Crossing the Ditch

koala at dreamworld

Much as New Zealanders claim to hate Australia, they seem to love going on holiday there. Of course, this is partly to do with Australia’s relative proximity to New Zealand. The rest of the world is so bloody far away, that visiting Australia is often referred to as “crossing the ditch” – aka the Tasman Sea.

I crossed the ditch when I was fifteen. I went to the Gold Coast for a couple of weeks with a friend and her family. It was the middle of winter, but the pavements were quite literally hot enough to fry an egg on. I sat on a grass verge and my armpit got bitten by an ant half the size of my finger. Yup, we were definitely in Australia.

sleeping koala

The main attractions of Australia’s Gold Coast are the theme parks, (Dreamworld, Movie World and Water World,) Australia Zoo and Surfer’s Paradise. Back then, I absolutely adored theme parks and, living in New Zealand, I missed them. (New Zealand’s only theme park, Rainbow’s End, seems really lame when you’ve been to the likes of Alton Towers and Disney World.)

Dreamworld was great. As well as the rides, there were tigers to marvel at and koalas to hold. You can’t go to Australia without holding a koala!

I forgot what an awkward smile those braces gave me…

Australia Zoo was great too. It’s certainly the most… umm… epic zoo I’ve ever been to. I even got to see Steve Irwin doing his whole “look at this croc – isn’t she a beauty?” thing. (He was still alive then.)

Surfer’s Paradise was exactly as you’d expect, all manicured palm trees and sunshine gleaming off of tanned abs. I much preferred the more peaceful beaches of New Zealand.

baby koala

See the baby koala face?

In fact, much as I enjoyed the holiday, I came away thinking that I most definitely preferred New Zealand to Australia. I could never live in Australia with its oppressive heat and homicidal wildlife. I prefer the singing of tui to the laughing of kookaburras. I’ve never felt any desire to go back to Australia. Instead, I can’t wait to see more of New Zealand.

That’s in Australia, Right?

A British Person who’s Never Been to New Zealand’s View of New Zealand

Three months ago, my boyfriend and I went to England. I was born in England, but have lived in New Zealand since I was ten years old. My boyfriend was born in New Zealand.

First Hobbit Hole

No, I don’t live in a house like this. I just wish I did.

Despite having lived in New Zealand for over half my life, I still consider England home. I was surprised, therefore, to find myself feeling very protective of New Zealand. Whenever a British person referred to it or any of its sons as Australian, for example, I felt more than the mild stirrings of Kiwi indignation.

It’s strange. I’ve always laughed at the New Zealander’s desperation to be relevant in the wider world, but when I hear someone say that Lorde is from Australia…! I mean I’m not even especially fond of Lorde’s music, much as I admire her as a person, but she’s definitely from New Zealand. Which is not Australia. It’s a completely separate country.

A bit of White Island

White Island… I was kind of right…

Before I moved to New Zealand, I didn’t know it was separate from Australia. In fact, I thought it was ‘that little triangle bit at the bottom of Australia’ – Tasmania. I thought it was a swampy, Lost World kind of place with recently-surviving dinosaurs and a myriad of volcanoes constantly spewing rivers of lava. How all the sheep survived that, I didn’t give a thought to.

Now, you can forgive a small child for thinking this, but I didn’t realise that so many British adults still think New Zealand is part of Australia. They think it’s a backward place of rudimentary technology. One person I talked to was shocked when I told them that New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote.

“Oh, New Zealand, eh?” said another person, sitting on a park bench in York. “That’s full of dangerous animals, isn’t it?”

“No, that’s Australia,” I said for what felt like the thousandth time. “All we’ve got to worry about in New Zealand are orcs.” (I became apt at pre-empting the jokes. Good thing I like Lord of the Rings.)

Culture 3cropped

See? Sheep. Are you happy?

At least Brits get some New Zealand stereotypes right. The weather is quite nice and the whole country is rugby-mad. And, yes, it is green – although, to be honest, Brits are probably better at recycling, actually.

To be fair, this view of New Zealand isn’t just held by British people. When we were in Germany, we stayed at a hotel that recorded our home address as ‘… Auckland, New Zealand, Australia, Oceania’.

We just so happened to be in Britain at the same time as the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. We watched the opening ceremony, not knowing whether to laugh or cringe at the devastation of the Proclaimers’ song I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), and eagerly awaiting the entrance of New Zealand. What a proud moment. Lorde was played during Australia’s entrance, and New Zealand was treated as just another small, insignificant Pacific island.

nzwine

Yes, very nice wines…

That’s when it hit me: New Zealand kind of is just another small, insignificant Pacific island. Britain is in line at the front of the world’s stage; New Zealand is beneath its notice. Yes, it’s a dream holiday destination, and it does produce some very nice wines, but it doesn’t matter.

This realisation was a bit of a shock to the system. When you live in New Zealand, you’re constantly being told how great New Zealand is. The New Zealand media works to give the impression that the world takes more notice of New Zealand than it actually does.

At least when people do notice New Zealand, it’s usually with a benevolent eye.

“Oh, you’re from New Zealand, are you?” people in Britain would say to me. Then they’d say, “Why would you want to come back here?”

Just remember:

The Great Kiwi Barbecue

Here’s another difference between Britain and New Zealand: barbecues.

Before my family moved to New Zealand, I’d only ever been to one barbecue, and we didn’t spend much of it outside. (I remember we were actually forced outside by our friend’s elderly golden Labrador letting one off in the lounge.)

We’ve spent much more time outside since moving to New Zealand, and had barbecues beyond counting. Of course, the weather is to thank. (As I write this, in the middle of winter, I’m sunbathing on my parents’ deck, and the sunlight is glaring off the pages of my notebook, and the cats are sprawled out next to me, and I hear a tui in one of the trees… I suppose, to be fair, Tauranga is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand.)

If I ever go back to Britain, I’ll miss Kiwi barbecues. They’re awesome.

You’ve got the smell of the oil, the smoke, the caramelising meat, the citronella to keep the mozzies at bay, the waft of the cool potato salad as the cling film is lifted off; the cats darting towards us when they realise dad’s firing up the hotplate. And the steak. The STEAK. It’d better be done no more than a minute on each side or so help me!

IMG_1078The wine, the lager, the ginger beer for the kids, the kebabs, the sauce, the corn on the cob oozing juices down your chin… I know I’m just listing now, but there’s so much to a great barbecue, and not just the food and the aromas. There’s the sitting around talking as the sun goes down, lighting the candles and the brazier and letting the darkness place a comfortable blanket around us. We feel warmly full and slightly drowsy, drinking and talking and not wanting it to end. Perhaps there’s ice-cream; there’s always laughter.

The barbecue is a very typically New Zealand thing, although it is one of the ways in which New Zealand is similar to Australia. (Sorry, Kiwis.) When a Brit does an impression of an Australian, they’ll invariable call people Bruce and say, “Throw another shrimp on the barbie.” No matter how culturally accurate or inaccurate this is, it shows how the act of barbecuing is a very laid back form of cooking, perfect for both Australians and New Zealanders.

It’s great for bringing people together: everyone can contribute with minimal effort, just bring a pack of something to slap on the hotplate. The common expression here is, “Bring a plate,” an instruction that often confuses recent immigrants, us among them. We, and so many others before and since, thought it meant, “We don’t have enough plates for all our guests, so please bring your own.” So, much to our new friend’s amusement, we showed up to their barbecue with an empty plate each, only to be told that what they actually meant was, “Bring some food for everyone to share.”

Of course, we don’t just have barbecues in each other’s gardens. It’s common in New Zealand to have a barbecue on the beach – indeed; a barbecue on the beach is the traditional image of the Kiwi Christmas Dinner.  The barbecue is such a Kiwi icon that many beaches, parks and New Zealand campgrounds have permanent barbecues that are free for the public to use. Sometimes there is a small fee, and sometimes you have to book ahead, but it’s a fantastic idea and one that tourists should take advantage of more often.

IMG_1064

If you ever have a holiday in New Zealand, you absolutely have to have a barbecue. I’ve found it’s a brilliant way to eat when you hire a campervan – it gets you out of the tiny campervan kitchen while retaining that important quality of self-cooked meals: cheapness. You can find a recipe for a Great Kiwi Barbecue here.

And it really is the best way to eat steak.