A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand - social commentary 1

after ten days this are my impressions and what I have learned.

rain 52 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

The "Native" Species Crisis

So I got into Auckland and was told by the DOC (Dept. of Conservation) that a few outlying islands were closed for pest removal. A week later and I still was not sure what that meant as I had heard the term a few more times. It was not until the boat tour during which I asked my guide what exactly where native species and what constituted 'pests' that I came to learn the truth. New Zealand never had any four-legged mammals until Captain Cook discovered the place a few hundred years ago, and decided to release pigs on the island for hunting purposes. Later on, Australia gave the gift of possums to New Zealand. In addition, mice, rats, cats, deer, and dogs are all considered pests as they are not native and in one way or another damage the only two native elements of the country - birds and plants. Today there are over 70 million possum in the country and they are hated with a passion as their toll on the environment is well documented. Rather than conducting fundraisers where you walk for charity, Kiwis conduct possum hunts to raise money. Their hatred of the animals borders on obsession. And really, the only wildlife that is preserved in the country are birds and marine life. If you walk on land and you are not a human or an animal on a farm, you are a pest and can be shot at any time. I find the whole thing a bit strange as the Kiwi's implicit love of their natural surroundings seems at odds with their inclination to kill just about everything that walks on their land. Understandably, its all unnatural species so they do have a point.

Driving on the left

Not a big deal. The circles are weird and the cars themselves require a rewiring of the mind as the wiper lever and the turn signals are switched around, I often turn on my wipers when I want to signal a turn. The craziest thing, which I have received unsolicited confirmation of from other travelers are the speed limits and driving habits of the locals. In New Zealand there are two speed limits 50kph and 100kph. Sometimes you'll see something in the middle but basically in towns its the slower one and everywhere else its 100, this includes twisty sea hugging roads that you locals whip around. Basically they see the rental car insignia on my car and pass me as soon as they can, which is fine. What it comes down to is that there are no speed limits as the limits that do exist can rarely be reached on many roads.

Additionally, many roads are not paved. I have a Nissan Sunny, which I have never heard of before but can analogize to a 95' Nissan Sentra. Completely fine on the highways, a bit dodgy on unpaved, potholed mountain roads. Its held up so far, and I get a new car on the south island, so I just need to get this one through another 10 days of rough driving.

The People

Kiwis tend to be far nicer than most other nationalities. I once thought of it as a skill to walk through a foreign area and not stick out as a traveler, the blending in with the locals was, I believed, and still do believe an asset in terms of avoiding trouble and facilitating communication. Down here, I find it unnecessary. Locals like to here where I am from and I rarely initiate the conversations. The whole New York City thing (yes I do not say NJ, I know, I know, I lie to myself still) usually gets a good response, and all in all I find conversation easy with the locals. They love to tell me where to go and take a pride in their country as a place that so many people from so many areas of the world come to.

This is not to say that Kiwi society is a utopia. I find myself suffering from the grass is always greener complex whenever I end up in nice foreign areas. One look at the daily newspapers here shows amples news stories of gang violence, lots of gun violence, and a rampant meth. problem. The country is going through various growing pains linked to the environmental consequences of urban sprawl and the continual issues they have with cultivating long term energy supplies. I read about fights over installing marinas and new condominium developments. As a whole, the country is greener than the greeniest areas in America. The general attitudes of a Portland, Oregon or San Francisco are mainstream down here. The country struggles with carbon emissions as everyone here drives a lot. (a problem I do not see easily rectified, as there simply are not enough people to justify mass transit systems).

Culturally, the divide between white and brown (native Maori) is not as bad as the Native American history in the states. Maori are not displaced and remain a part of everyday society, however, although a national minority, they constitute the majority of prison inmates, gang violence, and drug addiction. Its not all rosy down here, and the idea of a city struggles I think. What I mean is that the towns and rural areas are well set up, but the cities are poorly designed and suffer from sprawl.

Costs

The NZ dollar tumbled against the US dollar this week. Basically Im spending 60 cents to the NZ dollar, so in other words Im saving 33 to 40% off the prices quoted here. It makes many things much cheaper, but I would not say its a cheap country by any means. The towns I am in are affluent and with the rich comes expensive food and expensive coffee along with other inflated items.

Thats all I can think of for know.....

Posted by efstein 22:43 Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Stalling......

avoiding winter.

rain 52 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

So much to write,

Ok, as for the what and where, I have remained in the north criss-crossing the North Island. I remained on the Coromandel Peninsula for a few extra days as the weather was great (highs in the 60s and clear). After driving much of the peninsula on wednesday I settled into the seaside town of Hahei. Hahei is off the beaten track with a winter population in the hundreds. Although not an island, it sticks out on a mini-peninsula that is a 35km drive from the nearest 'town'. That being said, there is a ferry crossing that takes you from a port near Hahei across the bay to Whitianga. The ferry trip is about 2 minutes and the Whitianga town is reminiscent of your standard beach town, it swells to a population of 35,000 during the summer. Before taking the ferry to town, I drove to a place called hot water beach, aptly named for hot springs that lie directly under the beach. Prompted by guide books and tourist manifestos, you have the awkward if not somewhat amusing scene that consists of tourists walking out to the beach at low tide (which was 8:30AM) in 50 degree temperatures and cold ocean water, spades in hand, eventually congregating at a 20 x 20 stretch of beach to dig holes in the sand, which theoretically releases the hot springs and creates a natural hottub for you to lay in.

In practice, it does not really work so well. The springs are indeed hot, in fact, the water is scalding which is quite crazy when you think about it. This water mixes with freezing cold ocean water generally creating a great habitat to pick up a head cold. I conceded to the masses and started digging, and in fact it was a fun experience. The best part was that I met a nice couple who live in Blenheim on the south island (Mike and Kendra). They invited me to their house to watch rugby in a few weeks, so that will be a nice stopover. After the beach, I drove over the ferry and headed into town for a quiet day. I did succumb to the intrigue of taking a boat cruise around the coastline, largely because the coastline is so amazing. The boat guide was young, probably younger than me, but he did give me some good information on the volcanic history of the coastline, and the native species, and we saw a seal.....I have a feeling it won't be the last seal I see based on the reports I am getting from the south island.

I need to spend a moment on my lodgings, most of the backpackers lodges/hostels offer various rooms (dorms, singles, doubles, and triples). In the last week I have had the luxury of paying dorm prices (i.e. roughly $15 US/night) to stay in a room by myself. Not only that, but the lodging here is so competitive with online write-ups outting the party hostels and dirty ones that some brief research allows you to know what to expect. The hosts are all extremely amiable and the facilities border on what new englanders would deem "nice" B&Bs. This was much more of what I expected. Fairly quaint, rather empty, clean, and spacious facilities. To be sure, I am getting a bit lucky doing this traveling in the off-season, and as I will get into in another entry the rest one gets in backpackers lodges is not quite like sleeping in a hotel, its just hard to truly rest in these places. But as Americans generally associate hostels with co-ed fraternizing and general lack of personal space, I feel obligated to dispel that stereotype. Certainly these places do exist, but they are the exception rather than the standard. My last night in Coromandel was spent with a Tazmanian guy in his forties who was on leave from being a school principal outside of Cleveland (weird), and a great couple from Hamilton, Ontario who were traveling the north island after living in the south island for the past 9 months. We talked hockey, and they gave me a good heads up on places to go.

That all brings me to my present location which is Raglan, a small surfer town on the westcoast of the North Island. I woke up yesterday to more sunny skies and basically did not want to head into the southern mountains, so I chose to drive the 200km across the entire island to this town which is apparently known worldwide as having the best left-breaking surf. The drive was simple enough, and although I am not yet confident on the roads, I'll say that driving on the left is not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. The lack of cars on the road helps, I have seen two traffic lights in total, which are replaced by the somewhat confusing clockwise revolving traffic circles.....which test my ability to navigate reversed traffic patterns. Gas is expensive, not terribly so, but to the point where even with the favorable exchange rate, its more expensive then in the States. Raglan is what you'd expect from a surf town, laid back, artsy, lots of herbal stores, and quiet cafes. I got in yesterday and immediately took a sea kayak into the bay for an amazing trip extra the bay to some rocky shoreline. I came a bit too close to some sort of bird nesting area and was attacked by birds. The kayak paddle became a weapon which almost made contact with some very aggressive sea birds.

The backpackers lodge here is a bit more crowded, but as luck shall have it the owner, Suze, granted me the beachhouse accommodation for the price of a dorm room last night. This meant I had a beach house, two stories with an outside balcony overlooking the bay to myself for $20US. Two brazilian guys ended up in one of the other rooms and we went out for a few drinks, but all in all, I had another restful night to myself in accommodations that would be steeply priced in the US.

Today I drove over to the surfer areas and watched the show. Impressive. A front is moving through and Im going to take it easy as its warm here by the wood burning stove in the hostel, but quite raw outside (50 with a mist and wind going).

Tomorrow I will probably lounge around here before finally making my way to the first mountain area of the trip, Taupo. Taupo is located smack dab in the middle of the north island and is within an hours drive of several key hiking areas as well as wine country. I'll be there from this Sunday through Thursday before heading down to Wellington next weekend, thus completing a 20 day tour of the north island.

Apart from what I feel to be an incoming head cold, I feel pretty good. As I alluded to before, even with the car serving as a quasi-storage facility, the general lack of a home wears on you. I think its unavoidable, and the only thing I can do to help with the lingering weariness is to stay in each location for about 48 hours. You meet travelers who run around day after day, driving countless kilometers to hit up as many sites as possible. I prefer to move slower, I certainly sacrifice a few days to sitting in cafes and wondering around aimlessly, but mentally I find the slower pace necessary.

As for the financials, which I know all of my hardworking NYC brethren are curious about. Between the car and nightly lodging, my fixed daily expenses average around $30 per day (13 for the car, and 17 for the lodging). Add in food, gas, and whatever other tours/rentals/drinking I may do and ultimately Im at about $50 a day. The more hiking I do, the cheaper my days are. I cook about 75% of my meals, and groceries are slightly cheaper here provided you buy local products. So financially, its not terribly expensive, but admittedly I indulge as the coffee here is uniformly amazing and, well, I like to eat well, so a night out for lamb is becoming a too frequent occassion.

Posted by efstein 21:58 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Making it happen

rental cars, sheep, the first hike, and at last a clear day.....

sunny 55 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

So I'm going to type quickly as I am on the clock here at the Tatahi Lodge in Hahei, New Zealand. Basically this will be a completely logistic entry. I have decided that I will also intermingle various esoteric musings on what I am doing and how I am feeling, but for clarity's sake, I'll write those in seperate entries. That being said.....

I decided on Sunday that a car rental would be the best thing for me to do as opposed to multiple bus packages or buying a beat up car. Three days later, I can confidently say that so far the rental car is proving its worth several times over and is clearly shaping up to be one of the first really good decisions I have made. The whole driving on the left thing freaked me out before I actually got behind the wheel, but in practice its not too bad. There are still a few rules I don't understand, but I am not driving the I-95 corridor, there a few people here and even fewer cars, making highway and country driving rather stress free.

Getting out of Auckland was easy enough, I drove through a cold wind and rain east, and then north to the Coromandel Peninsula on Monday afternoon. I arrived in an old gold mining town of Thames (not very attractive, but it is the jumping off point for exploring the peninsula). I arrived at the local international backpackers hostel around 6pm a cold rain continued with coastal winds adding an additional punch to my perverbial stomach. The hostel was really great, very warm, with a coal burning stove in a living room, pool table, and nice kitchen. I got my own room and I think the only other people were a kid from the states (actually he was from NJ) but he was boring so I left him alone and two german girls who were cold and mean in a way that only germans can be cold and mean (no offense Henrik :).

All along the point of getting to Coromandel on Monday night was in large part based on the weather which looked like it would be clearing on Tuesday. I woke up on Tuesday to dry but overcast skies. Having escaped the city, and finally in the country where I wanted to be all along, I moved quickly to get to a hike I had researched the night before. Generally, the hike was a loop up to an area called The Pinnacles where you could see both coast lines, about 600 meters up. (I will be using kilometers and meters as measurements, you can do the conversions). The hostel host politely advised me at 9am that I was running late and would be hard pressed to get out of the bush before night fall, given that in his estimate it got dark in the bush around 4pm. With those words of wisdom, I motored the car out of town and up about 25 kilometers of mountain road, which for the most part were unpaved.
The hike went fine, all overcast, not good for pictures, but I completed the 14km loop in just under 6 hours and was back at my car by 4 with daylight to spare (i'll blog the entire hike in another entry devoted to hiking shortly.)

I got back on the highway and decided that with clearing skies I wanted to head even further north to the quaint resort town of Coromandel about 50 km up the coast line from Thames. The drive itself was intense. Think the Pacific Coast Highway in California, only narrower, with no guardrails, and with locals tailgating the entire way. The speed limits in NZ are strange. In towns they are 50 kph everywhere else they are 100kph (or about 60 miles per hour). I think you would die driving this road at 100kph, but apparently the locals still do it. Anyways, I mosy on into Coromandel around 6pm. Stop into the Tui Lodge, a recommendation from the hostel owner in Thames, grab a bed (once again in a room by myself) and headed into town.

A quick note on food - with the rental car I have embraced the grocery store as its just so easy to get to stores and carry food around. Groceries are cheaper here than in America, and stores seem to have higher grade produce (like Whole Food levels) I have one of those refrigerated tote bags, and with temps rarely rising out of the 50s, food is preserved through the day before I get to the next place. (dont worry, Im not carrying around milk in my car for 6 days at a time). Point is, Im cooking most nights and making breakfasts most mornings on my own. In Coromandel, I was too exhausted to cook so I grabbed some fish n' chips for 5 bucks and headed back to the lodge. I ended up eating dinner with two swiss girls who were much nicer than the germans. I'll write about my thoughts on hostel conversations later as it deserves its own entry. The lodge also had free washers so I got my first wash in, which was kind of necessary.

I awoke today to a crisp 50 degrees and mostly clear skies. Although tired from the hike the day before I was on a mission today to see as much of the peninsula as possible before the next storm rolls in later in the week. All in all, I probably put down about 200 kilometers circling first north of Coromandel to the town of Colville. To call it a town is a bit of a loose definition as it was nothing more than a general store and post office. By ratio I'd say it was 1000:1 lambs to people for the entire morning. I can try to analogize the land to other areas I've traveled perhaps the French or Swiss countrysides, a bit of coastal California, and a bit of Cape Cod and the Maine coastline, but really its all of those places minus all of the people. I should remind everyone that while I am in what amounts to the resort area for Aucklanders during summer weekends, it is all but deserted at this time of year. From Colville I looped through more mountain roads, through coastal ridgelines and pastures before getting back to Coromandel for lunch. A note on Coromandel -- basically one hippie can sniff out when he is among his brethren, lots of art stores, organic food shops, mixed in with fishing industry types. Maybe, in a rough way like Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Kinda.

Out of Coromandel it was 46km across the peninsula to Whitianga (pronounced Fitianga, all wh places are F sounding). The goal here was The Cathederal Cove, a Big Sur-esque rock outcropping along the shoreline that amounts to a cave along the beach that links one beach to another. I wanted to get there for the sunset and I did. The photographer in me was disappointed as I did miss direct sunlight on the rocks, but I got enough good shots and the weather was just amazing. Mid to upper 50s, calm and clear. I passed many quiet beaches along the way to Whitianga, getting out at a few and walking along them. I was the only person on 5 miles stretches of white quartz sand beaches. It was a very nice experience.

I am now heading to sleep, the lodge is the only one open in town so its a bit more crowded the past few nights - a german family, a few americans, and korean girl. Tomorrow morning I'll be waking up for low tide and heading to hot water beach where you can dig into the sand and create your own hot whirlpool of water. I'll report on what this actually means shortly. Until then....good night or good morning

Posted by efstein 03:13 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rain, rain, go away

its raining and I figure its a good time to summarize my initial thoughts on Kiwis.... Travel plans are taking shape.

rain 55 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

Its never good to find yourself in an internet cafe too often while on the road, but honestly, there is not much more to do in this weather. We have a front moving in from the Tasman Sea today with locally heavy rains and gale force winds for the next 24-48 hours. Its not all bad as I am in full research mode trying to find the best rental car deal to get myself moving out of Auckland. You'll be happy to know that I decided against buying a car....a bit too much of gamble for only 8 weeks in the country.

Yesterday was actually quite pleasant. It was overcast but warm and I walked through Victoria Park to the posh outer neighborhood of Ponsby. The best analogy for this area would probably be the Brookline neighborhood in Boston. Very gentrified with nice cafes, lots of restaurants and fine food shops. Its a bit too quiet for any NYC neighborhood comparisons. Anyways it was a very nice walking area and I'll probably go back up there with a few people from the hostel for my last meal in Auckland tonight. The rest of Auckland has grown on me a bit. Its much hillier than Boston or NYC, perhaps a bit more like Montreal. The parks are extremely well kept and in general the city is very clean.

Now is probably too early to make over all assessments of the Kiwis and this country but my first impressions based on Auckland are the following. The locals are incredibly friendly. I have spoken to bus drivers, cafe baristas, bartenders, and just locals on the street and each time I am made to feel that the conversation is not a burden on the local. In theory, if your country is as far away from western civilization as New Zealand and relies so heavily on tourism, it makes sense that the locals' disposition is so friendly, it certainly makes travelling more pleasant.

Standard of living seems extremely nice, if not high. The locals are well dressed and drive relatively new cars. Homes seem modern, clean, and in general you do not see much poverty or signs of drugs. I have a feeling this might change outside of Auckland.

American influence is strong here, most obviously in the movie and music worlds. I have heard Eminem's new single more than I would like and the cinemas have all of Hollywood's latest releases.

I guess one of the bigger surprises is the ethnic makeup of Auckland. Rough numbers would be 65% caucasian, 20% Asian, and the rest a combination of indigenous Maori and very few african americans. I was caught off guard by the asian population, guess it makes sense, as we are relatively close to southeast asia, but they really do constitute the only minority in Auckland and the amount of asian food here is stunning. For what its worth I am told that outside of Auckland its basically 95% caucasian, and in the South Island the relative lack of people 1,000,000 in an area the size of ohio should be interesting.

The weather is ridiculous. When the sun comes out it warms up to the mid 60s, but when the clouds return it gets chilly in a matter of minutes. Fog rolls in off the bay without much notice, and the rain itself is almost always very light, but nevertheless cold.

Things that do not exist here - vitamin water or any type of offshoot, sliced turkey, and cabs.

People stay to the left on the sidewalk as opposed to the right.....its hard to reverse my NYC pedestrian tendencies.

Escalators go down on the left and up on the right....I mean cmon thats just not right.

Apart from those observations, the only other thing is the insanity that is traffic lights. I laugh at how New Yorkers would freak out at the system down here. To legally cross the street you have to hit a button on the light stand and wait until the lights work there way to a four way stop. At that point all four corners of pedestrians walk across or diagonally through the street.

In more important news, I connected with this American backpacker who is living on the South Island. We found each other on a new zealand backpackers forum for travelers looking for hiking buddies. Turns out he is a bit younger, graduated college in the states recently and is living in New Zealand for a few months. We are set to meet up on July 17th in Christchurch, rent a car, and travel the relatively uninhabited, but supposedly beautiful southern coast of the south island. It will be cold...highs in the 40s lows around freezing, but its a bonus to find someone to split the cost of the car and to have with you on the hiking trails.

So really my plans have become much clearer. Tomorrow or Tuesday I'll rent a car and drive to The Coromandel Peninsula for 3 days. From there its south to Wellington with stops in Tongiraro National Park and other areas depending on time and weather conditions. I'd like to get to Wellington by the July 14th so I can have 3 nights there before taking the ferry to the south island and bussing it to Christchurch to meet Ryan. Everything I have heard about Wellington makes me think I'll regret not having a long stretch of time there. We than plan on devoting about 18 days to get through Caitlins National Park, Steward Island, Invercargill, and finally to Fjordland to attempt some winter hiking in the world famous Kepler and Milford Tracks before arriving in Queenstown/Wanaka area (which is the area I had initially thought I'd be spending most of my time in).

Once in Queenstown it will be the heart of winter (early August), and I'll try to ski and explore the area for about 20 days. Then, in theory, its off to Australia.

Posted by efstein 18:29 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Decisions, decisions, decisions.....

where to go, and how to get there?

overcast 58 °F
View Summer - Fall 2009 on efstein's travel map.

Still here in Auckland, getting a bit more settled. Its been rather dreary the last three days with occassional rain and temperatures in the low 60s. I am staying in central Auckland, which, although clean and nice is generally unimpressive. They have a sky tower here that dominates the skyline, similar to the one in Toronto or Seattle. The city itself is somewhat disjointed, with several yuppier neighborhoods about a twenty minute walk from downtown. The parks are extremely well kept and large so I have been doing day walks the last two days.

Hostel life is as I left it - dominated by U.K. nationalities the majority of which are young (20-24) and drunk. Most people I meet are taking advantage of New Zealand's extremely lenient work visa requirements which allow people to work down here for a year. As the economic lifeline of the country, Auckland is logically the place where many backpackers come to settle for a few months and find work. Although I have the work visa, I am not inclined to make use of it here. The city is at best average, and with so much more to see I am spending the next 48-72 hours making some big decisions on how to best move on from here.

I have determined where I'll be going next. East of Auckland on the Northeast peninsula of the northern island is an area called The Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty. In part this decision is based on my desire to avoid cold weather. Yes, I know its winter here, but the immediate change from sunny Los Angeles to Auckland has left me wanting a bit more warmth. I do not expect balmy temps., but it will be warmer than heading south and the reviews of this area from other backpackers are very high. After Coromandel, it will be off toward Wellington with stops at Rotorua (a tourist trap, that I'll briefly subject myself too), Taupo, and obviously some hiking in Tongariro National Park.

All in all, I expect to be arriving in Wellington around July 10-14th for a few nights in what I have been told is a much nicer town than Auckland. The big question is how will I do this. If I want to sit back, and pay a tour bus to haul me through these areas with 50 other backpackers, I have about 5 different tour bus options. Ultimately, these buses limit flexibiilty and steer you toward spending money. The backpacker buses are the obviously easy choice. Filled with younger people, the buses travel a circuit similar to where I want to go and offer jump on jump off flexibility. This means I can buy a pass and use it when I want to get from place to place. The problems are twofold. One, the buses only run 4 times a week, and two they are filled with drunk idiots. Again, generalizations, but when I have come this far alone, it seems somewhat disingenous to myself to think that I need a bus full of backpackers to help me travel. Additionally, places like Coromandel and Tongariro reward those travellers who get off the beaten path. The buses promote themselves as good options for getting people to these areas, but implicit within that statement is the oxymoron that the places buses do go can hardly be deemed 'off the beaten track'.

I will instead be renting or buying a car. I know what you are all thinking buying a car....what is this kid doing. Its a gamble, but buying a car would be the cheapest way of traveling if the car doesnt fall apart and I am are able to resell it after my travels in late august. Insurance is done differently here and basic coverage comes with the purchase of the car. The market is a buyers market because most backpackers are leaving the country in the winter and when I'll be leaving it will be a seller's market as more people will be coming for the warmer season. Up front cost is about $1000NZ. Otherwise I could just go rent a car, Im seeing rates for about $15 a day.

Not much else to say, I should be on route to Coromandel on Monday or Tuesday, so I will have made my vehicle decisions by then.

Posted by efstein 16:19 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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