Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Some Notes on New Zealand

If you're curious about this island country, here's a few observations:

Money: their money is beautiful, the "paper" bills feel like paper but are practically un-tearable, and each features some famous New Zealander on one side (except Queen Elizabeth on the $20) and native wildlife on the other. The bills even have a little clear patch with a watermark in it-- rather hard to forge, I think.
Maoris: The native New Zealanders are everywhere; they work in shops, drive the buses, I think even one of the pilots on the Air New Zealand plane was one. They have a distinctive look, kinda like Hawaiians. I was told by a little old lady on the bus that they have been given a lot of land back. For instance, she pointed out a mountain we were passing and said it was Maori-owned, and people were not allowed to go on it as it was sacred. Perhaps the U.S. government could learn something here.
Weather: It's exactly the opposite of the U.S. By that I mean it's exactly the same, only as you go south, it gets cooler. Being late summer here, Aukland up north was like Tampa's weather was last month: t-shirt & shorts. But a 10-hour bus trip south to Wellington means now I'm wearing jeans and a long-sleeve. Another odd thing I didn't think of-- the days are longer here. Well, sure, it's late summer... only I somehow didn't realized that would change the length of the day. Helloo? Wakey wakey, Dave!
Oh, and I have yet to see the constellations here. It's been cloudy every night except the first, when frankly I was so tired I forgot about it. Maybe tonight will be the night I see the Southern Cross!
Land: I don't know what my expectations were, but it seems pretty much the same as the U.S. east coast. It's very green, although that lady said there's been a drought here this summer. One sad thing: she pointed out miles of cleared land were you could see bulldozers had pushed all the trees into great mounds of decomposing matter. She said it was to make more room for dairy farms, and that it used to be all woods. Which seemed a little sad, to me, especially becuase, just a bit further on, we drove through endless miles of treeless scrubland. It seems if land needed to be cleared and grass planted, why not that area instead of woods?
The lady also asked me what the U.S. is doing about carbon credits. I had to tell her that U.S. corporations and the government don't give a hoot about carbon output or credits, which is frankly an embarrasment-- just one more reason to look forward to the end of the Bush administration.
But the main difference in the geography is underneath: it's very volcanic. Places where they've dug out (like on a highway through a hill) the earth is ash-grey. The main lake in the center of the North Island is an old volcanic caldera. Many of the cities are actually build on the sides of extinct volcanoes. And in the town of Rotorua, where there's steam vents and bubbling mud pools everywhere, you can even smell the sulphur!
Travel agencies are "Flight Centres", and there's a chain of PetSmart-type pet stores called "Animates".
There's an odd mixture, especially here in Christchurch, or old English place names (Canturbury Place, Worcester Street) and Maouri (Waitangi Rd, etc.)
Everyone's been asking me what I thought about the campaigning in the U.S. It seems they know more about it here than I do!
It's very English here: they drive on the left side of the road, every hotel has a teapot and tea in it, and in every town there are "Tearooms" and of course a pub or two, as well as a fish & chips shop.
The accents range from very posh, finishing-school English to rough country drawl almost as thick as an Australian's.
They seem to be a fairly "green" and forward-thinking country, yet they sell animal skins in tourist shops, and are flattening their own forests to make room for dairy and sheep farming, a rather unnecessary and highly inefficient way of making protein (of course, this happens all over the world as well). Fortunatley the big, ugly American way of factory farming, with its gigantic cattle barns and polluting feetlots, has not caught on much here yet, but it's probably just a matter of time. Veal is very much for sale here, as well as eggs from battery-caged hens.
All in all, New Zealand seems to be still an unspoilt, low-populated country. I would hate to see it paved over, Wal-Marted and Disneyfied, and turned into a mini-America... Please let it not be so.

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