More useless info I’ve learned in New Zealand…
The Southern Cross, made famous by Crosby, Stills and Nash in the song by the same, is really quite a thrill to see in the sky of the Southern Hemisphere, despite the fact that it is the smallest constellation, consisting of only four stars. It isn’t all that easy to find, at least for someone like me who has only been below the Equator once before during a trip to Tahiti with Kelly. And the fact that we had so much rain and cloud cover has meant that my first opportunity to see it was in Kaikoura, about halfway through our trip. Fortunately, I got to see it again on one of the clearest nights we had…our last night. I spotted it as I had a last look from our incredible balcony at the Canyons Lodge, with the sound of the Shotover River rushing far below, and the occasional sheep bleating in the wild grasses bordering the lodge property.
Casual. No word has been taken more to the extreme than in New Zealand. Not a single restaurant, except for one brand-new fancy lodge in Queenstown, has demanded a jacket for men at dinner. And that includes the swankiest restaurants, like the French Cafe in Auckland.
In fact, we were really surprised how most men showed up at dinner with ball caps, shorts, and t-shirts at really expensive restaurants. It was pretty strange.
But the weirdest thing of all is footwear–or should I say the lack of it. For the most part, everyone wore flip-flops, which is a phenomenon that happens in the US as well, which I have to say I totally do not understand. At best, you trip over them all the time.
But the really strange thing here is the bare foot people. Not many, but enough to really notice, we saw dozens of people walking city streets barefoot. Now, granted, they don’t throw trash around here…they’re pretty good about keeping their streets clean. But we saw a grown man at the aquarium in Auckland walking around barefoot. I have never seen that before in my life, and I’m totally blown away by it. This was not a poor person. This is someone who said, “Oh, the hell with shoes today.” Extremely bizarre.
More interesting street signs…a “yield” sign here says “give way.” But I’ve seen standard stops signs here.
Bungy was invented here in New Zealand, and AJ Hackett is the guy that gets most of the credit for it. His business has now become an empire of sorts, and if you’re crazy enough to do it, they’ve probably thought of it. The original bungy still happens at the Kawarau Bridge and to see it is pretty wild. But to bungy aficionados, this jump is too boring. So they’ve added the Ledge, literally a ledge that sticks out way high above Queenstown as you take the plunge….and the Ledge swing that makes you swing way the f— out. If that’s not enough, the Nevis jump over the Nevis River combines a 35 minute four-wheel-drive trip through crazy backroads before you get to this moving platform that takes you high over the river for a drop.
There’s also whitewater rafting, river jet boating, boogie boarding down a river…swinging, diving, jumping over anything. This is adrenalin junkie headquarters and it is an interesting group of people to watch…from a distance!
Just about every Kiwi restaurant will serve lamb, and why not? They are everywhere here. In fact the population of sheep in this country numbers around 45 million. That’s one person for every 11 sheep! That’s a lot of happy shepherds! Zealand is so lush with so much grassland everywhere you look, it makes sense that horses, cattle, sheep, even deer are pasture-raised here. The landscape is for the most part extremely steep and rocky. But it doesn’t stop any of these animals from grazing wherever they choose to. How they are rounded up when it’s time is beyond me, but what’s really amazing is that all of this seemingly wild territory is fenced in by someone. That’s a lot of work! And all of these critters pretty much stay out in their fields all day and night, because there are no natural predators here. Just about every animal in New Zealand today has been introduced from elsewhere, with the strictest controls. The only original New Zealand mammal is a variety of bat. Even man, in the form of the first Maori tribes, came here by large canoes from as far away as Hawaii.
National pride. Something we don’t see a lot of anymore in terms of local products in the United States. You will rarely, if ever, find a product here that’s made in some Asian factory. Everything is made here, with only a few exceptions where the products have come from Australia.
And that goes for beer, too. You might be able to find a Bud somewhere in this country, but other than the wide varieties of very good Kiwi beers, you’ll only find Heineken and Corona. (They like doing the lime in the beer thing here.)
Pharmacies here are like in Europe. You sort have to ask a person where something is, instead of just going to a well-marked CVS aisle and getting it yourself. These people act less like pharmacists, and more like snobs in lab coats. In some cases, you won’t find the equivalent of a US product. In other cases, like in pain relievers with codeine, you can get them easily without a prescription. And we like that.
Sports. Rugby and cricket. In fact the Rugby World Cup will be played here in 2011.
They call their money dollars (NZD), but the Queen of England is on the twenty. A bit confusing. Right now it is worth 70 cents to the US dollar, one of the few places in the world an American can really get a bang for the buck.