1. There aren’t many people
If you don’t think humans are great company, New Zealand will be perfect for you. In a country that’s about 20,000 sq km larger than the United Kingdom, there are only around 4.8 million people. Contrast that with the 66.5 million people living in the UK. What’s more, over 86% of Kiwis live in urban areas, so the countryside is a fairly empty experience. For some that means “lonely”, for others it’s wonderfully “people free”.
2. But there are many sheep
On the other hand, you can’t move for sheep. They’re dotted all over the New Zealand landscape like fluffy white clouds, chomping grass and seriously outnumbering their human masters. That’s right, for every one New Zealander there are about six sheep. The total number of these woolly creatures is nearly 30 million, so in a sheep uprising the Kiwis would really have no chance; they’d get a sound bleating.
3. They have a very special accent
The New Zealand accent can be pretty confusing for newcomers. A Kiwi can sound Australian, South African and American in the space of five words. If you’re moving over there, you should forget everything you’ve ever learnt about vowel sounds. An ‘i’ sounds more like ‘uh’, so ‘fish and chips’ becomes ‘fush and chups’. Meanwhile, an ‘e’ sounds more like an ‘i’, which can cause a whole world of confusion. ‘Bed’ sounds like ‘bid’, ‘ten’ sounds like ‘tin’, ‘deck’… well, you get the idea.
4. And some special slang
You don’t need to learn a new language to live in New Zealand, but knowing some of the Kiwi lingo might be helpful. There are a lot of strange words and phrases flying around. Cling film is known as ‘glad wrap’, which makes it sound much more fun to use than it really is. A cool box is a ‘chilli bin’, a holiday home is a ‘bach’, flip-flops are ‘jandals’, and the middle of nowhere is known as the ‘wop wops’. If you’re just popping to the ‘dairy’ then you’re heading to the local shop (it doesn’t just relate to cheese and milk). Most importantly, if someone says ‘yeah-nah’, they’re not being indecisive – it’s just a very casual way of saying ‘no, thank you’.
5. Humans were late to the party
You know when you find a fiver down the back of the sofa? That’s sort of like what happened with us and New Zealand. The country was the final part of the world to be discovered by the human race. We thought we’d inhabited everywhere, then some East Polynesians went on a canoe trip and found two huge islands full of defenceless birds. What a find! Archaeological evidence suggests humans didn’t set foot on New Zealand until around 1250-1300. That’s over seven hundred years ago, but in historical terms that’s crazy late. These East Polynesians would become the indigenous New Zealanders known as Māori, who got there about three hundred years before the white men.
6. Meet the ‘ordinary’ people
Māori people didn’t always call themselves Māori. They belonged to different tribes (or iwi), such as Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Porou. However, once the Europeans (first the Dutch, the the British) set foot on New Zealand, the native people needed a way to differentiate themselves from the white invaders. So they came up with ‘Māori’, which means ‘ordinary’. Today, 14% of New Zealand’s population are ‘ordinary’ people, and Māori is one of the country’s official languages. There are lots of Māori place names in New Zealand, but you should know that ‘wh’ is pronounced with an ‘f’ sound, for example Whakapapa is actually Fakapapa.
7. Barefoot is fine
We all know shoes are just horrible foot prisons. They cost money, they smell, they can give you blisters, and nobody likes the dilemma of choosing which pair to wear. The Kiwi solution is just not to wear any. Over in New Zealand, some people step straight out of the house with nothing on their feet and it’s perfectly normal. You’ll see folk wandering the streets, supermarkets and cafes just totally barefoot and without a care in the world. This has got something to do with Kiwis being very laid back, and also the Māori belief that being barefoot brings you closer to nature. If you wander around shoeless and step in dog poo, don’t complain; you’re just connecting with the nature really well. Embrace it (but wash it off before you go into a supermarket).
8. The weather is very unpredictable
New Zealand might be fairly close to the hot and sunny land of Australia, but Kiwi weather is very different. Not only are the temperatures much less extreme than they are in Oz, but it’s also possible to have “four seasons in one day”. This saying was created by drama queens who like to exaggerate a bit. What they really mean is that it can be sunny one moment and rainy the next, which any Brit should be used to.
It’s all down to location; the two islands of New Zealand are surrounded by some of the wildest seas in the world, which can make things rather exciting. A day might start out hot and sunny and by midday become a miserable blast of cold wind and rain, all thanks to the crazy Pacific Ocean. If you’re off exploring the wop wops, be sure to bring a brolly.
9. There’s a hole in their ozone
We really need the Earth’s ozone layer to protect us from the sun’s harmful rays, so we decided to put a massive hole in it. Unfortunately, it’s the Aussies and Kiwis who are paying the price. The ozone layer is much thinner over there, which means there’s a dangerous amount of UV radiation whenever the sun shines. When you’re in New Zealand, even if the sunlight doesn’t feel very hot, you should still protect yourself properly. On the hottest days, we’d advise nothing less than a full suit of armour and a parasol.
10. Welcome to the ‘Shaky Isles’
New Zealand is a hotbed of tectonic activity. The dramatically-named Pacific Ring of Fire is home to the majority of Earth’s volcanoes and earthquakes, and New Zealand sits right on top of it. This means the Kiwis experience around 14,000 quakes every year, although only about 100-150 of them can be felt by normal humans. It’s no wonder the country is known as the Shaky Isles. Volcanoes are less of a regular problem, but when they happen, they really happen. The world’s biggest volcanic eruption of the past 5,000 years took place in New Zealand, leaving a huge crater that filled with water and became the beautiful Lake Taupō. One of the volcanoes on the South Island (now dormant) is called Mount Horrible. Never has there been a more appropriate name for a volcano.
11. You’ll find amazing landscape everywhere
If there was a beauty pageant for countries, New Zealand would probably win. It’s almost dangerously breathtaking. The country is spectacular from end to end, and about one third of it is made up of protected national parks. That means it won’t be turning into hotels and car parks any time soon. If you like freakishly colourful hot mud pools, check out Wai-O-Tapu on the North Island, while the South Island is home to the world-famous Milford Sound fjord. Icy mountains, forests, vast lakes and white beaches; New Zealand’s got the lot.
12. They’ve got the clearest lake in the world
What’s the main thing you look for in a lake? Well you can’t look for anything in a lake without transparency. New Zealand’s Blue Lake is the clearest lake in the world, according to New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research… and they’re not biased or anything. Situated in Nelson Lakes National Park on the South Island, Blue Lake offers visibility of up to 80 metres. That’s almost the same as distilled water. Māori have always regarded this lake as sacred, so you’re not allowed to use it as a bath for your gross body. Perhaps that’s how it’s stayed so clear.
13. You’re always near a beach
At literally any moment in New Zealand, you are never more than 128 km (about 80 miles) away from a beach. Obviously if you’re on foot then 80 miles may as well be 800 miles, but it’s only about an hour or so’s drive in a car. This makes emergency visits to the seaside very easy. Just watch out for the sharks (they’re like the Aussie sharks but they pronounce their vowels a bit differently).
14. Keep an eye out for hobbits
Some huge films have been shot in New Zealand, including King Kong, Avatar, The Chronicles of Narnia and, of course, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchises. Filmmakers just can’t resist having those Kiwi backdrops in their films. Tourism for The Lord of the Rings has been (and still is) a particularly massive cash cow for New Zealand, has pumped over $200 million into its economy so far. People come from all over the world to visit the filming locations that Peter Jackson used, including the village of Hobbiton (which is a real sheep farm) and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (the one Frodo and Sam walked over to reach Sauron). It’s ok to be a nerd over there.