Five Things We Learned about Kiwis

Having made it back safely to Auckland (and having a few free hours before our flight back to the US later tonight), Lee & I found ourselves looking back at our experiences from this amazing adventure, and thought we’d close with a few summary reflections on our interactions with New Zealanders  over the past six weeks.  With full acknowledgment that we’re taking the liberty of generalizing our brief experience to what is undeniably a far more varied and complex country and culture… we’ll go ahead and do it anyway!

#1: Kiwis are incredibly friendly, hospitable, trusting, and polite (except when it comes to driving!):  We had heard stories ahead of our trip about the friendliness of New Zealanders, and happily found this to be true – and then some!  Whether tramping on a back country trail, walking down small town streets, or encountering people in stores and cafes, we were routinely greeted with a smile, direct eye contact, and a cheery ‘ello!  Detecting our “away” accent, most New Zealanders would immediately ask us where we were from, and would strike up a friendly conversation (after mercifully allowing us a quick exit from the inevitable political comments and questions). The photo below shows Lee with one of our new Kiwi friends, Rex, who was one of our tramping partners on the Routeburn Track.   After just a few days of hiking together, he kindly offered to take Sam to the airport at the end of that trip, then graciously met up with us during our brief stay in his hometown of Auckland to give us a tour and share lunch on our final day hereIMG_3189We also used Air BnB for most of our stays, so had the benefit of meeting many locals in their homes; we found our hosts to be uniformly warm, welcoming, and trusting, encouraging us to use their home as our own (even while they were away at work all day!), and often inviting us to join them for a glass of wine or even dinner.

(Interestingly, the one exception to Kiwi hospitality appears to happen through some sort of transformation that occurs when they get behind the wheel of a car, where they are notorious for aggressive driving and little patience for left-drifting drivers – though who could blame them on that front?).

#2:  Kiwis are coffee snobs – and make amazingly good desserts.  We probably should have known this one, but were surprised to learn that New Zealanders (like many Europeans) consider the only drinkable coffee to be coffee that is individually pressed by the cup –  and are not shy about sharing their opinion that American “filter coffee” is “pure rubbish”.  That said, their attitude may well be justified by the fact that their coffee is amazing!  We spent the first few weeks trying to navigate our way through their maze of choices – Flat White, Short Black, Long Black, plus the usual array of Cappuccino, Espresso, etc.  After six weeks of high-end sipping, might find it hard to go back to the filter pot!

They also arguably have some of the best coffee shops/cafes around.  We were delighted to find the most amazing collection of charming coffee shops and cafes in virtually every NZ town we visited (even the tiniest had at least one, and usually two or three!).  While it probably didn’t help our caloric intake, we were happy to enjoy an amazing array of consistently delicious Kiwi desserts – particularly carrot cake, lemon bars, and caramel slice – all fat-free, of course (!).

Something tells me that even with all that hiking and biking, the caloric balance did not fall favorably on our side!

#3: Kiwis have a great sense of (wry) humor, and are self-deprecating, practical, and direct.  We were continually surprised by the quick wit and dry humor of the New Zealanders, whether encountered in casual conversation, news stories, or surprisingly, even their road signs.

They are quick to “call ‘em as they see ‘em”, and despite their highly polite nature, aren’t shy to share their opinions on anything from local politics and national politicians, to popular culture (think Adele), to one’s daily travel plans (“you’re going to do what?!”).  Whether through nature or nurture (or plain hard reality), they also have an amazingly practical, “can do” approach to coping with what seems like a steady series of natural disasters that the country seems to attract – whether the latest earthquake, brush fires, flooding, or threat of volcanic eruption.  Seems like Kiwis may have coined the UK adage of “Keep calm & carry on”!

#4:  Kiwis are proud of their multi-cultural heritage.  As mentioned at least briefly in several previous posts, New Zealand is truly remarkable for embracing its First Peoples and culture of the Maori tribes.  The signs of Maori culture and language are overtly embraced in NZ town names, road signs, national lands and parks, and on every public building, including consistent references to NZ by its Maori name, “Aotearoa” – land of the long white cloud.  The Kiwis we met routinely reference the birth of their country as the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, an agreement between the Crown and a majority of the Maori chiefs that created one united country after decades of warring. And while admittedly not perfect, the Treaty of Waitangi continues to be a basis for NZ settlements of long-held disputes with native peoples.  We need only to think of what was happening in the US between European settlers and the Native Americans (or the difference between NZ and Australia in its approach to native Aboriginals) in that same time period (and since) to recognize the profound difference in approach to native populations – maybe something we could learn from?

#5:  Kiwis are amazingly well-traveled and well-informed about global issues, particularly anything related to US culture and politics.   We were repeatedly amazed to hear how many Kiwis (as well as their Aussie cousins and the many young Europeans traveling about) had traveled extensively – not only in NZ and Australia, but also in Asia, India, the UK, Europe, and the US (an amazing number knew where Maine was, or at least, knew it was the home of Stephen King – he’s oddly popular here!).  They were quick to remind us that, because of their relatively remote location on the globe, the only trip worth doing generally is a trip of 6 wks or more; as a result, many people take a combination of vacation and unpaid leave to do extended trips around the globe.  They noted that many (maybe even most) young New Zealanders often travel for 1-2 years after finishing their studies to do an “Overseas Experience” (known locally as their “OE”), an experience that clearly gives them the benefit of an  expanded world view and knowledge of what’s happening around the world.  (Just for kicks, I quickly googled passport numbers and found that approximately 75% of Kiwi’s hold a passport, compared to 36% of Americans – and the majority of those are held by people in the military!).

That said, we were also pleased to spend our last night in NZ visiting with two Portland natives, Clare Gannon and Amanda Gross (here with her friend Blake) – two amazingly spirited and adventurous young women who have shown the Kiwi spirit by picking up their US roots and traveling to NZ to try out the Kiwi way of life – at least for a while (sorry parents, but they sure seem to be having a great time here!).FullSizeRender-photo-full

So begging forgiveness again for having the (innately American!) audacity to make sweeping generalizations after only six weeks of experience in the country, we’ll offer these as humble observations, and sign off with much appreciation and gratitude for our adventures in this amazing country and for our Kiwi friends, new and old.  Or as the they say here, haere ra and kia ora! (good bye – at least for now – and be well!)

5 thoughts on “Five Things We Learned about Kiwis

  1. Dora Anne Mills

    What fun observations! Can’t wait to visit NZ myself after your wonderful blog, but then again, I now feel like I’ve been there. Safe travels home. Meet you on Back Cove soon – the trail just became free of snow and ice.


    1. Yes – looking forward to reconnecting soon! We’re officially back in US now – at SFO about to leave for Boston – back late tonight. Will connect when I’m back – maybe we can even get in a walk later this wk! (gotta take advantage of that pavement!)


  2. Kathy L

    Insightful, generous, uplifting and well said!! Thanks for this and for every one of your well photographed and interesting posts! Very fun for me to keep up with you on this remarkable journey.


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