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!

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

 

What the Internet’s Like in New Zealand

It’s the year 2000, and you’re trying to connect to the Internet. You grit your teeth through the cacophony of chirps and screeches, like crickets being tortured through a transistor radio.

(Yes, kids, that was the mating call of the dial-up modem.)

You think you’re finally connected when suddenly your mum’s voice starts coming through the computer speakers. She’s on the phone; your very important MSN Messenger session with friends with whom you’ve just been at school will have to wait. Your initial annoyance is replaced with the thought that this would be a great way to spy on people…

Those were the days. The days of asking Jeeves, in grammatically correct sentences, the answers to your homework. Of logging into chat rooms just to see if there were any of those bad people you’d been warned about. Of wondering what on earth a Trojan was and why it had anything to do with horses… For me, those were the days just before my family immigrated to New Zealand.

Back then, I knew very little about New Zealand. I was a nine-year-old living on the other side of the planet. The image I had was of the sort of South Pacific island that cartoon characters tend to get stranded on, populated by primitive tribes. The chances of them having the Internet, I thought, weren’t high.

Obviously, I was wrong.

We moved to New Zealand in 2001. Over the next decade, we progressed from dial-up to wireless broadband, but it was slow, unreliable and expensive. If you ever asked why, you’d receive a vague reply involving New Zealand’s low population density.

Our usage was carefully monitored to make sure we didn’t go over our data limit each month. You know when your dad stalks around the house turning off heaters to save money? Well it was like that, but with YouTube. When I left home for university in 2009, I had decent Internet access for the first time in my life.

I was living at a university hall of residence. I was amazed: YouTube videos played without buffering! Like at all! It wasn’t wireless, but I wouldn’t get Internet access that good again for another few years. In 2012, I lived in a building that charged you $10 for 1GB, and it expired after a week. I used to ration it out so carefully, consuming it slither by slither. I had just enough data per week to do all my uni work and watch ONE episode of Game of Thrones.

Internet access in New Zealand has gotten better over the last few years. Speeds have greatly improved, and fibre is more widely available. Even now, though, you’re looking at $100 a month for unlimited Internet plans.

I will say, if you’re looking to move to New Zealand, don’t be put off by the relative crapness of its Internet access. I mean I work from home; my job depends on the Internet, and I’m fine. I only occasionally experience frustratingly slow speeds and am rarely unable to connect at all. I do, however, live in a city. If you’re planning on running an Internet-reliant business in New Zealand, it would probably be better not to live anywhere rural.

If you’re looking to travel around New Zealand, beware that mobile data coverage is patchy. You can buy mobile data for about $20 a month for 10GB a month. More and more city centres have free WiFi now, and many cafés do. Libraries, information centres and museums have it, but don’t expect much.

For more New Zealand holiday tips, check out my 10 Totally Awesome New Zealand Holiday Tips. (They’re totally awesome.)

Healthcare in New Zealand

New Zealand has always been an attractive destination, but now it seems more so than ever. My Best Place to Live in New Zealand article suddenly became popular at the end of last year – no prizes for guessing why – and continues to be one of Poms Away’s most-viewed. So, with no sign of global interest in moving to New Zealand slowing down, I thought I’d write an article of use to both potential immigrants and tourists. (Also, I registered at a new medical centre just this morning, so the topic happens to be on my mind. I moved house last week, you see.)

Socialised Healthcare

In New Zealand, the medical system is socialised. This means that hospital visits are free for citizens and permanent residents. Even tourists can get help with accidental injury treatment costs through ACC, the Accident Compensation Corporation. Yes, it means you pay for the nation’s healthcare through your taxes, but most people are fine with that and wish more was spent on it. And it means you’re not screwed if you can’t afford health insurance.

Health Insurance

Only about a third of New Zealanders have health insurance. It’s a good thing to have if you can afford it, as in the public system waiting times for surgery can be horrendous. (But, hey, it’s a lot better than nothing at all.) Obviously, you can get a better quality of care if you go private.

Doctors’ Visits

doctor-1825417_960_720Seeing a GP in New Zealand isn’t free, but it is subsidised as long as you’re enrolled at the medical centre you’re attending. Enrolling is free – just make sure you take your passport with you. Depending on which medical centre you choose, visits can cost anywhere from $10 to $70, with about $40 being normal. Under-13’s are generally free. You usually need to book appointments a few days in advance, but you can get emergency appointments, or go to an emergency clinic – but they’re quite expensive, maybe between $50 and $100 per visit. (This is New Zealand dollars, remember.)

Prescriptions

Most medicine you get on prescription is subsidised, so you’ll only pay $5 for it, no matter what it is. There was a bit of excitement recently following the announcement that the contraceptive pill might soon become available in New Zealand over-the-counter, but my excitement dissipated when I read that it would cost $45 for a three-month supply. (That’s the same as the cost of a six-month supply of on-prescription contraceptive pills, including the doctor’s visit you need to obtain the prescription.)

Doctors’ Visits for Tourists

Long story short, if you’re going to be visiting New Zealand as a tourist, get health insurance. Casual appointments for non-residents can cost in excess of $100. And don’t even ask about the cost of an ambulance.

Ambulances

Okay, I’ll tell you anyway. If you have to take a ride in an ambulance and you’re not a New Zealand resident, it’ll cost you $800. (Yeah. Get travel insurance, tourists.) But it’s less than $100 for residents, and if you’re rushed to hospital following an accident, ACC pays.

Abortion

Abortion is legal in New Zealand up to 20 weeks, but only if two separate, properly certified abortion doctors declare you physically or mentally unfit to have a child. There are allowances for cases of incest, sexual abuse, foetal abnormality and extremes of age. After 20 weeks, an abortion may only be performed to save the life of the mother, or to prevent serious permanent injury.

Dentistry

Children can visit the dentist for free in New Zealand, but adults can’t. For the majority of the population, dentistry isn’t subsidised at all. Indeed, less than half the population sees a dentist on any kind of regular basis. People simply can’t afford it. You’re looking at an average of perhaps $100 for an examination with x-rays.

Optometry

Similar to dentistry, children can get free vision checks in certain places, and people with community services cards are entitled to a children’s spectacle subsidy, but not so for adults. The cheapest eye tests I’ve found are $60, and you can expect to pay up to $600 for mid-range glasses. The ones I’m wearing now cost, I think, $250, including lenses.

specs-42797_960_720

Overall

Overall, I’m happy with the quality of healthcare available in New Zealand. Because it’s socialised, I’ve never had to worry about going to the hospital. People looking at immigrating to New Zealand, however, may have their application declined if it’s judged that they would be an undue burden on the health system.

I would like to add that, last week, my mum had to have surgery. She doesn’t have health insurance, so, of course, it was done through the public health system. She says she is very pleased with how everything went: she felt the treatment she received was professional and efficient, and her standard of care was excellent. The surgery would have cost a lot of money, but she didn’t pay a thing. I’m especially thankful for socialised healthcare right now.

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

Hello, everyone – I’m back! Firstly, thank you to all the readers who messaged me over the Christmas break. It means a lot – not only that some people enjoy my writing, but that they actually find it helpful! Yay!

I suppose I should have expected the sudden rush of views, what with people googling where to visit over Christmas. I certainly found myself googling new places to visit, which is how I found the beautiful Kaiate Falls.

My partner and I were staying with my parents in Tauranga, in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. Tauranga is a fantastic place for a holiday. My 10 Free Things to Do around Tauranga happens to be one of the articles contributing to the sudden rush of views, and now I think I should make Kaiate Falls number eleven. Just look at the pictures I got!

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

The walk around Kaiate Falls isn’t terribly long, but it does get quite steep. Despite the heat of the day, I was glad not to be visiting the falls in winter. I had the feeling that the paths would become uncomfortably muddy and slippery in wet weather. There were many people swimming in the falls, despite the sign at the top advising against it. I suppose as long as you don’t have any open wounds, and don’t swallow any of the water… It really is a pity about New Zealand’s waterways.

Kaiate Falls

But they’re lovely to look at. Check out The North Island’s 10 Best Waterfalls – although I’d probably replace Hunua Falls with Kaiate Falls now!

Kaiate Falls

After going to the falls, we went to the nearby Papamoa Beach. There’s nothing particularly special about Papamoa Beach, but the Bluebiyou Restaurant, which overlooks it, has wonderful food. Every mouthful of my mushroom risotto tasted divine, but I wanted to order everything on the menu! I’m looking forward to going back next time I’m in Tauranga.

Although I don’t think Papamoa Beach is particularly special, it’s still a very popular beach. And, I suppose, if it was the first New Zealand beach you’d ever seen, you’d be impressed. It’s not as crowded as Mount Maunganui’s main beach, being further along the coast from the Mount, and you can still bodyboard there.

Kaiate Falls

So… Kaiate Falls: if your visit to the Bay of Plenty is fleeting, don’t bother with the falls, as there are lots of other things you should see first, BUT if you’re going to be there a while, the falls are a great place to go. And here’s a bonus: if you have a self-contained campervan rental, you can stay at Kaiate Falls for up to three nights for FREE, and you don’t even have to book. For more New Zealand campervan hire holiday advice, check out my tips for travelling New Zealand in a motorhome.

Hope you’re all still having a wonderful summer. (Or winter!) See you next week.

Auckland to Christchurch by Campervan

POMS AWAY!

A friend of mine is on an epic journey. He’s just arrived in New Zealand from Europe. He’s picked up a campervan hire in Auckland and he’s taking it all the way down to Christchurch. Naturally he asked me for advice: where should he stop along the way? I was only too happy to help.

1) The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park

AratakiVisitorCentre07

I often tell people the first place you should go in New Zealand (if you’ve landed in Auckland) is the Arataki Visitor Centre. It’s a great place to learn about New Zealand, especially if you’re interested in bush walks – an integral part of the New Zealand experience. The Arataki Visitor Centre is located in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, just half an hour’s drive west of the centre of Auckland City. It provides easy access to a multitude of bush walks, short and long; relaxing and…

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