Things You Might Not Know About New Zealand

This post is to celebrate me being in New Zealand for 5 whole years! When I first came over, my intention was to have an amazing travelling experience with my partner; seeing the country his father was grew up in. I didn’t know much about this small island country in the far corner of the world but I was excited to find out more about it. What happened to us, as it does to many travelling souls that come through here, is that we fell in love with the place and never left.

me, standing on the beach - Cathedral Cave, New Zealand
Cathedral Caves, The Catlins

There are some things you won’t know about a country unless you’ve lived there… or you’ve read a blog post about said country from the perspective of a resident *wink*.

Since having settled down in a gorgeous, lake-side, mountain-surrounded town, I have learnt many things about New Zealand and her people. Here are some insights that you might find as interesting as I did:

NZ has some issues

First off, let me start with the ugly, so we can get it out of the way… New Zealand is far from perfect. It definitely looks unproblematic compared to the rest of the world but it has its own major issues. From having the dairy industry as its largest export sector, to gang violence, bad driving, expensive everything, to having a systematic racist and sexist society. As if that wasn’t enough, it is encouraged to murder possums, hedgehogs, ferrets, deer, rabbits and anything that runs over the road/shows up in front of your gun. And a lot of the time, that turns out to be a cat.

The way New Zealand is portrayed and how these issues are reported on (or not reported on) in the media makes it seem like they aren’t a big deal. But they really are.

I might have rose tinted glasses on most of the time nowadays, but those dark shadows aren’t easily ignored when you’re near them every day.

view of snow-capped mountains and fields of green between pine trees, and in the corner, a cat laying next to my leg - Wanaka, New Zealand

The country sits under a gap in the ozone layer

This one you may have heard of; the ozone layer above New Zealand is thinner than anywhere else in the world, making the sun very intense here, and the need for sunscreen even more crucial. The “burn time” that the public are reminded about from the weather companies, scientists, and the government is only 10 minutes. This means that if you are out in the sun for longer then you are likely to get burned! This fact has caused NZ to have high levels of skin cancer in its people. With melanoma being a real danger.

Fortunately, reports show that the ozone layer is healing. From what I understand, the release of a certain harmful, ozone-destructing chemical was banned and the gap should be closed in the near future.

New Zealand has a love/hate relationship with Australia

What country doesn’t have this kind of relationship with its neighbour? Kiwis and Australians have a sibling’s fondness for each other a lot of the time. So much so that if you have citizenship for one, you can automatically travel/live between the two countries without visas.

But god forbid you mistake one for the other. Or bring up pavlova (no seriously, don’t bring it up). Amongst other things, both countries claim this sweet treat as theirs and they have no problem fighting over it.

me, standing on the promenade, with a view of the opera house and Sydney bridge in the background - Australia
Sydney, Australia (2019)

Huge areas of New Zealand are untouched and untamed

In a world where human hands have ruined much of nature, it’s refreshing to be in a country that lets its wildlife be wild. Although NZ continues to develop and build more houses, there are so many native bush areas here that are respected and left alone. It is clear that these native bushes, trees and animals are thriving when you drive through forests, jungles and woods with no infrastructures in sight (apart from the road).

Not only is New Zealand’s wildlife allowed to be cut off from our toxicity, but some of these places are actually JURASSIC. Glaciers are scattered through the South Island. There is even a fossilised forest here, preserved remains of a forest that was on Earth when the dinosaurs were! As with other countries, there have been many cases of dinosaur bones found here, but when exploring and travelling through this beautiful country, you can just imagine the creatures roaming about those ancient trees.

New Zealand is filled with amazing, intelligent and charismatic native birds that are not found anywhere else in the world! As well as rare sea life. I could go on about the animals of this land and how interesting they all are but I’ll refrain from doing that, and leave you with this fun fact: New Zealand has no native mammals. It was a place filled with dinosaurs. Which became a place filled with birds. And then, inevitably, it became a place filled with humans – who brought over mammals (and endangered many native wildlife in doing so).

a photo of the sign at the fossilised forest in curio bay, new zealand, explaining the nature of sea preserving the wood
Fossilised forest, Curio Bay

The country embraces the Māori culture (kind of)

Māori people lived in Aotearoa (meaning “the land of the long white cloud”, as they call NZ) before colonisation. Like many other indigenous people across the globe, Māoris have had to fight to keep their traditions, culture, and language alive. Today, you can see the Māori language spread far and wide in the country, it is everywhere from street signs to people greeting you in a shop. Even if you’re only here for a week, you’ll soon learn some of their names and phrases. “Kia ora” and “whānau” are just a couple of Māori words that are now part of my vocabulary.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still big problems regarding racism here. But you will find that Māori culture is ever-present. And people are encouraged to learn their ways, and to respect their land.

NZ is pretty close to Antartica

New Zealand is one of the southernmost countries in the world, and is very close to Antarctica compared to others. Invercargill, a small city near the coast, is one of the closest cities to the icy continent.

This never quite hit me until my getaway in the south last week… when I looked out over the sea and asked my partner “wow… guess what? I think Antarctica is just across this ocean”. A cool moment.

view of the bright blue ocean in southern new zealand, with cliffs on the right
NZ’s southern coast

Life in New Zealand is CHILL

Setting aside the fact that the cities here are as all cities have always been and always will be- chaotic, packed, full of driven people and big corporations- the rest of New Zealand, especially the South Island, is basically all rural. And people just take things as they come.

The norm is lending out a helping hand to someone, even if they are strangers. I can’t tell you how many offers my partner and I got from people to stay at their houses when we first travelled around the country. Or after we settled in Wānaka. This shared mindset of Kiwis is quite remarkable to behold, and something I’m still surprised by. It’s also something the rest of the world would do well to adopt. Instead of the constant hustle and bustle of somewhere like the UK, where you are always in survival mode, NZ is about having a good lifestyle.

In the town I now call home, there is barely anything that can cause significant stress on a daily basis. Most people are in holiday mode throughout the year, and will go out of their way to help out their neighbours, and business matters tends to run on trust.

The people have their quirks

New Zealanders have some whimsy customs unique to them.

Walking into a supermarket barefooted is something I rarely saw in the UK, and when I did, I would judge. Hard. Over here, it is something that is embraced, no matter what time of year it is. I once saw a man walking through a flooding supermarket car park without shoes or socks on. He proceeded in to do his shop. Kiwis apparently enjoy being bare footed, and I can appreciate that, just… not when I’m picking up my veg and I see sand-covered feet in the corner of my eye. They also love being in shorts and a t-shirt, even in mid-winter.

Something else you pick up on when you live here are Kiwi words.

  • Smoko = break time
  • Togs = swimwear
  • Jandals = flip flops
  • Chilly bin = cooler
  • Trundler = shopping trolley

They also like to say “yeah nah”, “nah yeah”, “yeah nah yeah” and “nah yeah nah”! Before long you know the lingo and join in on the code system.

On top of all that, New Zealanders love their small meat pies from the bakery. They’ll have one for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner, no problem. And their little cheese rolls (which is literally a bit of cheap cheese inside a rolled slice of cheap white bread).

view of a row of lavender behind a cute garden seating area, with a pie and cup of tea on one table - wanaka lavender farm, New Zealand
Enjoying a vegan pie for lunch at my workplace

So, there you have it. An insight into life in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Have you visited this amazing country? Is there something I haven’t mentioned that you found interesting about NZ or the people here?

Until Next Time,

M

10 responses to “Things You Might Not Know About New Zealand”

  1. We loved our visit there back about 17 years ago, I expect it’s changed quite a bit since then, although we visited South Island, so maybe not that much change.

    1. I imagine it has changed! Everything is still way behind here, especially South Island as you said, but the towns have definitely grown… Wanaka was basically just a settlement near qtown 17 years ago and now it’s a popular destination 🙂

  2. This was a great read! I’ve never been to NZ (or come close to it) but from an outsiders perspective, I’ve never know much other than good things about it. It’s nice to hear some of the more real elements of the country. That’s a remarkable fact about how intense the sun is there.

    1. Thank you 🙂 It’s definitely not perfect here hah but it is great, and yes – you need to wear sunscreen every day and even a hat through summer to avoid burning your scalp. Thanks for reading!

  3. Wow, this was very eye opening! Thank you for sharing the good and the bad things about New Zealand.

  4. Thanks for this post. I found it very interesting and loved that you mentioned the negative aspects also. We’re heading here in winter and cannot see to see its natural beauty.

    1. Yay! The people are so welcoming of visitors, you’re going to have a great time here 🙂

      1. That’s amazing to hear, thanks so much!

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