Proof That New Zealanders Really Are Hobbits

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On my first day of school in New Zealand, I was shocked to discover that no one was wearing shoes. I was ten years old, a recent immigrant, and my classmates were actually laughing at me for wearing shoes.

I found it strange to say the least. Where I’d just come from, England, the opposite would’ve happened: you’d get laughed at for not wearing shoes.

I remember asking a girl why she and the other kids weren’t wearing shoes.

“Dunno,” she replied in her upwardly inflecting Kiwi accent. “It’s more comfy wearing bare feet, I s’pose.”

shoes-for-kids-930176_960_720As she turned away, I struggled to undo the confused knot my face had become. How was it more comfortable to not wear shoes outside, walking over concrete, gravel and bark chippings? (I was also laughed at for saying ‘bark chippings’ instead of simply ‘bark’.) I could understand not wearing shoes on the school…

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10 Reasons to Visit New Zealand

Ngauruhoe

For many, New Zealand is the ultimate holiday destination. It’s a small country, far away in the South Pacific, but it’s well worth visiting. Here are ten reasons you should put New Zealand on your vacation bucket list:

1) It’s beautiful

I know what you’re thinking. Lots of countries are beautiful. The thing about New Zealand is its astonishing RANGE of beautiful landscapes. It’s practically overflowing with different examples of natural beauty. Imposing volcanoes, bubbling mud pools, dramatic beaches, rainforest waterfalls, mysterious badlands, breathtaking fjords, accessible glaciers, turquoise lakes, snowcapped mountains and more – all within an area smaller than Colorado. Don’t think you can see everything in two weeks, though – that’s barely enough for half of one island!

Fox Glacier

2) It’s full of adventure

New Zealand is THE place to come if you’re a thrill-seeker. Bungy jumping, jet boating and zorbing were all invented here, and you won’t find more epic scenery over which to skydive. There are plenty of places to go skiing and plenty to go caving; white water rafting, horse riding, quad biking and kayaking can be found practically anywhere. The Kiwi sense of adventure is unparalleled. If you get the chance, I highly recommend you go luging in either Queenstown or Rotorua. (Not down an icy chute – it’s more like go-karting. So much fun!)

Skippers Canyon

3) It’s also full of hot pools

If you’d prefer a more relaxing holiday, New Zealand’s got that covered too. There’s an abundance of geothermal spas – even some that overlook lakes and mountains! Vineyards are everywhere, as are opportunities for scenic flights, train rides and cruises. Furthermore, New Zealand is one of the best countries in the world for botanical gardens. For a relaxing activity second to none, try punting on the Avon River, at the edge of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Of course, you could always spend a day at the beach…

Avon River, Christchurch

4) Its beaches are unspoilt

It’s true what they say: in New Zealand, you’re never far from a beach. And practically every beach is gorgeous, uncrowded and unspoilt by human development. From the rugged beaches of the West Coast to the golden beaches of the Coromandel, you’re sure to find your own special spot. My favourite beach is Cathedral Cove, but Bethells Beach comes in a close second. I absolutely adore black sand beaches – it feels like walking on velvet. New Zealand has many good surfing beaches, with perhaps the most famous being Raglan.

Cathedral Cove

5) Its people are friendly

You might be sick of hearing how friendly Kiwis are, but it’s true. After touring Europe, I realised how nice it was to live in a country where you can approach people in the street. Kiwis are more laidback in formal situations too. They won’t act snobbishly towards you in a restaurant and they won’t charge you for a glass of water. They don’t care what you wear; only that you’re a pleasant person. (Also, you never have to worry about tipping in New Zealand. It’s not expected, as waitstaff are, you know, paid properly.)

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua, New Zealand

6) It’s got lots of great cafés

Until I visited Europe, I never realised how blessed New Zealand is with cafés. Europe has fantastic bars, restaurants and bakeries, but New Zealand, amazingly enough, has it beat for lunchtime food. Almost everywhere you go, you’ll see exciting menus and charming décor, and there are just so many! Tourists often say New Zealand has the best coffee in the world – the flat white was invented here, after all – but I’d go so far as to say New Zealand has the best cafés in the world, and its restaurants aren’t bad either. New Zealand isn’t famous as a foodie destination, but it should be.

7) It’s English-speaking

I’m not saying you shouldn’t make an effort to learn other languages, but at least it’s not something you have to worry about in New Zealand. (I assume you speak English well, as you’re reading this in the first place.) You might find it a bit difficult to understand the Kiwi accent at first – I did. You should look up a list of New Zealand slang words before you come too. New Zealand English is also peppered with Māori terms. No doubt, you’ll pick up a few words of Te Reo Māori during your travels.

8) It isn’t overcrowded

One thing I love about New Zealand is that queues are never very long and, with the exception of Auckland, there’s never very much traffic. In Europe, people are always elbowing each other out of the way to get where they need to be. It can be hard to simply stand and appreciate the beautiful vistas, as you’re inevitably battling the other tourists clamouring for selfies. In New Zealand, there’s plenty of space to breathe. Indeed, if you’re not a people person, during winter you can hire a campervan in New Zealand and have entire campgrounds to yourself!

Mount Maunganui

9) Tourists automatically get accidental injury cover

ACC, New Zealand’s Accidental Injury Corporation, will actually compensate foreigners who get accidentally injured whilst on holiday here. Of course, you should probably still get travel insurance, as it doesn’t cover illness or anything else that travel insurance usually covers, but it’s nice to know you’ll be looked after well should an unfortunate accident happen. (The reason ACC covers tourists in this way is to prevent people suing companies for injuries.) You might want to read up about healthcare in New Zealand before you come.

Kea

10) You can interact with unique wildlife

New Zealand is home to many unique species of animals. During any bush walk, you’ll encounter a delightful variety of birdlife, but you’ll probably need to visit a wildlife sanctuary to see that famous symbol of New Zealand, the kiwi. In Akaroa, you can swim with the world’s tiniest dolphins, and in any mountainous region of the South Island, you can be awed (and amused) by the cheeky intelligence of the world’s only alpine parrot. Keep an eye on your valuables, though – kea have been known to steal tourists’ keys, cameras and even a passport!

Battle of the National Symbols – New Zealand vs. England

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The national animal of New Zealand is the kiwi, a small, flightless bird that thinks it’s a mammal. The national animal of England is a lion, a majestic, sharp-toothed hunter that, really, has nothing whatsoever to do with England. At least the kiwi is native to New Zealand!

What about each nation’s other symbols; how do they compare? Let’s see…

flower-156608_960_720 fern-159715_640

NATIONAL FLOWER

England: Rose

New Zealand:Silver Fern


NATIONAL ANTHEM

England: God Save the Queen

New Zealand:God Defend New Zealand


NATIONAL SPORT

England: Cricket, (but it’s football really!)

New Zealand:Rugby

PATRON SAINT

England:George

New Zealand: The Virgin Mary


COAT OF ARMS

England: Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or armed and langued azure, (apparently! Well, you know, it’s basically three golden lions on a red background…)

New Zealand: The Southern Cross, a dead sheep, some immigrant ships, a wheat sheaf and some mining tools, which neatly tells…

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A Look Inside the Oldest Library in New Zealand

The Oldest Library in New Zealand

You wouldn’t expect to find New Zealand’s first library down an unassuming street in Tauranga. Nor would you expect it to contain a secret trapdoor, under which treasures (and people) could be hidden in the event of attack. Imagine yourself crammed into the 1.8-metre-deep oubliette, trying not to make a sound as invading enemies stomp across the floorboards inches above your head, tearing your precious books from their shelves.

A Beautiful Book at the Elms Mission Station

Thankfully, the library was never actually attacked. It’s a tiny, wooden building on the edge of the Elms Mission Station, completed in 1839. The Elms, then known as Te Papa Mission Station, was established by the Reverend Alfred Brown, who was sent from England to educate the children of other New Zealand missionaries. Living at Te Papa was risky: the spot chosen for the mission station was prone to bouts of intertribal warfare.

Reverend Brown was keen to spread Christianity to the native tribesmen. He taught as many Māori as he could how to read and write, and about Western agriculture. (Or, as the European immigrants of the time no doubt saw it, how to be civilised and farm properly.) Our tour guide at the Elms was, however, proud to point out that Reverend Brown supposedly treated his Māori pupils as friends and fellow human beings, rather than as savages to be tamed.

The First Library in New ZealandIt was Reverend Brown who built the library. He needed to keep his extensive book collection safe and dry. William Gisborne, a nineteenth century New Zealand politician and fellow English immigrant, described it in the following words:

“The room was surrounded with shelves, on which large volumes, heavy to carry, and I daresay, heavy to read, gloomily reposed, while, from among, above and below them long rows of tempting, rosy-cheeked apples, brightly reflecting the ruddy fire, shone in delightful contrast with their more sedate brethren.”

Chapel Bell, The Elms, Tauranga(This quote comes from the Elms Mission Station’s website.) As for the rest of the mission station, you can explore the garden by yourself for free, but if you want to enter any of the buildings, including the library, you’ll need to pay $5 for a tour. I found the tour a little awkward, as it was just me and my parents being talked at by an old lady who was obviously used to addressing tourists and children who have no knowledge of either English or New Zealand history.

The other buildings include an almost puritanically bare chapel, an old workshop, a fencible cottage – if you want to know what the hell fencible means, read my blog about Howick Historical Village – and, of course, the main house. I was delighted to discover that it had a games table, though it’s nowhere near as big as mine and Tim’s monstrosity. (Risk is one of our smallest, least complicated board games. We need a big table.)

The Elms Mission House Games Table

Is it worth visiting? Yes, if you’re interested in the history of Tauranga. There aren’t any proper museums in Tauranga, (except Classic Flyers,) which is surprising. I mean my family moved to Tauranga when I was fifteen and it’s only just occurred to me that it doesn’t have a museum like most places… How odd. So, for now, the Elms Mission Station is the best we’ve got. Apparently, they’re planning to build a proper museum, to go with the city centre and harbourfront upgrade, so hopefully, in a few years…

The Elms Mission House, Tauranga

Of course, if you’re a bibliophile you’ll no doubt already be planning a trip to the Elms Mission Station. While you’re there, check out my list of free things to do in Tauranga.

The Elms Mission House, Tauranga, New Zealand