after ten days this are my impressions and what I have learned.
07/04/2009 - 07/04/2009 52 °F
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.
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.
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.....