I am writing this on the Sunday Morning of the finals of the Rugby World Cup in Auckland, New Zealand. Tonight’s final match will be the New Zealand All Blacks vs Les Bleus of France.
I was last in New Zealand in 2007. I spent 3 weeks driving around the country and the one thing I came away with was that the three biggest sports in New Zealand were rugby, rugby and rugby. I see rugby fields in parks and at schools. I’ve seen kids throwing and kicking rugby balls at the beach. Yesterday I went to a horse track in Auckland and the announcers were taling about….rugby.
In all my travels I’ve never seen an entire country so singularly focused on one team as New Zealand is on the All Blacks. Yes, they have a national soccer and cricket team, but they seem to take a very distant back seat to the All Blacks. Continue reading “The Rugby World Cup”
When this is posted, I should be arriving in New Zealand via Qantas Airlines for the first time in over 4 years. I’ll be spending the next 10 days driving around with Aussies who are there for the Rugby World Cup. Because I never did it last time, I think it is time for another installment of “8 Facts You Might Not Have Known…”
Ladies, gentlemen and Kiwis of all ages. With the assistance of New Zealand native son Craig Martin, author of the Travelling Europe ebook, I present to you the Seven Wonders of New Zealand!
White Island Known as Whakaari in the local Maori dialect, the name “White Island” came from Captain Cook who thought it was always in a cloud of white steam. Located in the Bay of Plenty near the North Island, it is an active volcano and was the former location of a sulfur mining operation which ended in disaster. Helicopter and boat trips to the island leave daily from Whakatane.
Milford Sound Perhaps the most magnificent location in all of New Zealand, Milford Sound is technically a fijord. Viewing the sound is done via many boat tour operators which operate from the harbor. Day trips leave from Queenstown, which is the closest major city to Milford Sound. The Milford Track is also one of the most popular hiking trails in the country. The number of hikers on the track is limited to 40 per day. If you visit during a rain storm, you can witness hundreds of waterfalls which will appear on the walls of the sound.
Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers The only glaciers in the Pacific, Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers have the unique distinction of being the only glaciers in the world which flow into tropical forests. Only a 30 min drive from each other, the glaciers can be accessed from the town of Franz Joseph Glacier. Both glaciers are very accessible by walking, though it is not recommended to get to close because of dangers from falling ice. Also unlike many glaciers around the world, both glaciers have been advancing since the mid 1980s.
Poor Kinights Islands The Poor Knights were named by Jacques Cousteau as one of the 10 best dive locations in the world. He probably knew what he was talking about. Located in the north end of the North Island, the Poor Knights shows the diversity of the geography of New Zealand, as you can go diving in tropical waters one day and visit fjords and glaciers the next. The Poor Knights are a protected marine reserve. The Poor Knights are best accessed from Whangarei or Tutukaka, north of Auckland.
Rotorua Rotorua is one of the most active geothermal areas in the world. You can find boiling mud and pools of scalding water in the city parks. There are also geysers and geothermal spas nearby. You will know when you are close to Rotorua because of the strong sulfur smell in the city. In addition to the geothermal attractions, Rotorua is also a hub for adventure tourism as well as water sports on Lake Rotorua. Rotorua can be reached in a days driving from Auckland.
Tongariro National Park Home of the real Mount Doom and many of the landscapes from The Lord of the Rings, Tongariro National Park is home to three active volcanoes: Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. The park has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tongariro Track is one of the most popular hiking destinations for backpackers in New Zealand, and Tongariro also has one of the most popular ski slopes in the country.
All Blacks While not a traditional type of selection, the All Blacks are perhaps the sports team which is most closely associated with a single country. The three most popular sports in New Zealand are rugby, rugby and rugby. The All Blacks are the New Zealand national rugby union team and have been playing for over 100 years. The team name is believed to have come from a typo in a British newspaper who wanted to describe the Kiwis as all backs. Always ranked near top of world standings, they have sadly only won a single world cup. They are famous for the haka, a Maori war dance, which they perform before every match. Watch a video of the haka.
Today is ANZAC* Day in Australia, New Zealand and several countries in the Pacific (Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji I think). It is the day which Australians and Kiwis remember their war dead. In the US it would be the equivalent of Memorial Day, or Remembrance Day in the UK.
ANZAC Day, from what I’ve gathered, has actually become the biggest national holiday in Australia. Bigger than Australia day. During the drive up to Cairns, I had been listening to talk of ANZAC day on the radio for the week leading up.
Every nation seems to have some sort of day similar to ANZAC day where they honor war dead. The thing which makes ANZAC Day different than most is the day which they celebrate. April 25 is the anniversary of the 1915 invasion of Gallipoli in Turkey during WWI. The reason why picking this day to commemorate is odd is that Gallipoli, in a strict military sense, was a disaster. Most nations tend to pick days which coincide with victory, which is why many European countries pick November 11 as Remembrance Day (the end of WWI) or the end of WWII like the Russians (May 9).
The Battle of Gallipoli was an attempt by the Allies to land in the Dardanelles, capture Istanbul and link up with Russia by sea. If successful, it would have knocked the Ottoman Empire out of the war. Planning for the invasion was done by then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. You could sort of think of it as a WWI version of landing at Normandy.
It never worked and the Allies never made any serious ground in Turkey. Even though Turkish casualties where higher, the defeat of the Allies, the Turks felt empowered to try and take other British possessions in the Middle East. (go watch Lawrence of Arabia for that part of the war).
The total number of deaths at Gallipoli was close to 100,000. 45,000 Allies and 55,000 Turks. About 7,500 Aussies and 2,700 Kiwis were killed. Australians had the highest casualty rate in WWI.
Gallipoli looms large in Australian history. My knowledge of it primarily came from the movie Gallipoli with a young Mel Gibson. When I visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the exhibit on Gallipoli took up (what I thought) was an unusually large portion of the entire museum.
Even though the battle didn’t go so well, Gallipoli was perhaps the first time when Australians and New Zealanders fought and considered themselves as such, rather than just British subjects overseas. That is, as best I can figure, why this is honored here, as opposed to November 11.
Today Gallipoli is a very popular tourist attraction for Aussies and Kiwis. ANZAC day is celebrated there at dawn each year. ANZAC Day has a big Australian Rules Football game every year (sort of like how the NFL plays on Thanksgiving). There are also smaller ANZAC celebrations around the globe. The US Marines have hosted an ANZAC Day celebration in Hawaii for Australians and Kiwis for many years.
The other big tradition are ANZAC cookies, or ANZAC biscuits as they are called here. They are basically an oatmeal cookie sent to troops in WWI. They aren’t bad, but I can think of many things I’d rather eat for dessert.
Other than some obvious things like driving on the left, I’m amazed at how easy it is for an American to fit in, in New Zealand. As I was driving around the country, I could just as easily have been in any number of US states. As I’d drive around, I’d say “this is just like the Pacific Northwest”, “this is just like the Rockies”, “this is just like Kentucky”, or “this is just like Northern California”. The people are nice, its very clean (very), and there are tons of things to see. Here are some things that stuck out in my mind:
Everything I’ve purchased so far had the tax included in the sale price. If you see something for $2.50, that $2.50 includes the GST. I have no clue what the GST here is. Its very well hidden. I spoke with an American working in a sporting goods store in Auckland who said it was like 12% and there is another 12% on imported goods. Many things here are pretty pricey. Not ridiculous, but more than you’d expect.
One thing which is cheap is lamb. Its dirt cheap. I purchased 3 nice sized lamb chops for dinner tonight for about NZ$5.50. That’s about US$3.50. Fish is also pretty cheap. I’ve been eating lamb almost every night, because why not? I’m in New Zealand. One night I also ate smoked roe….smoked fish eggs. It wasn’t bad.
Driving around, I saw farms everywhere. Until I reached Wellington however, I didn’t see a single bit of cultivated land. No crops. Nothing. Everything was grazing cattle and sheep. Granted it’s winter here, but I didn’t even see any barren land. In the Midwest of the US, when you see dairy farms, you usually see fields of corn, alfalfa, or hay. Here, it seemed all the dairy farms had their cows just graze on grass. I did see some hay bales so it must be grown somewhere, but I didn’t see any. The only major cultivation of anything I’ve seen so far are vineyards on the South Island (Marlborough Region).
Their smallest coin is 10 cents. They have recently phased out the 5 cent coin. All purchased I’ve had with odd numbers have been rounded. This is a good case study for getting rid of the penny in the US, and probably the nickel too.
Their paper currency is almost plastic. All the bills do have a transparent bit of plastic on them (two in fact). Edmund Hillary is on their $5 note, which I think is very cool. Their coins go up to $5 and the $1 and $2 coin are very common. There are no bills smaller than $5.
The three most popular sports in New Zealand are rugby, rugby and rugby. The big New Zealand team are the All Blacks (actually, legend has it the team got its name from a typo in a UK newspaper during a trip in 1905). Ruby is huge all over the Pacific. Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands produce great rugby players. I got to listen to the NZ/France test match on the radio while driving.
You might not know it (and you would if you visited Auckland) but the Rugby World Cup is happening in about three months. I did a bit of research and it turns out that the USA is playing in the World Cup. I’m guessing that most Americans don’t know that. I’m also guessing that when the World Cup happens, it will get zero media attention in the US. (FYI, the US team are called the Eagles).
Any American that watches rugby will get it immediately. Its really similar to football (called “gridiron” here). The ball is sort of the same. The field is pretty much the same. The object of the game is similar (get the ball into the endzone). Unlike football, its more fluid like hockey or basketball. You move the ball forward by running and you can only lateral the ball. Its obvious watching rugby where American football got its roots. You can even see why the forward pass was such a big innovation. The big difference between rugby and football are 1) football has plays where as rugby action is continuos, and 2) rugby has no dedicated offense and defense.
I think the USA could put together an awesome rugby team by just taking a bunch of washed up college and high school football players. Rugby players are built like brick shithouses. Get former fullbacks and linebackers and they’d do great.
The reason why American Football will have a hard time gaining popularity overseas is because of rugby. Rugby is cheaper to play (no expensive pads and helmets) and you only need half the players.
I have encountered one sport here I’ve never heard of before: Netball. I don’t know much about it other than what I’ve seen on TV, but it seems like basketball without dribbling or a backboard, and it looked like you play with a volleyball.
Netball is REALLY stupid. Women don’t need a special version of basketball. They can play basketball just fine. What is really stupid about Netball, is that all the players have to wear what position they play on their jersey. That is like Bret Favre having to have “I AM TEH QUARTERBACK” on the front of his jersey, least he forget.
NZ is also in the finals of the America’s Cup right now. Its getting a lot of press because the team they are facing is pretty much made up of Kiwi’s. In fact, most of the boats had Kiwi’s in major positions.
Current Events and Culture
The big story while I’ve been here was a woman in Auckland who was on oxygen who died when her power was cut off. This sort of gives you an idea for how small the country is. Things which would only be news at a local level are national here.
I saw some sort of current events “comedy” show on TV and it was horrible. I forget the name, but the actors had exaggerated faces of political officials. While I’m not up on NZ politics, I know funny when I see it. I can watch shows from the UK or Canada and laugh even if I don’t know everything. This was not funny, however.
All the toilets here have two flush buttons. At first I didn’t know why. I assumed (correctly as it turned out) that they were for full and half flushes. The thing is, I don’t really notice a difference between the two buttons when you use them.
Before coming here, I sort of assumed that a Kiwi accents was just sort of a watered down Australian accent. It sort of is in the south island, but its really closer to an English accent. Some people I talked to seemed to have accents more British than the British.
The populations of the North and South Islands seem different too. More places in the north have Maori names than in the South. The north has more Maori, and Auckland in particular has a very big Asian population. I saw almost no Asians outside of Auckland.
NZ has had a bad history with Maori/European relations in the past, but they’ve delt with it better than the US did with Indian relations.
A great example is the All Blacks. Before every match, they perform the Haka, which is a Maori war dance. It’s very cool:
There is a high school in Texas with a big Tongan population that does this before football games.
I find it interesting how doing the Haka (and singing the NZ national anthem in Maori) are done as a sign of respect to the Maori, but in the US, if you name a sports team after an Indian tribe or did a dance, it is considered offensive.
You know you want it and here it is. The New Zealand McDonald’s update.
Any discussion of New Zealand McDonald’s has to start with the Kiwiburger.
The slogan for the Kiwiburger is “Kiwiburger: That’s Our Tucker”.
I have no clue what that means. I guess it is some sort of Kiwi slang that is supposed to endear people to “their” native burger.
The Kiwiburger itself is a burger with two special ingredients: egg and beet. Why those two things are special to NZ is beyond me. I’d think a much more local thing would be a burger made out of lamb or mutton, but I guess not.
How did it taste? Surprisingly, not bad. Once you realize that every breakfast sandwich and omelet combines egg and meat, it really isn’t a stretch to put and egg on a burger. Likewise, the beet wasn’t bad. It added a sort of sweetness to the burger. I thought it would be terrible, but it wasn’t at all. I could certainly see adding an egg to burgers in the future.
What else about NZ McDonald’s?
All over NZ, almost every McDonald’s I saw had a McCafe attached. It’s their answer to Starbucks. They sell higher grade coffee and espresso as well as pastries and other baked goods. One McDonald’s in Wanganui had internet terminals too.
Likewise, the menu in most places had more deli type sandwiches and fewer burger options, although the traditional chicken sandwich, fish sandwich and chicken nuggets were everywhere.
All stores also had special deals for after 5pm where you could get value meals for 2-4 people. You could get a family mean for NZ$20 which you got 4 burgers, 4 fries, 4 drinks and 4 sundaes. It was actually a good deal.
The breakfast menu had a BLT bagel, which at ate on two occasions. It is just as it sounds and is really good. I’m very pro-BLT.
I got a brochure at a McDonald’s and read about the ingredients they use. All meat and eggs come from New Zealand. 95% of produce also is local. The only thing that didn’t appear to be grown locally were potatoes.
I noticed the same thing when I was in the UK. The McDonald’s touted all their local food. I thought hard about why they would do that, figuring there has to be a better reason than just good publicity. I think in the end it has to do with cost. Shipping meat and produce from far away just costs more. I’ll be interested to see where nations without a lot of ranching get their meat from.
I have most of my New Zealand photos up now. (Well, I took over 400 photos, but I have what I think are the best ones up)
You can view the New Zealand group here.
I had a hard time taking photos in NZ because of the overcast skies. The good photos either didn’t have any sky in it, or there was some sunlight that managed to peek through.
One goal I have is to be able to decorate my house with photos from my trip. I hope to get at least one really good photo from each location that could get printed and go up on the wall. I think I’m about on track so far. Please feel free to add a comment on any Flickr photos you like. All my photos are distributed under the Creative Commons license. That basically means, if you want to use it for a wallpaper or whatever, go ahead. If you use it online, just give attribution. You just can’t sell any prints….like that is a big worry.
This is where I’ve been living for the last two weeks.
The campervan is a pretty economical way to travel in New Zealand. The van cost NZ$39 per day and was a diesel, which sold for about NZ$0.97-1.04 per liter (there was also a NZ$3 per 100 km tax I had to pay at the end). The van came with bedding and cooking gear so I didn’t need to provide anything. The campsites I stayed at ran between NZ$12-20 per night. They had showers, internet terminals and kitchens. The combined savings for having your rental car be your lodging is probably worth it.
What I would have done differently is not made the drive back to Auckland. I would have just dropped the camper off in Queenstown and flown back to Auckland. Not only would I have saved money driving (and ferry fees) but I would have had several more days to see stuff as well.
As far as I know, they have similar campervan rentals in Australia and the UK. I’m sure I’ll end up using that when I’m in both places, as its is the cheapest way to travel and sleep.
I don’t want to have to drive back across Australia however….