The Top 20 List: New Zealand

Carrying on a tradition that I started in Peru and continued in Brazil and Argentina, here’s my list of the top 20 things about New Zealand that I found new, appealing, odd or just plain weird.

#20 – So this sheep walks into the bar and says…
Although the sheep-to-human ration has fallen to a third of the level 25 years ago, there are still many, many more sheep than there are people in New Zealand. The latest census figures show 4.4 million people and 31.2 million sheep. Despite being a jovial lot, very few of those 4.4 million people will actually laugh at a sheep joke.
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#19 – Pass The Wattie’s
Ketchup is known as “tomato sauce” in New Zealand and if you’re in any restaurant other than a fish and chip shop, you’ll have to ask for it and you might have to pay for it. And if you’re shopping for ketchup in a grocery store, forget about looking for Heinz. Niney-nine percent of the ketchup (I mean “tomato sauce’) sold in New Zealand is Wattie’s brand. (H. J. Heinz Company bought New Zealand-based J. Wattie Foods in 1992. They currently produce over 1200 different food products at three plants.)

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#18 – The Kiwi
The kiwi (bird, not fruit) is the national symbol of New Zealand, yet very few New Zealanders have ever seen one. Incidentally, the logo for the Royal New Zealand Air Force is a kiwi – a flightless bird.

#17 – Fush And Chups
Australians claim that New Zealanders say “fush and chups” while the Kiwis claim that Ozzies say “feesh and cheeps.”

#16 – Crucks by Holden
Holden is an auto manufacturer based in Australia but affiliated with General Motors. In addition to selling some GM brands, they make a sedan (Commodore) and something they call a “Ute” (or Commodore Ute), but which my nephew and his kids call a “cruck” (an amalgamation of car and truck). I like “cruck” better than “ute” but I can’t say that I’m sold on these things. They’re very popular in New Zealand, especially in rural areas where they’re often used instead of pickup trucks. Personally, I think you could justify using one as a staring gate for harness racing but that’s about it. My nephew would vigorously argue that point.

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#15 – The “T” Word
One of my great regrets about this trip was that I didn’t actually make it to Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu (the longest place name in the World).
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#14 – Who Wants Pie?
There are a lot of pie shops in New Zealand. Pie Face is a large Australian chain operating in New Zealand and their pies are pretty good. I’d take a Chicken & Mushroom pie over a burger any day. Chunky Steak, Steak & Mushroom, Mince & Cheese, Thai Chicken Curry, and Butter Chicken pies are popular as well.
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#13 – Weird Beer Rules
As a resident of Ontario, I think I’m uniquely qualified to talk about archaic ways to sell beer. At least in New Zealand you can buy beer at some convenience stores and gas stations, but sit down in a bar and you could die of thirst before you’re served. You must order at the bar and walk the drink to your table in most bars, pubs and clubs. You’ll see staff walking around with trays but the only thing on the trays will be empties.

#12 – What, I can’t name my kid “Go Leafs Go?”
The authorities screen all baby names and regularly deny “creative” names. I read a news story about some recent rejections: General, Keenan Got Lucy, Mister, Cinderella Beauty Blossom, “.” (full stop), Lucifer, 4Real, Mafia No Fear, Yeah Detroit, and Fat Boy. After losing a poker bet, a New Zealand man recently changed his name to Full Metal Havok More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock And All The Superheroes Combined With Frostnova. It was approved by the courts as he is an adult and at 99-characters the name was just under the 100-charcter limit.

#11 – Ninety Mile Beach
My nephew and I visited the famous Ninety Mile Beach on the North Island’s Aupouri Peninsula. In reality it’s 50 miles or 90 km long. It’s thought that missionaries named it Ninety Mile Beach because back in the day a horse and rider could cover about 30 miles in a day. It took three days to reach the end of the beach on horseback, so they assumed that it was about 90 miles long. The missionaries didn’t account for the slower pace of the horses walking in the sand.

#10 – Good ice cream
I can honestly say that New Zealand has the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. Even relatively cheap ice cream sold in gas stations and convenience stores (known as “dairies”) was better than high-end brands sold in North America.

#9 – Giapo
“Giapo” is a one-off gourmet ice-cream shop located on Queen Street in Auckland. At Gaipo you are met at the door by a greeter and offered a glass of water while you wait in line. Once you reach the counter a second employee will describe each of the roughly 10 different flavors that are all made on-site, every day! Even people with the worst cases of ADHD will listen intently to the elaborate descriptions since you cannot actually see the ice-cream! You can try as many samples as you want, but they want you to judge the ice-cream on its ingredients and flavor and not the way it is displayed. Once you pick a flavor and decide between cone or cup, another two employees will scoop and decorate your ice-cream. A fourth employee will take your money. And bring lots of it.

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#8 – There’s no “I” in Kea
The kea is one of the many birds native to New Zealand. These little buggers love to peck at rubber and will strip a car of its window seals, windshield wipers, and even tires if you give them enough time.

#7 – What fun would high school dances be if you didn’t have to smuggle booze onto the property?
According to the New Zealand Drug Foundation, “New Zealand does not have a legal ‘drinking age’, for alcohol. Instead, (they) have a legal ‘purchasing age’. A person must be at least 18-years-old to buy alcohol, although someone who is younger than 18 can have alcohol supplied to them by their parent or legal guardian. People under 18 can drink alcohol on some licensed premises when supervised by their parent or legal guardian.”

#6 – Stray
I don’t know if a hop-on, hop-off bus like Stray would work in Canada but for a smaller country like New Zealand where backpackers typically spend about 30 days and the weather is good year-round, this style of bus travel is simply THE best way to see the country and meet the people. Stray’s slogan is “get off the beaten track” and they really do!

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#5 – Sweet-as
“Sweet-as” is surely the #1 New Zealand expression with “Good on ya, mate!” a distant second. “Sweet-as” means good, yes, okay, cool, etc. It’s often followed by “bro.”
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One of my Stray bus drivers (centre) would say “sweet-as” at least 7000 times a day.
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#4 – Taihape’s Gumboot Festival
The North Island town of Taihape was a popular stopover point for people driving between Auckland and Wellington until the 1980s when traffic was diverted to the newly built Highway One. Businesses in the town suffered. The town fathers came up with an idea to lure tourists and travelers off the highway and into town. They started referring to their town as the “Gumboot Throwing Capital of the World” and in 1986 they hosted the first “Gumboot Day.” A fenced area was set up near the Main Street where one could toss a gumboot (rubber boot) and attempt to break the record for longest throw. The town is now back on the tourist trail and businesses seem to be thriving.

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American Jon Erb displays proper form but was well off the World Record.
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#3 – Bats In Your Belfry
The bat is the only indigenous mammal in New Zealand; all others were introduced by Maori settlers or Europeans.

#2 – Say What?
In theory it should be pretty easy for unilingual Anglo to travel in New Zealand. In reality, it’s only slightly less confusing than the Spanish or Portuguese speaking countries that I visited in South America. Not only do you have to interperet the Great Kiwi Vowel Shift (where E’s become I’s, etc.), but there’s a whole new language made up of slang. Some people might say more slang words in a sentence than words you or I would be familiar with. Here are some of the expressions that had me scratching my head: trim milk (skim milk), box of budgies (happy), cackhanded (left handed), crook (sick), fagged out (tired), guts for garters (in big trouble), judder bar (speed bump), loose metal (gravel road), sealed road (paved road), panel beater (auto body shop), thongs (flip-flops), piece of piss (easy, like “piece of cake”), prang (fender bender), chilly bin (beer cooler), skint (short of cash), togs (swimsuit), sparrow fart (early in the morning), tramping (hiking), tomato sauce (ketchup), Op Shop (thrift shop), Tiki tour (roundabout way to get somewhere), wally (a loser), bit of a dag (comedian), wharfie (stevedore), yonks (long time ago), dairy (convenience store), Macca’s (McDonalds), wop-wops (middle of nowhere, boonies), kai (Maori word for food), faaa (abbreviation for “far out” or the F-word), bite your bum (go away), gizza (give us a…), mare (nightmare), cocky (farmer, as in “cow cocky”), chur (cheers, cool, thank-you, etc.), bach (pronounced “batch” and means beach house, cottage, etc.), crikey dick (expression of surprise), dunny (toilet), flat stick (full speed), sook (scaredy cat), tin arse (lucky person), rattle your dags (hurry up).

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#1 – Friendly people
I spent about 40 days in New Zealand and travelled extensively on both the north and south islands. I saw everything from glaciers to white sand beaches, active volcanoes to sand dunes, rainforests to petrified forests, and so much more. And while it would be easy to say that the scenery was the most memorable feature of New Zealand, I’d have to say that the people were every bit as wonderful. With the possible exception of Newfoundlanders, you won’t find a friendlier lot in what I’ll generously call the English-speaking world.

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