A New Zealander’s View of Britain

Hello, everyone! I just got back from my Grand Tour of Europe, so I’ve finally got time to write some new posts.

As you may know, I spent the last three months travelling with my Kiwi boyfriend, starting in my native Britain. In the last post I wrote before leaving New Zealand, (Back to Blighty, or Poms Away Up Top,) I said I was nervous about returning to England. Basically, I was worried that my boyfriend, spoiled by growing up amongst New Zealand’s spectacular nature, would think that my home was a bit rubbish.

Telephone Box

Liverpool

Well I’m glad to say he didn’t.

I actually had a great time seeing Britain through the eyes of a New Zealander, so let’s invert the usual format.

Instead of a British immigrant’s view of New Zealand, let’s investigate a New Zealander’s view of Britain.

So here, in no particular order, are some of the things that struck us about Britain:

1) Summer days last far too long

It was evening when we landed at Manchester Airport. We expected to fall straight asleep after our thirty-hour journey, but we got to my grandpa’s flat and found that we couldn’t. Something was wrong. It was still light. It was half past ten at night. And it was still light.

I nearly went insane that first week.

In New Zealand, the sun sets way earlier, even in summer. In Auckland, it’s dark by nine in summer, and we’d just come from the depths of winter. Now we were facing a sun that was blazing hot before six in the morning.

“It feels so wrong,” Tim said as we climbed into bed one night. “It feels like five in evening.”

2) Britain is warmer, drier and sunnier than New Zealand

Britannia Rules the Waves

New Brighton

You just scoffed in disbelief, didn’t you? Well I know it’s not usually the case, but for the three weeks we were in Britain, the weather was beautiful. It only rained twice, and it was hotter than a New Zealand summer. I’m afraid my boyfriend came away with quite the wrong impression.

3) Britain has too many coins

After a few days back in England, I realised my purse felt unusually heavy. It was overflowing (literally, to my embarrassment in Boots,) with coppers I couldn’t get rid of. All the one- and two-pence coins really began to annoy me. When my family arrived in New Zealand in 2001, there were no one- or two-cent coins, and the five-cent coin was abolished a few years ago. I’ve become used to a light purse, especially as, in New Zealand, you usually pay for everything with EFTPOS.

4) English villages are more picturesque than New Zealand villages

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Norton Priory Walled Garden

If you drive through a village in New Zealand, you’re likely to see a few flaky, wooden houses surrounded by farmland. If you drive through a village in England, you’re likely to see neat rows of charming stone or brick houses, each with their own perfectly kept front garden. Tim noted, quite correctly, the English obsession with flowers.

“I haven’t seen one untidy garden,” he said as we were walking through my hometown.

“There’s one right there,” I pointed out. There was indeed, but it had a real estate sign in it. We didn’t see any wrongfully neglected gardens until we turned onto my old street. My God, it had gone downhill. The window above the door of the house I lived in for the first ten years of my life was boarded up, as was the bay window of the house next-door. From the way the grass looked, it’s not an unreasonable assumption that the last person to mow it was my mum, back in 2001.

Shabby as the houses on my old street looked to me, Tim still saw the charm of the Victorian terraces. When you come from New Zealand, any building built before 1930 is a rare wonder. Tim kept stopping in front of what I thought were perfectly ordinary houses, wanting to take a photo. (Although, I admit, I did this myself when we got to Germany.)

5) British drivers are more careful than New Zealand drivers – except on the motorways

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Me in the Lake District

Because most of the towns in Britain were built before the invention of cars, most of the roads in Britain are narrower than the roads in New Zealand. They are made narrower still by the fact that there are usually cars parked end-to-end down both sides. You’d think this would make British roads more dangerous than New Zealand roads, but my boyfriend didn’t find this to be the case. Rather, it forces drivers to go slower and be on constant lookout for obstacles, whereas in New Zealand, because the roads are wider and obstacle-free, drivers can get more complacent.

My dad’s always saying that British drivers are far better than Kiwi drivers, and the statistics would seem to back this up, but we found the general standard of driving on the motorway was actually a lot dodgier in Britain. People were constantly crossing barely two metres in front of us without indicating, from both sides, and everyone else seemed to be going fifteen miles above the speed limit at all times.

Miles, not kilometres, as it is in New Zealand.

6) Food in Britain is cheaper, but not necessarily healthier

We were walking round a supermarket, (it was a Morrisons, so draw your own conclusions about that,) and we were amazed. There were so many brands to choose from compared to the supermarkets in New Zealand, yet, somehow, so little choice.

This is what the nation eats?” I said. It was cheap, but not in a good way. “Is it possible to eat healthily in this country?” I’m sure it probably is, but certainly not if you’re a lazy person.

7) English bakeries are better than New Zealand bakeries, but not as good as German ones

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England also has some absolutely gorgeous tea rooms, such as this one in Lincoln

A famous snack in New Zealand is the pie – piping hot, in a plastic wrapper, relatively cheap from a bakery or dairy… just try not to think too hard about what’s in it. In England, my boyfriend discovered the pasty – cheaper even than pies, yet far nicer. He developed quite a liking for them, once he’d learned the correct pronunciation of ‘pasty’. It was quite funny, really, when we walked into one of the bakeries in my hometown and he asked, in a loud Kiwi accent, “What’s a Scotch egg?”

Even funnier was when we asked my uncle if there were any sushi bars around and received the incredulous reply, “In Retford?!”

8) Britain has a serious lack of sushi bars

In Auckland, it seems like every second shop is a sushi bar. If you want a fresh, tasty lunch that’s also cheap and healthy, sushi is the only way to go. My boyfriend and I love sushi and, in England – all over Europe, in fact – this was the biggest thing we missed from New Zealand. It’s all very well having pasties and custard tarts and pain au chocolat, but we just wanted something fresh.

9) It’s impossible to get away from civilisation in England

Even in the beautiful Lake District National Park, as you survey the lakes and the mountains, you see farmhouses and field boundaries, a natural landscape tamed and shaped by humanity. There is spectacular nature there, but not wild, untamed nature like you get in New Zealand.

The English landscape has been inhabited for so long that it’s become interwoven with human history. But that in itself is beautiful. In England, you can be walking through a forest and come across some mystically beautiful stone ruins. The farmhouses in the Lake District are beautiful farmhouses. England has a manmade beauty that New Zealand simply doesn’t.

Castlerigg, a stone circle that's about 5000 years old in the Lake District

Castlerigg, a stone circle that’s about 5000 years old in the Lake District

10) England is as nice as it can be made; New Zealand is as nice as it can be kept

That’s a direct quote from Tim. No sooner had he come out with it, I was scribbling it down in my notebook. The ideal of beauty in New Zealand is nature as untouched as possible by humanity; the ideal of beauty in England is nature perfected by humanity. Both have their merits, and, as Tim said, you can’t say one is better than the other. However, by the time I’d spent three months surrounded by beautiful civilisation, I was definitely longing for some good old Kiwi countryside.

In fact, before we’d even left Europe, we were planning a New Zealand campervan foray. Ever since I wrote that article about the Kea, Tim’s wanted to go in search of them. So, to the Southern Alps it is. Particularly apt after encountering the original Alps in Europe…

Chester Cathedral

Chester Cathedral

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10 Reasons Living in New Zealand is AWESOME

I moved to New Zealand with my family twelve years ago. At first, I hated my parents for wrenching me away from Mother England, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. New Zealand is a great country to live in and here’s why:

1)      Nice weather

Somewhere Over the RainbowIt’s common for New Zealanders to complain about the weather. The phrase ‘four seasons in one day’ is used annoyingly often, yet while it can be gloriously sunny in the morning, fooling you into leaving your jacket at home, and then bucket it down in the afternoon, it’s rarely bad for long. Coming from Britain, I can confidently say that New Zealand’s weather is better. It is warmer, drier, sunnier and generally more cheerful. There’s a reason New Zealand’s famous for barbecues and Britain’s not.

2)      Beautiful beaches

Beach 1Nearly three-quarters of all New Zealanders live within five kilometres of a beach, most of which are ten times more beautiful than any beach that Britain has to offer. They are less spoiled for starters, boasting not only pristine sands of the yellow and white variety, but luxurious soft, black volcanic sand. They range from wild, rugged surfing beaches to relaxing swimming and sunbathing beaches, all with picturesque geological features. In Britain, going to the beach was a rare treat; now I can walk to one whenever I want. New Zealand’s beaches are truly a wonder.

3)      Lots of green countryside

In Britain, one of the main things you hear about New Zealand is how green it is. Mostly, this is meant in the sense of the ‘clean, green’ environmentally friendly image, but New Zealand is also green in a literal sense: there is a great deal of protected, unspoiled countryside. Kiwis seem to have an innate appreciation for nature – the great outdoors; God’s own – and pursuits such as camping and tramping are very popular. New Zealand’s native bush is incredibly special and the ‘bush walk’ is something you cannot escape if you come here.

4)      Unique wildlife

New Zealand Tour 2003 003Contained within New Zealand’s bush is a collection of endangered birds that exist nowhere else in the world, the most famous of which is the kiwi. I have never encountered a kiwi in the wild, but seeing a mating pair at Auckland Zoo was an enchanting (and highly amusing) experience. I’ve seen plenty of other examples of New Zealand’s unique wildlife actually in the wild, though. My two favourite native birds are tuis – songbirds with shining plumage adorned by a duet of white baubles at the throat – and keas – alpine parrots with devilish intelligence and barefaced cheek. New Zealand is also the best place in the world to swim with dolphins.

5)      Exotic volcanic activity

White Island 018Depending on your point of view, an abundance of volcanic activity may not seem like a reason to live in a country, but everything – the threat of natural disaster included – is relative, and I for one love living within easy driving distance of the utterly magical sights of geysers, hot pools, mud pools and lava flows. Britain seems boring by comparison. There’s something mysteriously exciting about the eggy smell; the steam rising around you; the thought that the hidden underworld is close at hand. Places like Rotorua and White Island are literally on the edges of the earth.

6)      Small population

Culture 3New Zealand is famous for being a small country – its population has only recently broken the four million mark. Compare that with Britain’s excess of sixty million. But what many people don’t realise is the actual land area of New Zealand is larger than the land area of Britain. No wonder it seems like Brits are perpetually elbowing each other out of the way to get to where they want to be. The people of New Zealand actually have space to breathe. To be individuals. To live.

7)      Friendly people

armageddon 13 001croppedKiwis are an undeniably friendly race. When I first moved to New Zealand, it was almost disconcerting how interested in me strangers were. Brits are so cold by comparison. They also whinge while kiwis maintain a more positive attitude. The people of New Zealand are not so judgemental – image is less important to them – and anything goes. New Zealand has no class system. People from all walks of life end up here. To me, it’s always felt like a safe place, but I didn’t realise how much I’d come to take that security for granted until I returned to England for a visit a few years ago. Kiwis smile at you in the street. If there’s anywhere in the world you can rely on the kindness of strangers, it’s New Zealand.

8)      Laid-back lifestyle

I was a child when my family immigrated to New Zealand, so while I can confidently say that school in New Zealand is easier than school in England, I have never experienced the demands of working life in any country other than New Zealand. However, every adult I’ve talked to who has tells me that life in New Zealand is far simpler than elsewhere in the western world. The wages may be lower, but the quality of life is definitely higher. Life is lived at a slower pace. There is a healthier work-life balance. In New Zealand, expectations are lower – in a good way. There is less pressure. Good enough is good enough. Go with the flow. She’ll be right.

9)      Multicultural society

Montana walkNew Zealand is a country of immigrants – even the Māori, the native inhabitants, are relatively recent arrivals. It is nice to live in a place where tribal culture and the values that go with it are still in evidence. The presence of Māori names, art, customs and tourist experiences make New Zealand unique in the world, not just another European/Americanised western country. Of course, New Zealand is a Europeanised country, but it has so many influences from so many places around the world, especially Asian countries, that it’s a complete melting pot. It has an abundance of wonderful and, compared to Britain at least, relatively cheap restaurants that serve delicious fusions of tastes. Since moving here, I’ve become a real foodie.

10)   It’s already the perfect place for a holiday

dunedin3 027New Zealand is the ultimate holiday destination – even if you already live in it. The country is so varied you can never tire of exploring it, so buy a campervan in New Zealand and get out there! Seriously, you can’t drive anywhere in New Zealand without passing at least one campervan on the road – and it’s easy to see why. This is not a country you can experience from one spot. The North Island is so different from the South; the east coast so different from the west, and it’s down the side roads that the special places lie. So my advice would be to hire a campervan in New Zealand when you come, be it to live or just for a holiday. One thing is guaranteed either way: you’ll never want to go back. Life in New Zealand is AWESOME.

P.S. – This is a list from my new website, NZ Top List. Check it out to browse more lists about life in New Zealand and the many fantastic places to go.

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Driving in New Zealand

Campervan

Ever since we moved to New Zealand, my dad has been complaining about the standard of driving here, but is it really that much worse than in Britain? (My dad likes to complain about everything.) Let’s look at the facts.

–          In Britain, you can’t get your driver’s licence until you’re seventeen. In New Zealand it’s sixteen. (Until very recently it was fifteen. It was raised in an effort to improve driving standards.)

–          In Britain, you have to have car insurance. In New Zealand you don’t. (Although, according to government statistics, this makes little difference to the percentage of cars actually insured.)

–          The average age of cars in the UK is 7.44 years old. In New Zealand it’s 13.8 years old. (Kiwis like fixing things.)

–          According to a 2011 WHO study, the UK had an estimated 5.4 road deaths per 100,000 people. New Zealand had 10.1. (A large number of these were apparently the fault of tourists, people driving in New Zealand on overseas licences.)

129 Dart Stables GlenorchycroppedWhen you’re driving around New Zealand, you see a disconcerting number of crosses at the side of the road, marking where someone died – small, plain, white, wooden crosses. Sometimes you think ‘how did they manage to crash here?’ and come to the conclusion that they must have been drunk.

crosses

It’s also disconcerting that over the Christmas period the six o’ clock news has daily updates concerning the road death toll, and if New Zealand makes it through the whole holiday with few or no driving-related fatalities, it’s cause for a pat on the back.

So, yes, New Zealand roads are statistically more dangerous than British roads, but the standard of driving in general…?

This is a somewhat awkward article for me to write, as I can’t drive – I never learned. However, even I’ve observed that drivers in New Zealand tend to be a bit too casual when it comes to using indicators. And there have been too many instances of the green man lighting up, me raising my foot to cross, and a car zooming close in front of me.

The driving test is ridiculously easy. When we first moved here, my dad got hold of a CD-ROM that allowed you to practise taking the written learner’s licence test, and my seven-year-old sister passed it with no revision – a combination of luck and common sense, I think.

Maybe it comes down to the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude again. Although I’ve found that while that attitude breeds carelessness, it also lessens road rage. There’s more hatred directed towards other individual drivers in Britain than there is in New Zealand, but there’s w***kers everywhere. New Zealanders tend to pass the blame onto groups such as ‘campervans’ and ‘Asian drivers’ – groups that are perceived as driving slowly. At least they’re not speeding.

the mount 004croppedI can think of one way that driving is better in New Zealand than in Britain: far less congestion. Oh, and nicer views. I remember the first time our family went on a campervan trip in New Zealand, I made sure I had books to read and my Game Boy Colour with Pokémon Yellow to repel the boredom on the long distances we would be driving… and it turned out I didn’t need them. I spent the whole time staring out of the window with my mouth open.

The best piece of advice I’ve heard for driving in New Zealand, which, to be fair, is good advice for driving anywhere in the world, is to assume that every other road-user is a moron and to always check what they’re actually doing, rather than what they should be doing. It’s your responsibility to drive well.

And don’t think you can come to New Zealand, hire a six berth campervan and drive it down a narrow, windy road without annoying the locals.

Four Seasons of New Zealand Weather

You often hear New Zealand weather described as “four seasons in one day” and I’m sick of it.

Not the weather, the saying.

Yes, it’s true the weather’s changeable – my jacket’s on and off like a Game of Thrones costume – but the prevailing conditions are usually sunny, and winter never seems to come, except in the south of the South Island.

Let me put it this way: in Britain, you can’t not have a big, warm coat; here, I didn’t even own one for years, and now I own one I don’t ever wear it, or my scarf, or gloves, or a fleecy hat. Most New Zealand houses don’t even have radiators.

You can’t go around quoting “four seasons in one day” when the weather merely switches from sun to rain, or windy to not windy. It’s three seasons in one day, tops.

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Honestly, kiwis have nothing to complain about.

Brits get so little sunshine they’re all miserable and Vitamin D-deficient. Something like seventy-five percent of days are overcast, whereas in New Zealand I find myself hoping for a bit of cloud cover so I don’t get fried on my way to the shops. (Summer’s only just ended here. It lasted well into autumn this year and, frankly, the rain came as a relief.)

New Zealand gets so much sunshine you have to be careful. My friend’s mum’s known exchange students from Africa with extremely dark skin, who’ve come to New Zealand and been sunburned for the first time in their lives! I’m sure you know all about the hole in the ozone layer, the legacy of mankind’s reckless use of CFCs, which New Zealand was rather unfairly burdened with. It means you absolutely have to wear sunscreen in summer (and on sunny days in spring and autumn, as this year reminded me,) and nothing less than factor thirty will do. Also, you need a hat, or you’ll get a headache and a burned parting that’ll hurt like hell in the shower and look like bad dandruff when it starts to peel.

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New Zealand’s got one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, about four times higher than Britain, thanks to all those nasty UV-B rays let in by the depleted ozone. But if you don’t let yourself get some sun exposure, you risk other diseases like rickets. You just can’t win!

All this to say New Zealand is hands down warmer than Britain, often at the same time, despite the seasons being the opposite way round. Yup, a New Zealand winter can be warmer than a British summer. My mum still marvels that she can sit on our deck in shorts and T-shirts in the middle of winter here.

Sometimes it does get “too” warm, which is why my favourite season is spring, but I can tell you that Australia is far worse. I went on holiday to Brisbane a few years ago. It was the middle of winter and you could have cooked bacon and eggs on the pavement. I don’t think I could live there. Living in New Zealand is just right.

A sunbathing seal

And this sunbathing seal seems to agree!

The weather in New Zealand means you can do so many more outdoor activities here than in Britain, such as barbecues. Before I moved to New Zealand, I’d attended a grand total of one barbecue in my life. I couldn’t tell you how many we’ve had since. Partying outside is just what you do here, and when it gets cooler you light a fire. But, as my dad learned, you do not want to throw a couple of giant candles onto that fire.

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It did look cool, though.

The mostly-quite-warm weather also means that camping in New Zealand is generally a much more pleasant experience than it is in Britain, though I still prefer to do it in the comfort of a campervan!

Yes, the weather makes for a perfect New Zealand holiday, but be warned if you wanted to come in the “off” season: in winter it still rains a lot. Doesn’t mean you can’t go out – my birthday’s in winter, (which is messed up because I was born in summer,) and my celebrations have never been disrupted by rain. Besides, more rain means fewer tourists, and one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had was swimming in a hot pool in the rain.

Wonderful as the New Zealand weather is, however, there’s one aspect that – even after eleven years – doesn’t sit right with me: the idea of Christmas on the beach.

Trade your turkey for barbecued prawns; your snowflake jumper for a bikini – actually that does sound nice, but, trust me, the novelty soon wears off.

Christmas is a time for tradition, and spraying water at my little sister in a sun-soaked garden with the water blaster I’d just unwrapped simply wasn’t part of my Christmas tradition. We should have been having a snowball fight, not a water fight! Better, we should have been indoors, all snug and cosy. The sky should have been dark, so the candles looked pretty. All our family should have been there, not twelve thousand miles away.

That first year was hard.

beautiful sky 010

We still make Mum do our traditional Christmas dinner every year, even though it’s much too hot and humid to eat such a meal. We still spend Christmas resolutely at home, not at the beach, even though the sun beckons.

My uncle’s coming this Christmas. It’ll be the first time since leaving England that a relative who doesn’t live with us will be with us actually on Christmas day. I’m excited, but the picture still won’t be entirely complete.

I miss snow. Not that we got proper snow all that often in Retford.

I miss “ice-skating” on the frozen puddles in the street.

I miss going for walks along the iced-over canal, all wrapped up and wearing wellies, laughing at the ducks skidding along and that big, white swan that came in to land, slid uncoordinatedly for a bit, and crashed through the ice with a plop.

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My family are so desperately nostalgic for snow that, one winter, when we were driving up Desert Road, one of the highest roads in the country, and came across some, we got out of the car and revelled in it. I’d forgotten how much I loved the soft crunch snow makes under your feet! Unfortunately, we weren’t dressed for snow and soon got very cold. I’d forgotten how snow makes your toes tingle painfully inside your shoes. I’d forgotten that even snow loses its novelty after a while. It’s pretty to look at, but I’d forgotten how uncomfortable it was to be in.

Maybe Christmas in New Zealand isn’t so bad, I thought.

But by the time Christmas came around again, I was back to dreaming of snow.

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