I moved to New Zealand when I was ten years old. Before that I lived in a small town in England, so while moving to New Zealand wasn’t a total shock to the system, there were still some things I found strange. Here’s a list of ten:
1) Houses without stairs
As someone who grew up surrounded by tall, narrow houses with pitiful gardens, the fact that New Zealand’s houses are mostly single-storied and set apart from one another threw me at first. The ten-year-old me actually started missing stairs. I was delighted to find that one of my new Kiwi friends lived in a multi-storied house! Of course, this was in a small town in New Zealand. The new houses going up around Auckland all have stairs, being built tall and narrow to save space.
2) People going around barefoot
No one goes around barefoot in England, except at the beach. In New Zealand – or, at least, in small towns in New Zealand – people go to school barefoot, and down the high street, and round the supermarket… Kiwis found the ten-year-old me strange because I hadn’t got toughened, hobbit-like soles. People laughed at my inability to go barefoot, but I haven’t really gotten any better at it in the last fourteen years.
3) Ferns the size of trees
Well, actually, they are trees. The tree fern is the most iconic plant in New Zealand. They’re everywhere. In England, ferns are low-growing plants you don’t take much notice of. In New Zealand, they tower over you. The ten-year-old me used to expect dinosaurs to come crashing out of them! Today, whenever I return from overseas and see tree ferns at the side of the road, I know I’m home.
4) Primary schools without uniforms
There are probably a lot of New Zealand primary schools that have uniforms, but no uniform seems to be more common. The ten-year-old me was delighted to find I no longer had to wear a uniform. In England, our primary school uniform had ties and everything – even for girls! And, if you were a girl, you were only just allowed to wear trousers in winter. Being forced to wear a skirt in an English winter is just cruel.
5) Warm winters
In England, hot weather is rare. When it does get hot, however, it gets hotter than New Zealand. That’s too hot. New Zealand gets almost too hot in summer, but is nice the rest of the year. What I found strange when I first moved here was how warm the winters are. Often, New Zealand in winter is warmer than England summer. (And, don’t forget, it’s happening at the same time. Relatives on the phone get so jealous!)
6) Houses without radiators
New Zealand houses aren’t built with radiators. Instead, they have wood-burning stoves. When me, my mum and my seven-year-old sister first arrived in New Zealand, my dad picked us up from the airport and took us to the one-storied house he’d rented. As soon as my little sister set foot in our new lounge, she flopped down in front of the wood-burner and let out a disappointed wail: “That’s a really small television!” I should point out that, immediately to the left, was a big television.
7) People talking funny
When we first moved to New Zealand, the ten-year-old me sometimes found it quite difficult to understand what people were saying. The Kiwi accent is like a less stressed version of Australian. For example, to me, the word ‘ten’ sounded like ‘tin’, and the word ‘deck’ sounded like… a story I’ve told again and again for the last fourteen years. Being told by a fellow ten-year-old to go and sit on the dick… anyway.
I got bit so much my first year in New Zealand! I started to dread summer, because it meant the arrival of the mosquitoes. I would bath myself in repellent yet, somehow, still end up with itchy splotches that drove me insane. The last few years, though, it hasn’t been so bad. Maybe you get used to them? People often have citronella lamps in their gardens here, so you can sit outside during the long summer evenings and not be bothered by them so much.
9) Streets with grass verges
Where I lived in England, there were no grass verges. The narrow, terrace-lined streets were grey from edge to edge. Half the pavement was taken up with cars parked nose-to-tail down both sides. It was effectively a one-lane road, as you had to drive carefully down the centreline to get to your house. When I moved to New Zealand, I was struck by how wide and pretty the streets were. And everyone has garages, so you don’t have the street parking problem.
10) Beaches with black sand
The ten-year-old me had never even heard of black sand! The first time I felt it I just luxuriated in it. It was like velvet. It gets really hot, of course, but my first New Zealand beach visit was in winter. I remember my dad explaining how the sand was volcanic, which just made it seem more exotic and wonderful! When I lived in England, beach visits were a rare treat, and the beaches were always crowded and tacky. In New Zealand, the beaches are just beautiful.
Bethells Beach, Auckland