Angel and I find ourselves in an unfortunate situation, whereby neither of us were born in the proper country.
After several months of research across the last few years involving street tacos, warm winters, warmer people, affordable everything, and locally grown coffee, Angel was able to diagnose recently that she was intended to have been born in Mexico.
I, on the other hand, have suspected since 2005, when we left after living there for a couple of years, that I was intended to have been born in New Zealand.
We find ourselves back here for the next several months, and I plan to spend most of my time staring contentedly into the distance with a barely perceptible smile on my face, absorbing everything wonderful that New Zealand has to offer.
Along the way, I’ll take a few breaks from my relaxed sense that all is right in the world in order to write blog posts, so you can share some of the magic.
I think and hope that some of these articles will be useful for people who are interested in visiting, but this first post, I decided to write something purely celebratory, and so would like to offer you this list of the Indisputable Best Things in New Zealand, as voted on by me. These things won’t be the things that you already know - about Hobbits and Rugby and universal healthcare and all that. They’ll be the little things that make the place magic.
1. It really is that pretty.
I know, I said I wouldn’t say things you already know. But when you just see pictures online, it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s an Instagram filter. But I can confirm that New Zealand is legit. It’s the stunningly attractive love child of Hawaii and Switzerland that somehow found its way to the middle of the Pacific, where no one could find it for the vast majority of human history, thereby preserving itself in pristine beauty. The light here is perfect. There are waterfalls and rainbows everywhere. The glaciers descend to sea level and the snow-capped mountains shoot directly out of the ocean. The whole country is swarming with delightfully adorable baby lambs, and they keep the perfectly green lawns covering the entire country (aside from the beaches and the snow capped mountains) mowed to professional standards. It’s not possible, but it’s real.
2. The birds here are fantasy creatures who just want to be your friends.
Some may be aware that a peculiarity of New Zealand’s history is that it broke off from the mainland of Australia before the evolution of mammals. As a result, aside from a few recently arrived bats, there were never mammals here to fill most ecological niches, so the native birds evolved to fill their roles. Hence the Kiwi, a ground dwelling, fur covered oddity that is functionally more of a lazy rodent than an actual bird. But also hence a wide variety of other very unusual birds, that seem like something out of one of Lewis Carroll’s fever dreams.
One consequence of the country’s isolation is that (although introduced rats, stoats, cats, possums, and adorably, hedgehogs, are wreaking havoc nowadays) through most of evolutionary history, the birds here didn’t have to worry about predation from creatures like ourselves. So they still behave largely as if we’re curiosities rather than threats. In the time that we’ve spent here, birds that we’ve had fly directly up to us, land just a few feet away, and interact with us as peers include:
The Morepork: A strange little owl with giant eyes whose call sounds, as you might have guessed, something like “more pork”.
The Kea: The world’s only alpine parrot, and my all time favorite animal, it has the diet of a goat and is known for eating boots and cars and anything else left alone for more than a minute or two. And for being cheeky and dancing for food and entertaining tourists. It’s the flying naughty clown of the high alpine peaks.
The New Zealand Wood Pigeon: A large, common, iridescently colored pigeon whose wings flap so loudly that they sound like small helicopters crashing through the brush.
The Fantail: A sparrow-sized bird with a boat oar for a tail, which does flips and tricks mid-flight, mainly just to impress you.
The Bellbird: A normal enough appearing forest bird whose call sounds uncannily like the clanging of bells rather than anything a living creature should be able to produce.
3. There’s great coffee everywhere.
This shouldn’t be the case, because as far as I know it isn’t grown locally, but it’s really easy to find good espresso here, even in strange little country towns that have no business producing pleasant cafes. They even have a signature drink - the flat white, which I honestly can’t distinguish from a latte though I’m told they’re not the same.
4. Kiwis have never learned to be cruel.
In the United States, people have learned that to stay on top, you have to crush your enemies, who are all around you. That’s not a political statement, it’s just a way of being for about 40% of the population, driven mad by cable news and fear of non-existent boogeymen. We assume our friends want to sneak off with our things and our neighbors want to murder our children.
In New Zealand, if your car breaks down at 2 am on a dark country road, you should walk up to the nearest house and knock loudly on the door without reservation, because the owners will greet you with pleased surprise about having just made a new friend. They’ll thank you for stopping by, invite you in, have a chat, give you some tea, offer you a room for the night, and lend you their car the next day so you can get where you’ll going. They’ll call their cousin to tow your car to the garage, and he’ll give you a discount on the fix because of your trouble.
And it’s hard not to feel like they’re on to something. Why not live like this?
5. Everyone here wears the same clothes every day.
You wouldn’t necessarily pick this up unless you stayed here for a long time, but it’s generally true that everyone here has a pair of shorts, a sweater (jumper), a couple pairs of pants (trousers) and a couple of shirts. Every time you see them, they’ll generally be wearing the same thing, with only minor variations to match the seasons.
Once again, this is an absolutely sensible way of living. New Zealand is a wealthy country, and people here could afford the same level of variety that Americans enjoy. But why in the world would you waste your money on a different set of clothes for every day of the month? As long as everyone agrees to follow this same set of rules, no one will feel social pressure to one up their neighbors, everyone will be much happier and will have much more disposable income to spend on things like pleasant coffees and sensibly priced holiday homes.
Speaking of that...
6. Holiday homes are common, and they’re quaint little huts rather than extravagant eyesores.
In my own upbringing, I don’t remember meeting anyone who had a vacation home, until my grandfather constructed his own cabin on a lake in Kentucky. To me, this was the height of financial success, because it’s true - in the US, where I come from, only the very wealthy seem to have vacation homes, and they’re typically complex affairs.
Here, it is extremely common for families to have a small “bach” on the beach or in the mountains, which are often unheated, communal, picturesque cabins where family and friends can get together and have shelter, a stove and a toilet in a beautiful spot anytime they’d like it. The country - at least the South Island - is composed entirely of empty countryside, so these somehow manage to never be intrusive on the expansive views that they offer.
7. All of the rivers are clear to bright blue.
I’m not sure how it’s possible, but it seems that there are no tannins here - except in the excellent wine - because all of the fresh water is picturesque.
8. The National Parks are free for all to enter, and no one can build on the water, leaving the coast open for all of the public to enjoy.
Again, why not live like this? Who does it benefit to sell off all of your beautiful things? Why not keep the best things in life free and open to the public? Please show me New Zealand’s social contract, because I would like to sign it.
9. Similarly, there are trails and huts everywhere.
If you’re wondering where to go in New Zealand for a nice bike, hike, or trail run, the answer is everywhere. Trails range from rarely utilized muddy cattle paths across private land that require permission to access to manicured Great Walks that are maintained meticulously, and at great expense, by the national government. But they are essentially everywhere you can imagine. It’s an outdoor lovers paradise. (Sorry - you knew that, but I can’t help reiterating that it’s true.)
If you ask them, Kiwis will find ways to convince you that this isn’t actually a utopia, but of the places I’ve been, it’s as close as anywhere. There’s no way any of this is hyperbole. It’s just magic and I’m sure that it was some sort of mistake that I wasn’t born here, because at heart I’m Kiwi as.
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Tim and Angel
The goat in the picture lives in Silverton, CO, and tried to kill us. We survived to bring you this dirtbag wisdom for the ages.