Go for a tramp in any forest on the North Island and you’ll likely see a number of plants which inspired the Koru, a Maori word meaning “loop.” The Koru’s form is based on the shape of a new frond of the Silver Fern which slowly uncoils itself as it matures, just one of the spectacular beauties of Mother Nature in this country.
Simply put, the Koru is a spiral, an integral symbol in Maori art and design. It represents new beginnings, harmony, and growth. Its shape conveys the idea that life is in perpetual movement while always staying close to the point of origin, an idea that hits pretty close to home for this wanderer.
Mean – Kiwi slang for something good
A lot of the Kiwi Slang is pretty easy to pick up just based on context; while the Kiwi use of “mean” was pretty intuitive, I found it extremely difficult to explain to my non-native English speaking boyfriend who had grown accustomed to me saying “Nice!” Though Eugenio’s Italian-English dictionary told him that “nice” and “mean” are opposites, little did he know that they’re synonyms when used as slang.
Yes, that’s correct – “Mean!” to a Kiwi is like “Nice!” to an American. It’s a positive adjective used to mean cool, awesome, or fan-freaking-tastic. And just like our tendency to draw out the vowel to add emphasis (niiiiiiiiice), Kiwis also lengthen the word to convey their level of enthusiasm – “meeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaan!”
So just a heads up to friends and family back in the States, when you hear Eugenio say “Mean” what he really means is “Nice.”
Geographically speaking, New Zealand is by no means a large country; it’s roughly the same size as Italy. But in a land where the sheep and cows grossly outnumber the humans, you can expect a fair amount of distance between towns. Luckily, there are numerous options to get a traveler from A to B.
Bus. The list of companies is long, and many cater to tourists by making stops along the way so you can take photos.
Air. JetStar and Air New Zealand have relatively affordable flights between the major cities and tourist destinations.
Thumbing it. Hitchhiking is technically illegal, but New Zealand must be one of the safest and most friendly places to hop in a stranger’s car. My guess is that with the long distances people are used to driving, the company is appreciated.
However, our issue with all options was that they depart from and arrive in a town. While these Kiwi towns are always ridiculously convenient and clean, they were not the reason we came to New Zealand. The magical fjords, stunning mountain peaks, mesmerizing alpine lakes, eerie caves and remote beaches simply cannot be found in town.
Organized tours will take you via bus to the highlights, but I’m not exactly the tour group type and we didn’t come to just see the highlights. We wanted to wander around this country without any itinerary or specific route in mind. We wanted the flexibility to stay in one place longer than expected or change our destination last-minute due to bad weather and we wanted the ability to travel faaaaaaarrrr off the beaten path.
From the start it was clear that the only way to truly see New Zealand is by car, and with nearly a year to travel, renting didn’t make any sense. On Day #3, still jet-lagged and going through severe caffeine withdrawal, we started to shop for used vehicles.
Lucky for us, we were not the only young travelling couple to arrive at this conclusion. There are so many backpackers who come to New Zealand on the Working Holiday Visa that there’s actually a backpacker car market. Stop in any hostel in Auckland or Christchurch and you’ll see a massive number of ads posted by backpackers who’ve finished their journey and need to sell their campervan before returning home.
What on earth is a campervan? Is that a Kiwi word for caravan, camper or motorhome?
No. A campervan has its own category. Where campers and motorhomes have toilets, showers and/or kitchens, a campervan has none of the above. Where a Caravan must be towed behind a vehicle, a campervan runs on its own.
In this country, and in Australia I’m told, old minivans which once transported kids to rugby practice are given a second life – the back seats are taken out and an elevated bed frame & mattress are fitted in their place. Add a few curtains, some storage boxes under the bed, and voila! You have a Campervan.
So wait, you sleep in a minivan? Why on earth would you want live like that?
The average cost of a hostel DORMITORY bed is between $25-$35 per person, per night (~$20-$28 USD). I haven’t quite figured out why the price is so high, but prices in NZ are generally ridiculously high compared to the States and the majority of Europe. So a little bit of math: 2 people x 10 months x $30/night lodging = WAY more money than the cost of a campervan.
Where do you park the van overnight (a.k.a. sleep)?
The general consensus is that “Freedom Camping” is permitted except in areas where there are signs explicitly prohibiting it (ex. “NO Camping” or “NO Overnight Parking”). As long as you’re near a 24-hour toilet, which conveniently enough are EVERYWHERE in this country, you’re free to park as long as you like.
After shopping around for about a week, Eugenio and I decided on a 1995 Nissan Serena for $2,700. It was by far the best decision we made – thanks to our campervan, we slept in some of the country’s best places, woke up to spectacular views, and successfully avoided the Tourist Route. Here are some of the van’s model shots:
Kiwi Word of the Day #11 – Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu
In Maori culture, places are named based on events of historical or mythological significance which creates some incredibly long names. In fact, it is on the east coast of New Zealand’s north island where you can find the world’s longest place name:
Tamatea was a strong warrior and famous chief in his time. After losing his brother in a battle, he climbed to the top of a hill and played a lament on a Koauau, a Maori flute. The name of the hill was given based on this event.
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu can be loosely translated as “The hilltop where Tamatea with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his koauau to his beloved.”
Side note: the locals simply call it “Taumata”
We’ve been getting pretty crap weather over the past month, which I’ve come to understand is anything but normal during an Otago summer. On a rare, blissfully sunny morning a few weeks ago, I had the following conversation:
Katie: it’s nice to finally have a break from the rain. What are your plans for the day?
Tim: I was thinking about going for a tramp. You interested?
Rest assured Mom & Dad, you don’t need to worry about the recreational activities of my new Kiwi friends. To be honest, I’ve been tramping around both the North and the South Island for over 6 months.
Tramp – Kiwi for “hike” or “trek”; can be used as a noun or verb, and neither implies promiscuity
You put your right hand in, you put your right hand out. Put it back in again, but this time you shake it. Do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around…
In New Zealand, whenever you hear the words “Hokey Pokey” (actually quite frequently), odds are that nobody’s dancing. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if the Kiwis even know “what it’s all about.”
Hokey Pokey – also known as honeycomb toffee, frequently found in chocolate bars and as its own ice cream flavor.
Upon arrival in New Zealand, my first order of business was to rid myself of my caffeine addiction. My reasons for doing so were simple: 1) at an average price of $4.50, it was no longer a habit I could afford and, 2) after 2+ years living in Italy, I had simply become a snob and assumed (rightly so) that Kiwi Coffee couldn’t meet my unreasonably high expectations.
Note to readers: if you are interested in decreasing your caffeine consumption, and you’re used to 5+ shots of espresso per day, I do not recommend quitting cold turkey unless you are prepared to be a complete monster. Consider giving those you love advanced notice of your intent to quit, and it might be wise call in sick for a few days. Actually, don’t plan on leaving the house at all. You’re in no shape to be seen by the public.
Anyway, after a week of constant headaches, unbearable mornings, ridiculous irritability and the incredible desire for naptime, I could finally say I was no longer an addict!! But every so often when I have a rough morning, I do splurge.
It was on the first morning splurge that I encountered a new menu item, and it took a while to understand exactly what it is: the flat white.
Found on every menu of every café or coffee stand in the country, a flat white is different than both a cappuccino and a latte. The Kiwi Cappuccino, and the American cappuccino for that matter, has a ton of foam. It’s a shot of espresso, a bit of steamed milk, and a massive amount of that fluffy, frothy, foam. So much that if you were to drop a sugar cube in your cappuccino, there would be a hole in your foam. Any Italian could tell you that this is not a proper cappuccino; how it devolved I have no idea, but I have never enjoyed this interpretation of a cappuccino. The bubbles just get lodged in your throat.
A flat white is also different than a latte, which actually doesn’t exist in Italy. Latte simply means “milk,” so if you order one, you’ll get a big glass of warm milk. But in the Anglo-Saxon world, a latte is a shot of espresso which is then filled to the top with steamed milk, and it might have a dollop of foam on the top, just to be fancy.
The flat white is a bit more complicated, for it takes into consideration the type of foam. None of this bubbly, airy cappuccino foam…no no no. The Flat White is all about silky foam – much smoother and creamier than the frothy stuff. I’ve been instructed that technically, a flat white is one part espresso, one part steamed milk and one part silky foam. It is the closest thing I’ve found to a true Italian cappuccino.
Now if I could only get the Kiwis to stop scalding the milk and burning the espresso, I would be in heaven…and I would likely become an addict once again!