It’s hard to believe I have only a week left in New Zealand out of the month allotted. I’ve had a GREAT time so far. It’s a gorgeous land, and everyone has been super friendly and hospitable—save the woman who runs Noah’s Ark Backpackers in Greymouth, who was rude and didn’t seem to like Americans.
I’d recommend a visit to New Zealand highly, and it has special interest for biologists because of its plethora of weird plants and animals that evolved largely in isolation, though, like the government and residents, I worry about the disappearance of flora and fauna because of introduced species. I worry, too, that the country will get too popular, for part of the charm of this land is its large expanse of forest and uninhabited land. The population of the entire country is just 4.5 million—half that of New York City alone.
New Zealand wants and deserves more tourism, but I hope it doesn’t get overrun. Even the “tourist towns” aren’t that touristy, and have the special New Zealand aura of America’s Wild West, with their small shops and shopfronts overhanging the sidewalks.
Anyway, at my instigation, Heather Hastie helped me compile a list of “Ten Fun Facts about New Zealand”. If you think they’re erroneous, take them up with her (#1 is mine)!
1). New Zealand restrooms (always called “toilets” here), whether they be in a public park or a bar, are spotlessly clean. This is a great pleasure to an American, particularly one who’s spent a lot of time in India. New Zealand is a very clean country!
2). A popular phrase here, which I’ve heard a few times, is “sweet as“, which is the Kiwi equivalent of “She’ll be right” [“Everything’s great”] used in Australia.
3). I’ve seen this in Taumaranui, but Heather tells me that it’s common in small towns in New Zealand and even in the outskirts of larger towns: people will go out shopping barefoot. Heather adds that if you go out in the morning you’ll sometimes see people wearing their pajamas while shopping.
4). During the spring and summer in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand is first country to see the Sun on a given date: it’s the land closest to the west of the International Date Line line. The first town to see the sun is Gisborne, where Heather was brought up. During the fall and winter here, though, Samoa (and its town Apia) is the first to see sunrise. (Samoa moved across the International Dateline in 2011.)
5). In 1893, New Zealand became the world’s first country to give women the right to vote. In that same year, Elizabeth Yates also became the first woman to be mayor of any city in the British Commonwealth: Onehunga.
6). From 1999-2016, New Zealand had prime ministers who were atheists: Labour PM Helen Clark and National Party PM John Key. One thing an American notices immediately about New Zealand is its refreshing lack of the religiosity that permeates our country.
7). New Zealand is the only country in world to have had a transgender member of parliament, Georgina Beyer. Born George Bertrand, Beyer was a teenage prostitute in Wellington, and then, after transitioning, became the world’s first openly transgender mayor—of the town of Carterton.
8). Although the Australian and New Zealand accents sound similar to me, Heather says they’re not. A diagnostic word is that for the numeral “6”, which, she says, is pronounced (to my ear) like “sex” (or “secks”) in Australia and a cross between “sucks” and “six” in New Zealand.
Also, I’m told Aussies put “y”s on the ends of words while Kiwis do not. An Aussie may, for instance, say “I’m putting on a cardy [cardigan] to take the doggy for a walky,” while a Kiwi would say, “I’m putting on a cardigan to take the dog for a walk.”
Both Aussies and Kiwis say “mate,” but Aussies also use the word “matey,” which is much rarer in New Zealand.
In social settings, Aussies will often abbreviate your name automatically, even if you don’t like it. “Jerry,” for instance, would become “Jer” (sometimes “Jezzer”!) in Australia, and “Judith”—the name of Heather’s mom—would become “Joo.” Kiwis don’t do that except for very close friends and family members. In Australia, Lawrence Krauss would become “Larry,” a usage he doesn’t like at all.
9). The world’s steepest residential street is Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand, with a 35% grade at the top. Wikipedia says this:
The 161.2 metres (529 ft) long top section climbs 47.2 metres (155 ft) vertically, an average gradient of 1:3.41. At its maximum, about 70 metres (230 ft) below the top, the slope of Baldwin Street is about 1:2.86 (19° or 35%). That is, for every 2.86 metres travelled horizontally, the elevation changes by 1 metre.
And a tilted picture to show the gradient:
10). I asked Heather what the Kiwi stereotype of Americans is. After some prodding, she reluctantly divulged that it is this: “Fat, loud, and thinking they’re more important than other people because they are Americans.” But of course that’s a stereotype, and I haven’t found any anti-American sentiment in this country (except for the woman in Greymouth). That also happens to be the stereotype of Americans in European countries like France.
BuzzFeed has its own 69 fun facts about New Zealand, but I didn’t look at it before I wrote this.
Come visit! And if you’re a Kiwi, add your own fun fact.