If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that I was recently quite taken with the idea of using a travel journal. Based on experiences of trying out travel journalling for my Namibian trip, for my recent trip to New Zealand, I allocated pages in my journal to: noticing one new thing each day, noting how I got around, finding ways to make the mundane interesting and writing down things I learnt each day.
This post is not about how those pages worked, but is the result of what I wrote on the pages during my trip. Now that I am home and pleased not to be living out of a suitcase, I find my jottings inspired me to reflect on my journey of discovering how New Zealand felt the same but different to being home.
“Travel does not exist without home….If we never return to the place we started, we would just be wandering, lost. Home is a reflecting surface, a place to measure our growth and enrich us after being infused with the outside world.” ― Josh Gates,
29th June 2018
When I land in Auckland (New Zealand) at 11:30pm, I am welcomed by airport signs that I can both read and understand, I am able to talk to the customs and security people in this English speaking country. On the shuttle drive to the apartment I feel at ease – they drive on the left too. In my jet-lagged state, I wonder if I am actually in a different country.
The next morning, I take the first opportunity I can to walk – in search of a supermarket to stock up on supplies for a week in my self-catering apartment. Slowly, I begin to notice differences. The roads are in excellent condition, there are wide pavements (sidewalks) for pedestrians and dedicated cycle lanes too. The pedestrian crossings at the traffic lights make a loud noise which startles me at first to indicate when it is safe to cross.
Inside the supermarket, I astounded at how quietly everyone does their shopping. Its like they are on Prozac. Outside, the streets are bereft of African taxis hooting at each other, there are no beggars or people offering help in exchange for a few coins, no loud conversations in a multitude of languages. African cities and towns are noisy.
New Zealand – many South Africans have chosen to make their homes there because the lifestyle is similar and one such person serves me at the checkout. In a stroke of serendipity, her mum attended the very university that I work at here in Grahamstown.
Back in the apartment, I notice small differences too – the light switch for the bathroom is inside the bathroom, there are sachets of hot chocolate snuggled in with the tea and coffee and the plug sockets are unlike any I have encountered before. With a sinking heart, I realise that I will not be able to charge my phone or tablet until I find a nifty USB port in the bedside alarm clock – ingenious.
The next day at the conference I have a close encounter with soft and thick (aka luxury) loo paper – in university loos! This is the case everywhere I go. In South Africa, toilet paper in public spaces is of the horrible stiff, single-ply variety. Public loos are in great supply too – they are everywhere, in all shapes and forms and with amusing signage!
I notice some that many are functional art! Take this funky public convenience on the Wellington Harbour as an example or this wonderfully designed ablution block at the beach in Sumner (just outside Christchurch)
6th July 2018
When the conference is over, it is time to get out into the real New Zealand and begin my tour of the country. In a barrage of sensory overload, I discover that there are more differences than I thought.
The roads outside the city of Auckland are single-carriageway, without a hard shoulder. It takes ages to get anywhere, and at this stage, I think its because we need to go around the mountains. But when we hire a car, I find out there is another reason – the speed limit is 100km/h on the state highways with restrictions between 50 and 70kms/h in the towns, and there are many, many little towns (even one with a population of 2 people – yes, two!) Our speed limit here in South Africa is 120kms/h on the open road and those roads are wide, often dual-carriageway and nearly always with a hard-shoulder. I notice that sensibly, double lines (to denote “no overtaking”) are painted in yellow – I think the change from white to yellow makes you aware that the road conditions have changed.
I notice that the roads bristle with hundreds of signs! I see that warning signs are a yellow diamond-shape but sometimes they are a neon orange. Corners are marked with the degree of curvature and big chevrons indicating the direction of the curve. Every bridge over a river, creek or culvert is numbered and named. The one thing that is the same – the brown signs used to highlight tourist attractions.
I’m intrigued when I visit cafes and restaurants by the signs regarding alcohol and intoxication. If one is already intoxicated, you cannot enter the premises; you may not get intoxicated on the premises and if you do, you will not be served and they will call transport to take you home. Complimentary water is always available to help you stay sober – I find it a godsend as it means I don’t have to buy bottled water. I am doubly happy as its so good for the environment too (no plastic bottles)!
Speaking of water, there seems to be an abundance of it everywhere – wide, long rivers, deep, dark lakes and the ocean. It is an indulgence to be able to luxuriate under a hot shower for longer than 5 minutes, although I don’t over indulge. Old habits die hard. SA is currently experiencing a severe drought, and there are water restrictions in place, which means very short showers, amongst other things.
As we pass through the volcanic North Island and the structurally unstable South Island, I think that the biggest difference is this geological aspect. South Africa is relatively stable with regards to volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes. New Zealand is not. I begin to see why people build their houses small and out of wood in the rural areas – perhaps they are easier to rebuild when disaster strikes. I am also amazed at the stories of how when something (a road, city and so on) is “broken” by a natural disaster, it is quickly put right.
As we are touring on buses and coaches, we cannot carry lots of food with us and eating and drinking become expensive. A chocolate bar costs about NZ$3.20 which converts to ZAR32. In SA, we pay a measly ZAR8 for the same chocolate bar – how can that be?! But, the establishments make up for the price of food with massive servings (take this burger as an example) and are happy to do split bills, even on cards. Tipping is not a requirement. We were told that staff are paid a living wage in NZ, so tips are to recognise exceptional service only. Here, an amount of at least 10% is generally added voluntarily to the bill to supplement the meagre wages of people who work in restaurants, cafes, hotels, petrol stations and so on.
On my morning walks (before getting onto a coach), I see that restaurants, businesses and private homes leave things out overnight – mostly unsecured. And unbelievably those things are still there in the morning! Well, need I say more! We even come across a couple of un-manned stalls on the side of the road, offering fresh produce like eggs and veggies, working on the premise that if you want said produce, you will pay the indicated amount for them, rather than just take them.
So many quirky things catch my eye:
- Rural and urban homes have letterboxes (plain plastic letter boxes, singly and in rows; decorated letterboxes…) – something that is rapidly becoming obsolete in South Africa as the postal service is appalling – most of us have our mail delivered electronically.
- Fabulous telephone booths in Dunedin – they are certainly not just functional…
- Beautifully painted bus stop shelters (both inside and out) on the Otago Peninsular – art is a part of the community
Like South Africa, New Zealand has a strong brand (ponga, the silver fern has been used to represent New Zealand since the 1880s) which appears on everything from passports to planes and lots of stuff in between. I find it creatively applied to the Air New Zealand uniforms – purple for cabin crew, green for ground staff and blue for management. The female cabin crew uniform is a work of art – just look at that jacket!
On one level New Zealand is the same as home but on another very different. By the end of my trip, I know deep in my heart that I have been in a different country for three weeks – a country where the people are knowledgeable and passionate about their home, one that seems to be law-abiding, well-organised and managed but with enough quirks to ensure it isn’t bland; clean and of course has exceptional natural beauty. Don’t get me wrong – I love Africa, it is in my blood. But without depreciating my own country and its own natural beauty, I know in all honesty that I cannot say the same things about South Africa. Which saddens me.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust
I have looked at New Zealand and my own country through the lenses of my travels and I liked what I found in NZ. I want to go back immediately, to experience more and to go to all the places that I couldn’t. To find out if I am looking at the world through rose-coloured spectacles.