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

POMS AWAY!

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

Te Awamutu, or That Time a Chicken Burst Out of Our Laundry Basket

It’s one of those small towns you drive through on the way to somewhere else. It’s a pleasant, forgettable settlement whose only claim to fame is that Tim and Neil Finn (of Crowded House) come from there. I’m talking, of course, of Te Awamutu. (You may have driven through it.)

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

Te Awamutu lies half an hour south of Hamilton, on State Highway 3. If you find yourself on a New Zealand self-drive holiday, you’ll probably pass through it on your way to Waitomo. When you do, stop. Make your way to Te Awamutu War Memorial Park off Mutu Street. It’s well worth a look.

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park is an unexpectedly lovely place to stretch your legs. It has a beautiful colonnaded walkway entwined with roses, a tranquil pond with a fairy tale-esque stone bridge, the most interesting war memorial I’ve seen and, most importantly for me, an amphitheatre.

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

It’s only a small amphitheatre, but it’s rather pretty, being decorated with stone relief carvings and surrounded by roses. Plays are often performed there, a couple of which I’ve been in. If you were wondering about the chicken from the title of this blog, here’s where it enters.

We were staging an afternoon performance of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, the most important prop of which is a laundry basket. (The play’s antagonist, Falstaff, is tricked into hiding inside it with hilarious consequences.)

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

I should mention at this point that Te Awamutu War Memorial Park is absolutely teeming with ducks and chickens, both of which are very friendly. One particular chicken had come to see the play. It spent some time watching in fascination from the wings. Then, just before we were due to carry the laundry basket on stage, it jumped in.

Well, if it wanted to be part of the show, who were we to turf it out? We carried the laundry basket onto the stage, placing it in the centre as we were meant to… whereupon the chicken burst out, flapping and squawking, and ran away through the middle of the audience. There followed a little improvisation involving telling off the servants for letting a chicken in the house, which the audience found utterly delightful.

A Duck with Its Head in a Bucket

The abundance of amiable fowl seems to attract many locals to the park. Last time I was there, for an evening picnic with my partner, there was an old woman standing in the midst of hundreds of ducks, feeding them from a bucket. The quacking din was incredible!

We noticed one duck had outsmarted the others and was plunging its head into the old woman’s bucket whenever her back was turned. Of course, the presence of such scavengers can make for a less than relaxing picnic. It was a charming sunset, though.

Te Awamutu War Memorial

So don’t just drive through Te Awamutu – take a little time to appreciate the War Memorial Park. There’s even a free camping spot ten minutes up the road from it at Lake Ngaroto. It’s quiet with nice views and clean, flushing toilets – perfect if you hire a campervan for your New Zealand trip.

Te Awamutu Memorial Park

The Best Places to Eat in Hamilton

I’ve lived in Hamilton, New Zealand for nearly two-and-a-half years. Here’s a list of the best restaurants, bars and cafes I’ve found so far:

1) Victoria Street Bistro

Despite looking fairly unassuming from the outside, Victoria Street Bistro is simply the best restaurant in Hamilton. The food is not only divine, it’s different. It’s creative – stuff you wouldn’t normally think to eat. It’s expensive, but totally worth it. The atmosphere is cosy and modern at the same time. This place is always winning awards and it’s not hard to see why. I can’t wait to go again for my birthday!

2) Gothenburg

Perhaps the best thing about Gothenburg Café/Restaurant/Bar is the location: it overlooks the river by the Waikato Museum. I say ‘perhaps the best thing’ because their tapas are exquisite. It also has a great selection of wine and beer – including Belgian beer. Due to its location, it’s especially nice to sit outside, even at night. The only problem with this place is deciding which tapas plates to choose – they’re all so scrumptious!

3) Palate

The very posh Palate Restaurant also overlooks the river, but further along and more up in the trees than Gothenburg. I’m not blown away by their décor, though the chairs in the waiting area are pretty cool in a steampunk-evil-overlord kind of way. It seems more clinical than cosy, which is a shame because the food is amazing. The balance of flavours in every dish is so delicate that it can make you like things you previously thought you hated. For example, I used to think both paua and olives were disgusting, but at Palate they tasted like ambrosia. (The mythological food of the gods; not that dodgy desert.) The menu at Palate is limited, but this is a good thing. The painstaking thought that has gone into every meal is evident. Such an experience is worth the cost – a main meal alone costs what I would usually spend on food for an entire week!

4) Prof’s at Woodlands

I wrote a blog about Woodlands Historic Homestead and Gardens a few weeks ago. It’s a short drive from the centre of Hamilton and worth a visit for the café alone. The food is lovely, changing with the seasons and garnished with herbs from the adjacent gardens. The décor is delightful: as perfect for a spot of high tea as it is for relaxing with the kids. Prof’s is situated on the edge of a cricket lawn and has a variety of books, games and sporting equipment available for use – including a giant chess set!

Casabella Lane, Hamilton, New Zealand5) Kino Sushi

Kino Sushi can be found at two separate locations in Hamilton Central. One is on Victoria Street, opposite the Centre Place shopping mall. The other is down the magically Mediterranean Casabella Lane, which you might think is an odd place for a Japanese café, but who cares? It’s yummy sushi. The Victoria Street Kino Sushi is cheaper, but the Casabella Lane one is in a much nicer setting.

6) Nancy’s Dumplings & Buns

This is a tiny place that’s actually right next-door to Victoria Street Bistro. It’s not much to look at, but their dumplings are really tasty. There’s a whole range of condiments you can put on them. I always get their $5 Chinese Burger – I’m just a sucker for that gloriously greasy pork!

7) Spices Indian Cuisine

I’ve tried lots of different Indian takeaways in Hamilton: Spices at Five Cross Roads is the best. Their sauces are rich without being sickly, and they’re not stingy with their meat. I’m always impressed with their naan bread. Unlike other Indian takeaways, Spices has a tantalising cabinet filled with sweets. I can never resist a ladoo!

8) Good George Brewing & Dining Hall

Good George is a local Hamiltonian brewing company. They own a few different pubs around the city, but the Good George Brewing and Dining Hall is housed in an old church. I think this is one of the reasons my parents like it so much – it feels more “English” than other New Zealand pubs. Naturally, it has good beer (and cider) and the food’s decent too. Their speciality is burgers.

Hamilton Gardens’ Alice in Wonderland Sculpture

9) Mavis & Co Eatery

Mavis & Co is a local Hamilton catering company. They own three cafes around the city; the one I’m familiar with is in Hamilton East. It’s located in a crummy car park behind a gym, but don’t let that put you off. The atmosphere is pleasant and the dessert cabinet makes for a beautiful display. The menu is varied and appetising. There’s also an interesting selection of tea and, according to my family, the coffee and hot chocolate are above average.

10) Duck Island Ice Cream

This place is in Hamilton East and, I must admit, I haven’t actually been to it. However, practically everyone I know in Hamilton has and, at some point, raved to me about it. I promise I’ll go soon, guys! Apparently, it’s one of the best ice cream parlours in New Zealand. It has an innovative and heavenly range of ice cream flavours, including coconut milk ice cream for those of us upon whom lactose wages an unfortunate war. I can’t wait to try some, but maybe I’ll wait until the weather warms up again.

The Best Place to Go in Hamilton

Casabella Lane, Hamilton, New Zealand

 

Hamurana Springs

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua, New Zealand

You know what’s great about my parents living in Tauranga? It’s less than an hour’s drive from Rotorua. Now I’m not saying there’s nothing to do in Tauranga – far from it, but Rotorua is a tourist mecca.

There are so many fantastic things to do in Rotorua that I’m not even going to bother listing them here. (See my Top 10 Things to Do in Rotorua and my How to Do Rotorua on the Cheap if you’re interested.)

Last weekend, I visited my parents for Mother’s Day. (For some reason, Mother’s Day in New Zealand coincides with Mother’s Day in the US; not the UK.) Given the year my mum’s had, I thought I’d better turn up in person.

I wanted to take her somewhere a bit different, so Rotorua was the obvious choice. But where in Rotorua? We couldn’t go to any hot pools, as she’s just had surgery on her leg. This also ruled out doing anything adventurous, or anything that would involve a lot of walking or standing around.

If you have any familiarity with Rotorua, you’ll know that doesn’t leave a lot of options.

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua

Hamurana Springs to the rescue.

The walk around Hamurana Springs is short, easy and surprisingly beautiful. Before we’d even got to the springs, I was marvelling at the giant redwood trees bordering the path. It was perfect for my mum, who’s being given another dose of radiation even as I write this.

Redwoods at Hamurana Springs, Rotorua

When you get to the first spring, there are two viewing platforms, one high up and one at the water. You don’t expect it to be quite so clear, but it’s magical. It’s the deepest spring in the North Island – about fifteen metres, though it doesn’t look it.

You’re not allowed to swim in the springs anymore, but many people bring their drink bottles to fill up. I realised that this is the vision many foreigners have of New Zealand, of pure, sparkling streams we can drink from at will. Yeah. Sure.

You may notice something in the water that seems to glow: it’s a painted stone. There are a few such stones placed in various spots around the springs. Trying to find them all is a lovely little addition to an already lovely walk.

Hamurana Springs

I couldn’t get over the way the water rippled, and the way the light reflected upon it. When the sun came out, the water turned the most gorgeous shade of blue. I hadn’t seen anything like it since the glacial streams of the South Island. I couldn’t resist dipping my hand in.

Ripples at Hamurana

The second spring is called Dancing Sands. In order to see why, you have to spend a few moments getting your eye in. As the water rushes up through the sand, it creates a myriad of miniature cyclones that dance upon the streambed. They look like swirls of fairy dust.

Of course, the truly magical part of Hamurana Springs is the colour of the water. It’s not just blue. Beneath the surface lies luscious, emerald foliage. In places, it looks almost deliberate, like the hedges of an underwater maze. Ephemeral sapphires await the daring adventurer.

Foliage at Hamurana

This wonderful walk is completely free, and only fifteen minutes from the centre of Rotorua. You have no excuse not to go!

Why Is It So Difficult to Pronounce Māori Words Correctly?

Well… it isn’t, technically. Te Reo (the language) is fairly consistent. But many pākehā (non-Māori New Zealanders) are so set in their ways that they refuse to even try.

I’m not having a go. When you’ve grown up hearing something pronounced a certain way, it’s incredibly hard to start saying it a different way. You automatically say it the way you’ve always heard everyone saying it.

I’m genuinely trying, and I only remember to pronounce, for example, the name of the city in which my parents live, Tauranga, correctly about fifty percent of the time.

The irony is when I first moved to New Zealand, as a child, I pronounced Māori place names more correctly than I do now. That’s because I was learning them fresh. My Kiwi friends, though, laughed at me for saying things differently to the way they had grown up saying them. Soon, I grew accustomed to the “pākehā” way of pronouncing Māori place names and thought nothing more of it.

When I was seventeen, my drama class went on a school trip to England. (Yes, it was an expensive school trip.) For the first week, we attended a school in Devon, mingling with the local students. Of course, we talked a lot about the school in New Zealand that we were from, Otumoetai College. We pronounced it ‘oh-too-mow-tie’, or the even lazier ‘oh-da-mow-die’, as we always had.

Then, at the end of the week, our drama teacher stood up to officially thank our host school, and he used the proper pronunciation of Otumoetai: ‘awe-too-moy-tie’. The British kids started laughing – they thought our teacher was saying it wrong!

(Our teacher went on to impress the British kids greatly by making them think he could speak Te Reo Māori. In a serious, speech-making tone, he reeled off a list of Māori place names. “Whakatane, Rotorua, Papakura, Waiuku…” Of course, us New Zealand kids thought it was hilarious.)

Lately, the New Zealand media has been giving a lot of attention to the issues surrounding the pākehā perception of Te Reo. Should it, for example, be the law to teach the Māori language in New Zealand schools?

I’m all for it. Learning another language is good for a child’s development, as is the instilment of a certain cultural appreciation. I also believe in making an effort to pronounce Māori words correctly, which is why I do make the effort. I don’t always succeed.

It’s not just that your brain automatically jumps to the pronunciation you’re used to hearing. It’s that when you do make an effort to say something correctly, and everyone around you isn’t bothered, it makes you feel like a pretentious wanker.

And, of course, what if you do make an effort and get it wrong?

A few times, I’ve gone to say something the correct way and bottled it halfway through, coming out with something that’s half-right; half-inarticulate mumble. Something like ‘awe-too… mow-die’. It’s silly, I know. But I’m going to keep trying.

It’s a matter of principle.

I’ll leave you with a story I heard when I first moved to New Zealand. I don’t know whether it’s an anecdote, a joke, or an urban legend, but here it is:

A couple of well-meaning English tourists were on holiday in New Zealand, and a Kiwi asked them where they were staying.

“Onehunga,” they replied, pronouncing it ‘one’ – as in the number one – ‘hung-a’.

After a moment of confusion, the Kiwi said, “Oh, you mean ‘o-ne-hu-nga’. O-N-E is pronounced ‘o-ne’, not ‘one.’”

“Oh, right,” the tourists said. “In that case would you please direct us to O-ne Tree Hill?”