a sort of creamy turquoise – from the sulphur. Steam rises from it in places and, as you walk, you will stumble across miniature hot pools, like this one.

I stepped over this little thing!

I stepped over this little thing!

Plant life at the rim is stunted and burned from the acid, but there are lots of seagulls around and, on the cooler parts of the lake, swans drift serenely along. If you look out across the lake, you’ll see an island in the middle, which, aside from being as beautiful as a painting, is the setting of a really sweet Maori love story.

On the shores of Lake Rotorua

On the shores of Lake Rotorua

Essentially, there once was a fair maiden called Hinemoa, who lived on the shores of Lake Rotorua. She was in love with a guy who lived on the island, but her father didn’t want them to marry, so he made it impossible for her to access a canoe. But Hinemoa was clever. She made herself a raft out of sea turtles or something and reached the island, falling into her lover’s arms. I’ve never been to the island, but there are guided tours and such there.

THE LUGE

Okay, so I may have lied a little. My favourite place in Rotorua isn’t free. I’m not sure how expensive it was the last time I went, but I know that my tight, Northern parents weren’t too happy about it. At the time I didn’t care – it was FUN.

The Luge is operated by Skyline. There’s one in Queenstown as well, but Rotorua was the first. To me, a luge looks like a giant jandal. (Note for Brits: New Zealanders call flip-flops jandals, which may sound silly, but Australians call them thongs, so there you go!) This giant jandal is basically a cross between a go-kart and a toboggan, and with it you can go hooning down the side of Mt Ngongotaha, winding through a picturesque forest and taking the corners as fast as you dare. Don’t worry, there’s a “scenic” track for wusses, and there’s plenty else to do at the top of the mountain, which is reached by a pleasant gondola ride. Apparently, there’s been even more added since I was last there, including a winery tasting place and a 4D motion theatre. But the Luge – oh my gosh!

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There are, of course, countless other tourist attractions in Rotorua, but I think as long as you see at least a few geysers, hot pools and mud pools, you won’t go away disappointed.

As for those readers who have already been to Rotorua, if you know of any great places to go there that I’ve missed, (especially free ones,) please say so in the comments section.

New Zealand and Volcanoes

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When I was nine years old, my world fell apart.

There I was, living quite happily in a small town in the North of England, when my parents dropped a bombshell: we were moving to New Zealand.

New Zealand – wasn’t that the little triangle at the bottom of Australia? Wasn’t it millions of miles away, filled with bubbling lakes of lava and cannibals and sheep?

Well, I was right about the sheep.

It turned out that New Zealand was quite similar to England, but the differences were truly amazing. This blog is about what makes New Zealand different.

A bit of White Island

See how different New Zealand is? This was taken on White Island.

You might be especially interested if you were thinking about moving to New Zealand, or coming here for a holiday. In my experience, the best way to see the country is by campervan. My family and I have driven all around New Zealand and seen countless places of outstanding beauty within it. This blog is also about those places. I hope you like it.

So here it is, my first post…

One of the most obvious ways in which New Zealand is different from Britain is VOLCANOES.

Britain, of course, doesn’t have any active volcanoes. It is the most unexotic place in the world. New Zealand has at least four: Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and White Island.

Ruapehu, also known as Mount Doom due to certain scenes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy being filmed upon its slopes, is the largest active volcano in New Zealand. The last time it erupted was in 2007. It was a hydrothermal eruption, accompanied by an earthquake and lahars, or mudflows. There were no fatalities, but some unfortunate guy got his leg crushed by a falling rock.

The chances of tourists getting injured are virtually non-existent, as there are many precautions and warning systems in place. During the summer, there are guided tours around the acidic Crater Lake and, during the winter, Mt Ruapehu becomes a haven for skiers.

Ngauruhoe

Ngauruhoe

Ngauruhoe has the distinction of being New Zealand’s most active volcano. The last time it erupted was in 1975, but fumaroles around the crater constantly release sulphurous gases. The 1975 eruption threw chunks of lava over a distance of 3km, and there was an actual lava flow in 1954. For the more ambitious hiker, Mt Ngauruhoe presents a suitable challenge to summit, but it’s not something I’ll be doing any time soon! Like Ruapehu, it stood in for Mount Doom.

Tongariro, which is also the name of the national park in which it, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe reside, is the most recent of the three to have erupted, at the end of 2012. It was not a serious eruption, mostly ash, causing a few flights to be cancelled, the water tanks of a nearby Department of Conservation hut to be smashed to pieces by flying debris, and the number of visiting tourists to spike! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a fantastic day walk, featuring steam vents, native wildlife and the as-beautiful-as-they-sound Emerald Lakes. You just have to check the safety alerts before you go.

White Island 013

This was also taken on White Island, but, as you can see, there are so many other colours!

And now we come to White Island, one of the most magical places I have ever been in my life. It is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano and, boy, is it active. There are signs that it could erupt again in the near future as I write this blog, but then it has been experiencing practically continuous small eruptions since 1976. The only fatal eruption was in 1914, when a boiling lahar killed all 11 of the sulphur miners living on the island. The mining was stopped in the ’30s, but the eerie, corroded shells of buildings remain, haunting the alien terrain.

You travel to White Island, as with many New Zealand destinations, by ferry. The volcano looms like a jagged crown out of the sea as you approach. Well, a crown with a plume of white steam billowing out of the centre. The rocks are streaked with beautiful colours. Yellow, being the mark of sulphur, dominates, but there are also pinks, purples, reds and whites. You are given a hard-hat – just in case – and told not to wander from the path. Also, I found out the hard way, it is advisable not to shave your legs (or face, if you’re a bloke,) before going, as the fumes you walk through are mildly acidic.

It’s like walking on the crusty surface of another world, picking your way through collections of sulphur crystals, bubbling pools, strange waterfalls and columns of steam. As someone who’d grown up in a small town in the North of England, this was an eye-opening, (not to mention eye-watering,) experience for me. Planet Earth really is a marvel, and New Zealand… let’s just say I’m lucky to live in such a place.

White Island's acid lake

White Island’s acid lake

But why is New Zealand so volcanically active when Britain is so volcanically boring? Of course, it’s all to do with Plate Tectonics.

Whereas the British Isles are situated snugly within the Eurasian Plate, far away from any plate boundaries, the islands of New Zealand are located directly on top of the boundary between the Pacific Plate and the Indo-Australian Plate. The Pacific Plate is being forced under the Indo-Australian Plate in a process called subduction. As you can imagine, this causes a lot of friction, which is what is responsible for all these volcanoes, not to mention the dreadful earthquakes that have been happening in Christchurch.

You may ask why one would want to live in a country that straddles the infamous Ring of Fire. I’m tempted in response to use the famous Kiwi idiom, “She’ll be right,” which basically means, “Don’t worry, the chances of something bad happening aren’t that high, and even if something bad does happen, it’s nothing we can’t handle; it’ll all turn out all right in the end.” Besides, straddling the Ring of Fire has given New Zealand a unique and awe-inspiring landscape, which, to this pom at least, makes it an incredibly exciting place to be.

You can read an in-depth account of my trip to White Island here, and all about how my world fell apart when I was nine here. Oh, and you can find more Lord of the Rings locations here.