New Zealand from A to Z

This is a collection of thoughts about different topics that came to our mind in unsorted order. Observations, differences, strange things, problems, personal views, etc. that you probably wouldn’t find in tourist guides.


… as in Abel Tasman: New Zealand’s oldest national park, just next to our doorstep. Granite rocks and sand beaches ranging from almost white to intense orange colour.


… as in Birds: While most tourists are just heading after seeing some kiwis, I most love the song of the tui. During the first months after our arrival in NZ, we listened to it from our bedroom in the early mornings. As soon as it gets a bit bright, the birds in the garden start to make an incredible noise – positive noise. Slowing down until sunrise and being almost quiet most of the day afterwards.

… as in Bread: It’s a shame for the word ‘bread’ to be used for the stuff theat new zealanders make. Each supermarket offers approximately 750 different types of toast and sandwich (we still couldn’t figure the difference), but they don’t offer a single regular black bread. The closest to white Austrian bread are Baguettes, which are called “french sticks”, but they are lower quality than anything I’ve ever seen in discount supermarkets in Austria so far. Everything is super-soft fluffy stuff. I’d even go as far and say that this would be one major reason for me to not move permanently to NZ.

… as in Brain-Eating Amoeba: We always used the “no dangerous animals in NZ” argument to describe why we’ve chosen NZ as a destination. But we learned that it’s not safe to dive in rivers or termal pools because you could get some water into your ears or nose. Which are the preferred infection ways for a nasty type of amoeba that is almost always deadly when you get infected. Scary!

… as in Backpackers: “Mommy, why are these people at the roadside holding up their thumbs?” – “They’s just showing their thumbs up because they like our car so much!” ;) After telling the kids what they’re really looking for the next question was “Can’t we pick them up, please?” – “No, sorry we don’t have enough space in our car for two. Backpackers are usually in groups of at least two for safety reasons. But we might pick up one if it’s a girl alone.” – Less than one minute later in Motueka town there she really is: The first and so far the only alone-travelling backpacker girl. What a coincidence!! We had to laugh too much to think of stopping in time, so we missed her. Our apologies to the lonesome girl!


… as in Cars: For the average new zealander, it seems cars are just utilities to get from A to B. They absolutely don’t care how their cars look like. Only 1-2% of the cars you see on the roads have no scratches or dents. There seem to be not much safety regulations too. As a result, you can see lots of very old or obviously insecure cars that nobody would dare to drive on central european roads. Car insurance is not obligatory by the way, which is interesting considering that the insurance costs are about 1/10 of those in Austria.

… as in Cicades: You can’t notice them until early February. But then they take over the volume control outdoors and birds stop singing. They wouldn’t be heard anyways. Cicades in NZ can be really loud. Funny side of that: You can’t hear your own “s” anymore and it sounds pretty funny to listen to people talking when the “s” is missing. ;)


… as in Driving on the road: Simply fantastic! You rarely have a car in front of you or behind you, especially on the South Island. A European driver’s dream come true. Even better, no joke: There is a law that requires slow drivers (less than 10 km/h below limit) to stop and let others safely pass! That’s to avoid risky overtaking maneuvers they say. Weird! Cool!


… as in Electrical Switches: Every single electrical socket in this country has its own switch to turn it on and off. We had a really embarrassing situation when we called our landlord because the fridge and the dishwasher stopped working one day and we couldn’t locate the reason. It turned out that one of the kids accidently switched off their power supply which is located at the back wall of the kitchen cupboard…

… as in Expensive: Despite that fact that NZ is still kind of a developing country compared to central Europe, prices are quite high. We summarized that we need at least 20% more money for food in NZ than in Austria. But in Austria we were used to buy only organic stuff which we already gave up in NZ.


… as in Feijoa: Never seen on European fruit shops before, this amazingly exotic tasting fruit grows in many gardens in New Zealand. It’s kind of bitter so you can’t eat really many of them at once.

… as in Fish’n’Chips: A piece of seasonal fish (hoki, red or blue cod, or even snapper for the rich ones) in flour- or beer-batter combined with and incredible amount of big potato-chips. Wrapped in a sheet of paper and some more newspaper to keep it hot for a while. Very cheap compared to other types of dinner, but quality can differ a lot (never buy at chinese operated ones except in Westport). Our tip: The corner store at the entry of Kaikoura with a big label “FOOD” at the top. Best fish’n’chips we’ve found so far.

… as in Food Quality: In short, it’s really bad. It’s almost impossible to buy only organic food in NZ, at least in our region. 90% of the supermarket stuff is convenience food, full of artificial flavours, colors, sugar and flavour enhancers (glutamat/E620). Typical New Zealanders seem to eat an extremely big amout of unhealthy food every day. It’s hard to escape. Funny detail: Almost all milk products are labeled by how much % fat-free they are. Joghurt: 97% fat free! (But 97% sugar instead which is not told of course.) The average knowledge about food is most likely very low.

… as in Fundraising: This seems to be an essential part of New Zealands economy. You can see fundraising events in town every weekend, usually even 2 or 3 at the same time. Schools and other local organisations trying to raise some money via fairs, festivals, markets and semi-touristic activities to survive or just support excursions to Wellington or Auckland.


… as in Gold Coin Donations: Most of the festivities around just ask for a so called gold coin donation as entry fee. That means a $1 or $2 coin per person. At the entry gate you can see people staying around with buckets in their hands, collecting these coins. They wouldn’t send you home if you can’t afford that coin though.

… as in Gravel Roads: Many exceptional nature attractions can only be accessed via gravel roads. That’s good for the nature to avoid masses of tourists, but bad for your car. Especially when there was no rain for some weeks, you end up with a 3 cm layer of dust on the car after driving along 30 km on a gravel road. Almost all rural houses and farms have gravel roads from the main highway. Either asphalt is very expensive in NZ or they just don’t see a need to change it, since there is not much snowfall in winter anyway.


… as in Hokey Pokey Icecream: It’s a blend of vanilla and caramel with little crispy caramel bites (“honeycomb toffee”), everybody knows it in NZ. lol there even is a Wikipedia article on this.


… as in Islands: One in the north and one in the south. Despite the fact that they’re both part of one country, they’re very different. The south island seems to be more relaxed, but some more year behind in development. We enjoyed both.






… as in Left side driving: Phew! During the first weeks, driving on the wrong side costs some nerves. Especially when you start driving in brain-automatic mode, it gets extremely dangerous. Especially at intersections in towns with lots of distractions around. New Zealands ministry of transportation painted direction-arrows on the roads around tourist hotspots and picknick areas. Good idea!


… as in Motels: Derived from the words “Motor” and “Hotel”, this describes a typical NZ type of accomodation for travellers. They usually are bungalow style buildings with a car park in front of the rooms. Unfortunately the average quality of Motels is very bad for the price you pay, especially for family appartments (NZD 180-250 per night). About 1/2 of them just have a queen size bed for two adults, 3/4 of them have such crappy showers that you have to jump in circles to get wet, 1/3 of them have the fridge in the same room as the beds, driving you crazy with their noise at night and 1/4 of them are promoting “full kitchen facilities” when they just have a toaster or a creepy oven made in the late 60s that you don’t dare to turn on. It’s really that bad, yes.


… as in Noise: Despite the fact that there is a low population in NZ and lots of nature to enjoy, there are a few noisy things that can be quite annoying. 1. The roads: Except on a few motorway areas around the bigger cities, New Zealand’s roads are extremely loud. Instead of replacing the asphalt layer once a road turns bad, they just spray a layer of fluid asphalt on top and add loose relatively big stones to dry up that black soup. The result is a very loud surface which requires a really good insulated car. A brand new Ford Focus is NOT able to compensate that noise. We therefore hate to drive even to Nelson because you go crazy with that noise. 2. Cicades: Their noise is awful, but thank godness limited to a few months a year. See letter C for details.


… as in One Lane Bridge: During our extended road trips we’ve seen hundreds of them. By a chance of 1:50 you have to wait because of another car coming through the bridge. Yes, it’s really that little road traffic in NZ. Big letters printed on the road inform several meaters before: “ONE” “LANE” “BRIDGE”. Sometimes even funnier “2” “ONE” “LANE” “BRIDGES” or “4” “ONE” “LANE” “BRIDGES”. The strangest example though was found on the West Coast of the South Island. A shared one lane/railway bridge!

… as in Organic Food: Unfortunately we were unable to buy only organic food like we were used to in Austria. Some supermarkets offer organic stuff, but only a very limited selection of things. However, we’re found small suppliers for organic vegetables around.


… as in Pie: Replaces the typical Leberkässemmel brunch in Austria. You can buy pies in every so called bakery in New Zealand. They’re always exactly the same size, hot (all day long) and come in flavours like “Steak & Cheese” (Gulasch and Sourcream), “Steak”, “Mince”, “Mince & Mushrooms”, “Mussels”, etc. They’re not bad but I’d still prefer any kind of Leberkässemmel if I had a choice.

… as in Poison (1080): New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) spreads enormous amounts of poison from aircrafts over forests to keep animal pests (Possums, Rats, etc) under control. While this is done with good intentions, there is no doubt that 1080 kills not only its specific target species, but all other mamals too. Many dogs get killed every year by grabbing a piece of those blue bait pellets while running through the woods. We say: There must be other ways for pest control! Stop that shit! It’s a shame for New Zealand and clearly against its green image. While driving through NZ, you see plenty of big letter boards on private properties speaking against 1080.

… as in Public Toilet:  Wooden, concrete or superloo – mostly tidy, and there always is toilet paper, no admission fee – on the outside painted in artistic ways, every single one unique!

… as in Plastic Bags: At the supermarket checkouts you usually face two people: One who always says “Hi, how are you?”, moves the stuff over the scanner and collects the money. And another one next to him or her, putting all your stuff in plastic bags. Note, this person seems supposed to be kind of invisible, because he or she never says hi or bye, just like a working slave or packaging machine. After putting 2 or at the max 4 items (no matter which size) into a bag, the next bag is opened. An average filled small trolley therefore results in 10 or more plastic bags, every 2 days! That’s an incredible waste of resources because nobody goes shopping without a car, so you actually need the bags only to lift the stuff from the trolley into your car (0.5 m) and bring it from the car to your house – in our case 5 (!) meters. Then you just dump all of the bags.


… as in Quality: During that year we’ve got an idea why people from all over the world love German/Austrian quality of things and perfectionism so much. Almost every day we run into a situation where we just think: They just do it ‘somehow’ instead of doing it ‘right’. Too many products are just thought half-way before being sold. New Zealandanders don’t seem to have a feeling for perfectionism at all. While it usually doesn’t really matter, it sometimes exposes you to some unexpected risks or at least surprises. Tuna cans that don’t have a handle to open, cling film that doesn’t stick when wrapped around a bowl, a mixer that only has one full-speed mode even if there are buttons for 5 different speeds, cutlery that bends if used a little bit too strong, several kitchen utensils that just disintegrate when put into the dishwasher, a wooden table with rills that catch every piece of the meal that leaves the kids’ plates, a dishwasher that is so loud you can’t hear your own voice when talking, a stove that heats up to maximum just for 3 minutes and then reduces the power so much that you can’t even bring a pot of water to the boil, and so on. Hundreds of such examples, everywhere. I love European quality!

… as in Quesadilla: If it happens that you are in Wellington on a Sunday morning, check out the veggie market in front of the Te Papa museum. There is a Mexican, making fresh hot and spicy food. Order a Beef Quesadilla, you’ll not regret it!


… as in Road Side Stalls: I’d love to see more of them in Austria! Farmers producing small amounts of fruits, vegetables, eggs, honey or jam, selling them just next to their farm at the road side. It requires a piece of trust to offer the produce without monitoring just in a wooden stall, but it seems to work very well. The quality is usually exceptional compared to supermarkets and the prices are very low.


… as in Spraying: It seems that it’s seen absolutely normal in NZ to kill weed with poison (Roundup). Not only weed, instead of mowing the grass along the roads, they simply use a big spraying machine to kill everything 2 m left and right of the road. Even worse, large areas of forest on the hills are killed within days of spraying in order to harvest the wood easier. Absolute UN-THINK-ABLE in Austria. The short term impact on the forest animals and long term impact on the soil is just terrible and absolutely a shame for the country with the ‘green image’.

… as in Stingrays: We’ve seen several of them around Abel Tasman NP, just a few meters off the beach. Sliding slowly from left to right and back. Very hard to take a picture though!

… as in Sugar: Seriously, we’re absolutely not surprised that there are so many fat people running around in NZ. Every meal that you can buy contains enormous amounts of sugar. Even in meals you wouldn’t dare to think of adding sugar, like coleslaw salad or a seadfood medley bought at the supermarket. Or all types of thai food at restaurants, burgers and even on a simple pizza bread from the bakery there is a layer of sugary jam-sauce below the cheese. Simply disgusting!

… as in Sandflies: Nasty tiny mosquitos, waiting for you on every beach, especially in winter. They don’t like direct sun and wind though. The really nasty thing about their stings is that they don’t hurt immediately and you can hardly feel them when they’re sitting down on your feet. But a day or two later, you get a heavily burning problem that lasts for several days. Never forget to bring a good anti-sandfly lotion when going at the beach! The most extreme sandfly situation we had at the Milford Sound. Literally millions of them followed us the 200 m from the car park to the warf. The location is always wet and lots of food for them to let their population explode.


… as in Top Loader Washingmachine: While completely vanished in Austria, top loaders seem to be still wide spread in NZ, not only in motels. Be careful when buying washing powder! Never try to use a top loader powder in a front loader machine. You might end up with a LOT of foam coming out everywhere.

… as in Tui: Definitely my favourite bird. It makes very distinctive sounds, starting early in the morning as soon as there are traces of sunlight coming up. They tend to reproduce sounds they hear. As a result every tui sounds different, some of them even imitate human voice.


… as in Unsalted butter: The “normal” butter (it doesn’t even need to be labeled “salted”, it just says “normal”) has a nice, salty flavour to it – which is fine on buttered toast and a no-go with cakes, muffins and other sweet treats. Just few of the brands do offer “unsalted” editions.




… as in Weta: Ugly spider-like animals that live in old trees. If you set up a wooden box in a forest, you quickly end up with a weta house that amazes children.

… as in Weka: Very nosy non-flying birds that stroll around in the grasslands. We’ve seen plenty of them on our walks near Westpost, South Island. In ancient maori times they used to be a good alternative to chicken for dinner.

… as in Whale: WOW! What a big animal that is. Fortunately NZ does a lot to protect them. Only one company has a license to offer whale watching tours. The others, even if they spotted a whale on a dolphin tour, wouldn’t be allowed to stop a moment for a whale. Kaikoura is the hot spot for whales, but the sea is deep and rough there. Be prepared for seasickness.

… as in Walking Tracks: To our surprise walking tracks in NZ are completely differently organized compared to Austria. While Austria has a very dense network of mostly small tracks up and down all mountains, crossing all summits and alpine huts (Almen) with cows and the opportunity to buy some snacks or a beer, a typical walking track in NZ is a 3-5 day straight ‘walking-highway’ from one end of a national park to the other one. Without anything inbetween except some very basic huts with tent-sites for sleeping the exhausted trampers. You’re lucky to find a fresh water supply at those huts. They of course usually have nothing to sell, they don’t even have a power supply in the middle of nowhere. Before starting a multi-day journey you have to book sleeping places in the huts in advance and inform the park management about your route. Carrying emergency equipment is a must, there are usually just a few people walking every week and if you have an accident you’re totally lost as there is no cellphone network available in the moutains.

… as in Windows: Why mention windows? Because about a quarter of New Zealand’s houses have black windows. Sounds pretty weird and we still have no clue why they use black glass for their homes. Maybe it’s something about UV-rays or they just don’t want anyone to be able to see to the inside from the outside. Our overall conclusion: Houses with black windows are simply ugly, sorry.

… as in place names starting with Wh: Whitianga, Whakatane, Whangaparaoa, Whangakoko, Whakatu, Whareoa, Whenuapai and about 250 others. Most interestingly the “Wh” is pronounced like an “F” in Maori language. However, at Wanganu they dropped or forgot the “h” and now it looks a bit lost.






… as in Zenbu: No, that’s not an animal, it’s the name of an internet access company mostly used by motels around the country. In short: We learned to hate this shit. When you get a 50 MB data traffic voucher at motel check-in, you don’t know if you should start laughing or crying about that ridiculously small amount. Fortunately today we can get a 2 GB package via the smartphone and use it as a WLAN hotspot. Price today $50 for 2 GB, to be used within one calendar month. Zenbu: $200 for the same amount. Why would anyone pay that much? Our advice to motels: Cancel your Zenbu contract and start offering honest and real free Wifi.


1 Comment

  • Oh, I remember so many things from my year in NZ, and it seems not much has changed… Really enjoyed reading your NZ A-Z :-)
    Looking forward to seeing you guys soon!

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