Today I’ve got a guest post for ya from Agata Mleczko, founder and editor of the travel blog Null&Full, focused on off-the-beaten-track destinations. She currently lives in Poland, but has lived in Italy for more than 6 years (swoon) and has traveled to more than 20 countries all over the world. Agata recently visited New Zealand for the first time and became fascinated with the country. She enjoys reading travel books, jogging, trekking and cooking. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.
Last year I visited New Zealand for the first time in my life. In some aspects this was sort of my dream travel. I have always wanted to go there and the LOTR and Hobbit movies made me want it even more! So, when I found a cheap flight from London I made up my mind within a second. I went to New Zealand for the whole month and here are 5 things that were particularly striking.
While the UK is probably one of the worst for airport security control in the world I found New Zealand quite the opposite. The moment I landed, after a journey of almost 30 hours (with a long layover in China) I was surprised at how nice the airport staff were. My backpack was a bit messy because the wrapping was damaged and I was asked to replace a luggage badge. It was all nicely done, with a smile, no stress, pure pleasure which is really important when you’re very tired.
During my flight back home I was waiting for security check at Luton airport in London in a huge line for about an hour at 6am (needless to say I was totally wrecked) and the staff was just shouting at us: undress, leave all liquids aside, get your laptop out of the case, take off your shoes....that was a nightmare. I hated it. Just before leaving New Zealand I heard information at the airport that the last passenger should come to gate as the plane should leave soon and even this was said in a sort of nice and kind way. Love New Zealand for that!
I travel a lot and visit remote and popular places. I might even say I’ve seen a few things in this world but the general chill out I saw in New Zealand was awesome. I’m talking about an easy to understand – for a European – sort of easygoing attitude towards tourists and life in general. It has nothing to do with South Asia’s exotic way of life and inner peace which I believe is impossible to understand for westerners. Kiwis made an impression of a very positive and optimistic people. They seemed to me to be people who do not exaggerate problems and just enjoy their lives.
One example of the totally chilled out culture was striking: it happened in a bar. There was a table I wanted to sit at and I saw somebody’s shoes under it. The waitress said she had no idea whose these shoes were but I could sit if I wanted. I did. And after an hour an old lady approached and asked if she could have her shoes back. She smiled and explained she had been sitting here before but in order to avoid the sun she changed tables and left her shoes because she forgot them! In Europe it would have never ever happened! (Ed: Reminds me of when I got all sorts of weird looks for walking around in Bondi in bare feet.)
I drove across the South Island and in 3,500 km I saw all landscapes imaginable. If not literally than it made at least an impression of watching all climates on earth here. At the same time the island is not excessively huge. I wouldn’t call it intimate either but all that I wanted to see was within a reachable distance. Sure, the roads are very different from what we are used to in Europe but you can still travel efficiently there and watch these wonders of nature. A variety of landscapes, starting with glaciers, through paradise-like meadows and ending with black beaches. You don’t have time to get bored with anything because just around the corner there is something totally different that awaits you. (Ed: You can read about my own South Island adventures here.)
That was one of the least pleasant surprises: eating out is expensive in New Zealand. Comparing it to Italy it is ridiculously expensive and the quality of food is relatively modest. I was driving a campervan so I could cook my own meals and I mostly did but sometimes you just want to try something local and just leave the pots for one evening. I ate in few restaurants and only one of them was really good – this was Ratanui Lodge in Pohara (Nelson area, the Golden Bay). The rest of the restaurants were somehow disappointing. And all of them were expensive. (Ed: I can recommend a few restaurants around NZ if anyone’s interested, especially in Auckland, but by and large cooking for yourself is the way to go especially if you’re on a budget. Seafood is worth splurging on, though, and dairy is also an affordable luxury.)
I think that the strongest point of eating out in New Zealand are cafes. Whether you want to have your breakfast or a snack it is just perfect. So I enjoyed the small cafes in Franz Josef and in Christchurch. I think people really like meeting in these places and I was always had a very good impression of a cosy and friendly place.
New Zealand is expensive. Especially, if you go there from Europe (I imagine that the Australians are privileged here!). (Ed: At least if you’re coming from Europe, you’re almost doubling your money when you convert the currency. Going from the NZD to the euro like we did is a hell of a lot harder.) I had a look at the budget of my kiwi trip and it shows that almost 3/4 of all money spent was to pay for the flight and the camper rental. A third of the total amount was evenly allocated among the following categories: food, restaurants & cafes, insurance, petrol, attractions and camping grounds.
This was an expensive trip and somehow it became an epic journey before it started. But what I am totally happy about is that value for money in this case was really good. I spent a lot and received a lot: even more than anticipated so this was money well spent and I am very happy about it. (Ed: You can check out my two-week South Island campervan road trip budget here.)