Friendly, not just polite

New Zealand is quite a place. Much like Canada in a lot of ways, but also not quite. It’s a relaxed pace, somewhere between Mexico time and Canada time. Things still get done, on time, but there is less frantic urgency and pushing to get it done. Housing is pretty much Kelowna level expensive in any city over about 30,000 people.

The people are actually friendly, which is quite the change from Canada, where nearly everyone is unfailingly polite, but true friendliness is another matter. We had numerous people offer unsolicited helpful advice or information when we were being ignorant tourists with no idea where to go of what to do or how to get there. One randomly assisted us with loading our bags onto a bus we needed to get on. Another explained to us how to get to a distant airport gate (and I’m not entirely convinced we would have found our own way there in time to get our flight otherwise.)

The food seemed expensive to us at first. But when you break it down, it was actually much less so. All prices include taxes, and tipping is essentially not a thing in NZ. That means that that $20 NZD burger you buy is actually equivalent to a $14 CAD one, when you consider the out the door cost. When you multiply the meals we had by the ~70% conversion factor to what they would be on a Canadian menu, there were very few that I would have been disappointed by come the time to pay the bill.

The roads are, for the most part, fantastic. Very few were in anything approaching ill repair – the worst was probably in about the same condition as the main highway running through Kelowna. They are mostly all double lane and very twisty and entertaining. Almost all roads outside of the city are set at 100 km/h as a limit, and very rarely did I find myself willing and able to exceed that for any length of time. For the most part, you’d have to try reasonably hard to get speeding tickets in NZ. We put about 3,000 km on our rental car, and the driving was rarely a chore. At least a thousand of those km could rightly be described as twisty mountain roads. Acclimatizing to driving on the other side of the road was a bit interesting but only took a day or two.

The weather was fantastic for the most part. One day of heavy rain while driving, a couple of days of light misting rain while we were wandering in various parts.

Auckland is a big city, much as any other big city. Vancouver-like in climate, though not at all humid on the days that we were there, which is apparently a nice change. There was also little to no traffic due to being there on a long weekend, which we were told can otherwise be quite a nightmare.

Wellington is the capital as well as seemingly the culinary and cultural center of NZ. Extremely windy however. Of the larger cities, this is the one we would choose to settle in if we were to pick a city I think.

Christchurch is interesting. It feels like a big small town. The downtown certainly did not feel like the downtown of a city with over 400,000 people. Lots of empty lots and condemned buildings left over from the earthquakes of 2011/2012.

Maori culture is a big part of NZ cultural life, which is quite interesting when compared to North America – it’s celebrated rather than grudgingly tolerated.

We visited a beach where you can dig down in the sand and within a foot or two reach water that is too hot to stand in.

We walked along pathways strung up in giant redwood trees that were planted over a hundred years ago.

We took a kayak tour out to some Maori carvings on boulders.

We toured the Hobbiton movie set, as well as Weta Workshop where much of the props and magic were made for the LOTR and Hobbit movies.

We toured the oldest prison in NZ.

We drank some absolutely fantastic wine.

We visited a Kiwi sanctuary, and hiked into the hills to see glow worms shining from under the trees and in among the moss.

We raced electric go-karts, and took an hour long jet boat ride up a river with at times only a few inches of water on it.

We visited a fantastic motorsports museum, with tons of exremely interesting cars.

We had an amazing dinner on a streetcar that was originally put into service in the 1920’s, a bit like having a meal in a rolling museum.

I see NZ as Canada+. All of the advantages of Canada, with a number of things that are better. They have a proportional representation type election system, which in my mind is far prefereable to the archaic first past the post system we have here. They have a free medical system that seems to be better regarded and with far lower wait times than ours, and free prescriptions. Employees are generally given reasonably living wages, and it seems like the social safety net is stronger overall. They also get all the cool RHD cars that we can’t/don’t get here. Everyone starts with 4 weeks vacation.

I’m not going to pretend that they don’t have problems, some lesser, and some greater. Income inequality is actually a little worse in NZ than in Canada, probably because there is no capital gains tax. NZ ranks slightly lower on the global corruption index. I’m sure there are plenty of negative things that we did not see on this trip.

With all of that said, we’ll definitely be back. Probably scouting places to move. The climate, the people, and the country all speak to us.