Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"Top 10 Tips for Visiting New Zealand"

Back in one of my first New Zealand entries, I mentioned that our friends, JJ and Piper, had left us a small gift pack filled with useful items and tips about what to do in New Zealand. Well, the core piece of that package was their list of "Top 10 Tips for Visiting New Zealand." So, since this will probably be my last entry in New Zealand, I thought it would be interesting to revisit their list, and see how Sarah and I faired in comparison.

I won't transcribe their entire list, but will just repeat the title of each of the 10 items they suggested (in bold), then follow that up by talking about Sarah and mine's experience. Hopefully, this will be as interesting for you as it is for me...

1. "You Must Visit Abel Tasman National Park." Done!

Abel Tasman was definitely one of the highlights of New Zealand (and thus the trip so far) for both Sarah and myself. With its "golden sandy beaches" and green water, it's an amazing place to visit.

JJ and Piper had also recommended that we make the trip up to distant Mutton Cove, which proved to be a great idea. When we arrived there, not only did we have the beach to ourselves, but we also got to see young seals frolicing -literally- right on the shoreline.

2. “Eat LOTS of Mussels - they are awesome!" Half done.

As many of you reading this know, I'm not a big fan of seafood. I can enjoy a good plate of fish and chips (or "fush and chups" as the Kiwis say), but that's pretty much were my seafood tastes end.

Sarah on the other hand, loved the mussels here. She first got to eat some while on the kayak trip we took in Abel Tasman. But, just a couple days ago, she made a point to buy some more and cook them up herself. Just for the experience, and so that she'd get another chance to eat them. I'm pretty sure she'd agree that the green mussels were one of the highlights of her culinary experience in New Zealand.

I on the other hand, limited my foods to the more land based varieties (well, except for a little fush and chups). Luckily, New Zealand delivers there too. It's hard to drive far without coming across a field of sheep. And, if its not sheep its cows. Or deer... yes, they actually farm deer here. There is nothing more bizarre to see a pasture filled with a herd of deer. Apparently, in order to make their venison seem more uniqiue, the deer farmers of New Zealand call it "cervane." This is similar to the people of the Champagne district in France, who are the only people who can call their sparkling wine by the name "Champagne." The rest of the world is stuck using the less fancy names, like "cava," "prosecco" or just "sparkling wine."

Some of the countless sheep of New Zealand. Really, its amazing how many sheep they've packed onto these islands.

"Oh, look hon! A herd of wild deer." Um... no, that's actually some farmers herd of deer. I didn't even know that you could raise deer like this, but apparently you can. and the Kiwis do it quite a bit.

3. “Hit the Roads!” Done, done and done!

With the Spaceship, we drove from Auckland in the North Island to Queenstown in the South Island (over 1500 km), then doubled back to Christchurch (about 500 km). But, we also took a route that was far from direct. So, I’m pretty sure that I drove more in New Zealand than I did in my last year in Seattle.

I have to admit that, at first, I was pretty nervous about the idea of driving on the other side of the road. But, its actually amazingly easy to pick up. There’s something about the fact that the drivers seat is flip-flopped also that makes it easy for your mind to adjust. In addition, while the New Zealand rules of the road are different from those in the States, most of the things like roundabout and all their “Give Ways” have a certain internal logic to them that makes them easy to learn to.

But, yup, Sarah and I are really glad that we opted to drive instead of using public transportation. It allowed us to set our own course and pace, see things off the beat track a bit, and “drive all the crazy, curvy (one lane bridges) roads, soaking in the scenery.”

4. “Queenstown was our favorite town of the trip!” Done.

I’m not sure if Queenstown ended up being our favorite town too, but we really did enjoy it. At times, the village itself seemed a bit resort-y, but the surrounding countryside and wineries were all amazing. In addition, after our long haul south, it made the perfect place to sit tight, relax and reflect on the end of our New Zealand leg.

5. “Nelson” Done.

Sadly, we hit Nelson on Easter Weekend, so it ended up being a bit of a ghost town. Still, we could definitely see the appeal.

Being in New Zealand over Easter Weekend was a bit of a surreal experience for us overall though. It basically serves as the Kiwi’s Labor Day. Shops are closed on both Good Friday, and the following Monday (which they call “Easter Monday”), so being in a city on either of those days is bizarre, with shops closed and the streets empty. In addition, all the Kiwi’s head for the hills for some last minute camping before their fall sets in, so all the camp grounds and popular hikes are packed with people.

As a result, while the majority of our trip here has been great, I would warn other travellers about not coming here over Easter Weekend.

6. “Wine …drink it!” Again, done, done and done!

Sarah and I basically divided our time in New Zealand into two catagories… hiking time and wine tasting time. On the wine end, we hit four major wine areas: Waiheke Island (two days of wine tasting there), Hawke’s Bay (two days of wine tasting there: in Napier and Hastings), Martinbourgh (about a day and a half of wine tasting there) and Queenstown (a day of wine tasting there… plus a trip to the Wine Experience). We’d actually planned on hitting another area (Malborough), but ended up skipping it. We had to give our livers a break somewhere.

But, yes, New Zealand produces some fabulous wines. Which actually surprised us a bit, since generally you’ll see a lot of Australian wines in the US grocery stores, but not many New Zealand wines. That said, I won’t say too much more about the wine (since Sarah’s detailed it quite a bit in some other entries), but I do agree: Wine… drink it!

7. “Learn the Local Language” “Good on you!”

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, the people of New Zealand might speak English… but it’s got a lot of differences from the English that most of us in the States are familiar with.

In addition to “sultanas” and “bonnets” and others I mentioned in the pervious entry, here are a few other phrases and words we picked up:

“Jandals” – What we usually call “flip flops” in the States. Cheap sandals.
“Baths” – Swimming pools.
“Dairy” – A corner market or mini-mart.

8. “Beer Picks” Done!

After the generally pale and poor tasting beers of South America, the beers of New Zealand were a revelation. Here’s a quick list of the types Sarah and I got to try: CD, Tui, Monteith’s, Macs, Speights, Lion’s Red, Baroona and a variety of boutique beers produced by the Shakespeare Hotel in Auckland.

New Zealand actually reminds me a lot of Washington state in that it produces great wines and solid beers. One thing that I thought was interesting and which I wish that the States would do more, is that each region of New Zealand produces a different beer, or several different beers. And, the people who live in that area (or are visiting it) seem drink mainly that beer type.

I think that Washington State does that a bit with its micro-brews. But, at the same times, the States in general are still dominated by the big beer companies like Budweiser and Miller. I’m reminded of a conversation Sarah and I had with a beer producer in Haines, Alaska. We asked him if he exported his beer much, and here basically replied: “Not at all. I believe that beer should be a local thing. Not only does it help give a region its identity, but also allows travellers to experience something new when they visit.”

That’s and idea I find myself agree with more and more as we travel. And, not just with beer.

9. “Embrace Rugby (per JJ’s request)” Done.

As I mentioned in a previous entry Sarah and I might still not fully understand the rules of Rugby. But, we enjoy watching it. It combines the hard hitting-action of American football with the fluid game play of Soccer. Plus, there’s a ton of small details that make it enjoyable (for example, the referees seem to be miced, so whenever they are talking to each other or the players you can hear what they are saying. It gives you the feeling that they are participants in the game as much as the players, rather that simply aloof judges).

When we went to Queenstown, we were hoping we’d be in town long enough to actually go see a game live, but sadly, they were playing away games. Still, we managed to watch several games from bars, restaurants and hostels.

And, sadly, we’ll miss the next Christchurch home game… which is the day after we leave NZ.

10. “Waiheke Island” Done.

We visited Waiheke Island shortly after arriving in NZ. And, after the comparative normalcy of Auckland, it was a great primer on wonderful wines and scenery that the rest of New Zealand would offer.

While Cable Bay provided the best winery building and one our best meals of the trip, Sarah and I both agree that the wines we tasted at Stonyridge had probably our favorite wines of the island… and some of the best in New Zealand.

Sadly, the weather worked against us a bit, so we weren’t able to spend as much time on the beach as we would have liked (including, JJ and Piper, the beach at Little Palm you mentioned), but the blustery, stormy weather outside allowed us to cozy-up inside and rest up a bit after our the Island hoping madness of the week before.

So, that’s how Sarah and I faired on JJ and Piper’s list of the Top 10 Things to Do in NZ. The other night, Sarah asked me what my favorite part of New Zealand had been. I couldn’t give here one thing, but just sort of free associated a few of my favorite moments. Here’s what I thought up:

Lunch at Cable Bay Winery, getting our Spaceship, the glow worms at the Witomo Caves, the volcanic terrain of the Tongoriro Crossing, the first sniff of wine on our second day of wine tasting in Hawke’s Bay, and the hike up Rob Roy Valley outside of Wanaka.

But, I’m sure there were others. And we still have one more afternoon and night left.


Tim said...

I had forgotten about it until you posted the pictures, but I am surprised not to have seen more pictures of sheep!

NZ has the dubious distinction of being the country with the most lopsided ratio of sheep to people in the world (~10 sheep for every New Zealander). Australians are also outnumbered, but less drastically (~5:1). Amazingly, I found out that the Falkland Islands have a ratio of 230 sheep:human (but it is not technically a country).

Also interesting: the New Zealand wikipedia entry does not include a single occurence of any of these words: sheep, lamb, or wool. Shocking.

Incidentally, I knew a girl from Tasmanian and she said that Tasmania is sort of looked down upon by continental Australians as being a sheep farming backwater. However, Australians, including Tasmanians, enjoy the same attitude towards New Zealand--at least, jokingly!

Did you hear any good sheep jokes?

Sarah said...

Yes, there were an incredibly large number of sheep, but it had decreased from 60 million to 40 million in the past while after the government stopped subsidizing the sheep farmers. That is very strange that sheep, a major part of their history and culture, weren't in Wikipedia! I don't remember hearing any sheep jokes, but I'm sure they are out there!