After 25 amazing days in New Zealand we said “Hei konā rā” (Māori informal good-bye). After three months back home, reflecting on the places we stayed, the roads we traveled and the adventures we experienced, we’ve compiled a list of “stuff” we noticed over the course of our travels: things we noticed because they’re different from what we’re accustomed to in Canada, things we had to ask about at some point during our vacation, plus a few other things that we think are noteworthy.
Food and Drink
- Pepsi (including Diet Pepsi) is almost impossible to find, so if you need a caffeine fix consider coffee (we drank excellent coffee throughout our trip). If you want something delicious and cold, locally-brewed ginger beer is a great option.
- Cold drinks are served cold, generally without ice. If you want ice in your drink, you will probably have to ask for it (and some places don’t have it).
- Sandwiches have everything on them – onion relish, beet pickles, aoli, greens, shredded carrots and more. If you’re from the group that believes bread + meat/cheese + lettuce = sandwich then be sure to give your server clear instructions when you order.
- Chips (better known as (french) fries in North America) come with aoli, not Ketchup; if you want Ketchup, ask for tomato sauce instead (and don’t be surprised if you’re charged extra for the tomato sauce).
- Be sure to try Hokey Pokey ice cream (no, it’s got nothing to do with the campfire song where you “put your right leg in and shake it all about”); it’s plain vanilla ice cream with small, solid lumps of honeycomb toffee. Hokey pokey is a New Zealand term for honeycomb toffee. Since returning to Canada, we’ve discovered that Chapman’s (Canada’s largest independent ice-cream manufacturer) makes Hokey Pokey Ice Cream Sundae, which is available in our local grocery stores.
- Peppers are called capsicums.
- Out of season fruit is really expensive (for example, when we visited in February, limes were priced at $21.99/kg in most grocery stores).
- In general, restaurant food is really good, but expensive. For example, we ate burgers and fries a couple of times and the bill came to $65 once and $85 once (that’s for four people, not including any drinks). One reason is that New Zealand has a VAT (value added tax) – currently 15%. Another is that restaurant staff (including servers) are mandated to be paid a proper living wage, which is reflected in the menu prices. Also, a lot of ingredients are locally grown (i.e. in the restaurant’s own garden, as we saw first hand in many locations throughout New Zealand). One final note re: restaurant meals is that we found the portions to be a good size (i.e. not too big, as we tend to find when traveling in the U.S.A.).
- Tap water is great throughout NZ, so no need to waste money on bottled water.
- Movenpick ice cream is available in New Zealand! We found Movenpick ice cream shops in Queenstown, Franz Josef and Auckland. Small tubs of Movenpick ice cream are available in most grocery stores.
Getting Around (by rental car)
- Maximum speed limit is 100 km/h or lower, as posted. NOTE: Just because the speed limit is 100 km/h does not mean it’s possible to go that fast; sections of the highway between Franz Josef and Arthur’s Pass come to mind, as does Queen Charlotte Drive between Picton and Nelson.
- Locals told us there is no tolerance to posted speed limit in school zones.
- Speed/radar cameras are set-up in beat-up old vans and older vehicles, which look like they’ve broken down and have been moved off to the side of the road.
- Be wary of drivers in vehicles with the windshield washers going when it’s not raining – they’re most likely from North America, driving a rental car, which means they’re probably not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road.
- Spend a minute to familiarize yourself with the traffic signs for using one lane bridges. Be sure you’re comfortable with the traffic rules governing roundabouts (a.k.a. traffic circles). This is especially necessary on the South Island.
- One of the best things we came across during our pre-trip planning process was the NZ Open GPS Project, which offers auto-routing downloadable maps. It took a bit of time and patience to figure out how to download and install the maps on our Garmin NUVI, but they proved to be highly accurate. We drove more that 1500 km while in New Zealand and ran into only two small inaccuracies (for example, nearing one hotel our GPS unit told us the hotel would be on our right when it was actually on our left). In addition to accurate road maps, the NZ Open GPS Project maps also include many thousands of waypoints (hotels, restaurants, shopping, gas stations, etc.). We considered these “by donation” maps a great option and really appreciate the time and energy the New Zealand geocaching community has put into compiling and maintaining the map sets.
- There are switches on the electrical outlets (and some appliances). We’ve seen this in many other parts of the world, but is not commonplace in North America (yet).
- Nintendo DS units purchased in North America can’t be charged here, even with a voltage step-down electrical outlet converter.
- It’s our understanding that tipping is generally not required in New Zealand – that a living wage is included in posted prices. That being said, you may wish to consider leaving a tip of somewhere up to 10% for truly outstanding service.
- New Zealand has a Value Added Tax (VAT), currently 15%. Everywhere we went, VAT was included in the posted prices.
- All the hotels we stayed at levied a 1.5% surcharge if you settled the bill with a credit card, as did the car rental company. We also know from past experience that using our Canadian dollar credit card to make purchases in another country brings with it a pretty high exchange rate (more that we’d pay if we exchanged dollars at our bank). So, even taking into consideration the $5/transaction “other system ATM charge” that our bank levies for bank machine withdrawals in another country, we end up way ahead if we withdraw our maximum daily cash limit from our bank account and use cash to pay for pretty much everything. NOTE: We’d still have to provide our credit card when checking in or renting a car. We’d just settle the account using cash. BOTTOM LINE? As much as possible, pay with cash. And limit ATM fees by withdrawing large amounts, less often.
Final Bits and Pieces
- We heard some great new-to-us words, like lahar (a hot mud flow or debris flow related to volcanic activity) and chur (hello, fine, great, bro). And you’ll encounter Māori phrases everywhere you go. I hope you enjoy learning a few new words as much as we did!
- New Zealand is literally at the end of the internet. We found web access to be much slower than at home. On the plus side, Telecom New Zealand has converted all of its pay phone booths to Wi-fi hot spots, so if you buy a Telecom New Zealand 30-day prepaid SIM card, you can get a fair bit (I think it was 1 GB/day) of free Wi-fi access in pretty much any town.
- IMPORTANT HEALTH-RELATED TIDBIT: There’s a big hole in the ozone layer over New Zealand. We learned the hard way that you definitely need sunscreen, that it needs to be stronger than SPF 30 and that you need to apply it more than once/day.
After 25 days encompassing 9 towns/cities, 7 days of driving and more than a dozen excursions, this is the last post in our series about New Zealand…at least until our next visit!
If you find anything we listed helpful OR if we’ve overlooked something that ought to be listed, please leave a comment to let us know.