Living above the land down under: All about… New Zealand {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

This week’s post is written by my cousin Stephan Troost of the Netherlands. Stephan is currently studying human geography and urban/regional planning at Utrecht University in Holland. In the fall of 2012, he spent five months living and studying at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His favorite memory of living above the land down under is hitch-hiking the South Island — a total of 2000 beautiful and exciting kilometers — and only paying $20 New Zealand dollars to do so.

Fall 2012
90-Mile Beach, Northland; Fall 2012

On beautiful countrysides. Some people call New Zealand heaven on earth. In terms of nature, I’d definitely agree — New Zealand is perfect. I’ve had experiences before where I’ve gone to places that are supposedly amazing but have ended up being a bit disappointing. However, in New Zealand, anytime someone told you that a certain place was great, it always was.

When you’re driving, especially on South Island, the landscape can change drastically in just ten minutes — going from golden beaches to high mountains, waterfalls, forests as thick as green walls, and everything in between. Because New Zealand is so far from everything, there’s an incredibly diversity of species that exist nowhere else.

Too many landscapes!
Kepler Track, Fjordland; Fall 2012.
Landscape love
Coromandel Peninsula; Fall 2013

The temperature is quite moderate — around 14 degrees Celsius in an Auckland winter. The countryside is extremely green because it rains regularly, and the weather changes just as drastically as the landscape. This happened especially in Auckland. One moment, there would be a really big rain shower, and the next minute, it would be sunny like crazy. We say in Holland that our weather’s always changing, but at least in Holland, we can mostly predict what’s going to happen next!

On cultural history and diversity. In my opinion, New Zealand was not heaven on earth when it came to the people, but that’s usual. People will be people. New Zealand was colonized by the British, so most people are still from European descent. However, a lot of people come from different Pacific islands or Asia — like China, Malaysia, or Thailand — to work. I found the different cultures very interesting, especially the colorful and exotic Pacific Islander culture, since it is so different from the culture I’m used to in the Netherlands. Some kiwis — that’s what New Zealanders call themselves because of the kiwi bird — struggle with the fact that immigration has been really high since the 1980s. There are only 4.5 million people on the island, and 45% of Auckland’s population is non-European.  In a few years, no ethnic group in Auckland will have the majority.

The indigenous people are called the Maori, and New Zealanders recognize the Maori as the original inhabitants of the country. An aspect of Maori culture that is often seen is an aggressive type of dance that they used to do to scare other tribes: the haka. It’s good for tourists, but it also shows that New Zealand has a really different history than just a British one.

Multicultural New Zealand
Multicultural New Zealand; Fall 2012

On government, food prices, and public transportation. In Auckland, people live close to one another, but large suburbs are also common, so having a car is a must. Like the States, public transportation is horrible in comparison to that of Europe.

Since New Zealand is so far from everything and everybody, I found the government to be really liberal and independent. In Europe, the news often focuses on events from all over the world, but New Zealand news was mostly about New Zealand, Australia, and random other world events.

Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand; Fall 2012
Auckland
The Waterfront, Auckland, New Zealand; Fall 2012

A lot of internationals go to New Zealand, so there are a ton of American fast food restaurants in New Zealand, like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, and Dominos. People are very active in New Zealand, but they eat a lot of fast food as well. Maybe it has to do with the fact that groceries are very expensive.

On its difference from Australia. New Zealand is not Australia. People think it’s simple to fly from Melborne to Sydney to Auckland, but a flight from Sydney to Auckland is still three and a half hours. Both countries have British influences so there are some similarities, but since they’re far apart, it’s more like how it would feel if Canada and the States were separated by 1300 miles. In New Zealand, rugby is the big sport, so a match between Australia and New Zealand is a big deal for Kiwis.

On accents. I found the New Zealand way of speaking English to be really funny. A lot of Americans are familiar with Australian and British accents, but a kiwi accent is different – kind of blend between British and Australian. In the US, if you would say, “I’m expecting somebody,” in New Zealand, you’d say, “I’m expicting somebody.” Find a Youtube clip of Prime Minister, John Key, and you’ll know what I mean.

In general, everyone was relaxed, friendly (“no worries, mate”), and real. They did not act like Americans who pretend to like someone just to be polite; they also didn’t act like Europeans who have to say everything they think. In the countryside, people just helped each other — that’s how I got to hitchhike so much. It’s common and safe there.

Culture-wise, I felt like New Zealand was rather British, but maybe it was more like a combination between the States and Europe. Or maybe it was just an even better combination than all that together.

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