It was probably a huge (or as the Kiwis would say massive) mistake to start our world travels in New Zealand. The way I see it now, it can only go downhill from here.
Piha Beach on the North Island
Clean and green with the friendliest people full of big bright smiles and a constant waft of strong coffee and fabulous food this is an ideal country for travel. The sea is blue, the grass is alternatively Irish emerald or California golden, and the sheep and the cows are dotting the countryside in large numbers just as expected. There are a lot more cows than what we remember from 32 years ago, when we first visited, but there are also exponentially more and better coffee shops and restaurants. Indeed, everything functions well: from picking up a car rental and getting a massive upgrade, to grabbing stacks of maps and tourist brochures available everywhere to the roads in good conditions plied by courteous, speed limit abiding drivers (even if everyone drives on the wrong side). The sites of interest are clearly marked, there are clean toilets on every corner, the visitor centers and museums are modern and well staffed. The vistas are jaw dropping, be it the tall mountain peaks, the lakes and sandy beaches of all hues or the vast meadows with majestic tree or two in the middle.
Sunset at Taeiri Mouth on the South Island
And then there are the people… Through the years I have measured the people and put them on the scale of my world favorites. My Number 1 friendliest people in the world started out with Turks, then went to Portuguese, then Iranians and now they have all been supplanted by the Kiwis. It is not only that they are incredibly friendly and hospitable, they have the most sunny, cheerful dispositions. Nothing is a problem and they have no complaints. They love their home country and don’t complain about the government. They welcome immigrants, they appreciate gays and lesbians. From the young man picking us up in car rental van, who loves the new (pregnant) prime minister to the barista in the coffee shop and the security officer at the airport, who helped us get our Swiss army knife back into the checked luggage-they are there for you with a big smile. Even the policeman who pulled us over for speeding through a settlement that did not look like a town to us, did not give us a ticket.
“No worries, mate!” is a common expression, always accompanied by a smile and the cutest of accents. But then we were told that the Kiwis are too nice to be honest.
You never forget your first–Our first ever Servas host Liz in Auckland
Still, I don’t mind their approach. Especially when that positive attitude spills into road signs. Instead of prohibitions and threats there are inducements and gentle reminders like Enjoy the Road not the Race, Safe Driving Speed, Take a Break—Drive Fresh or What Your Kids Want for Dinner is You.
The cheerfulness extends to brightly colored parks and playgrounds, public buildings, even warehouses. Even their money is strikingly beautiful. I particularly like the fact that the New Zealand 10 dollar bill sports the image of Kate Shepard, the country’s most prominent suffragette who worked hard to get New Zealand men to grant women the right to vote way before any other in the world.
We have experienced the Kiwi hospitality closer than most tourists. We have been hosted by local members of Servas, an international peace and understanding building organization. We have been invited to people’s homes for birthday parties, lunches and dinners, shown around their favorite places and plied with coffee, tea and stories. They have provided insight into their life and into their country. Our host Stan, a retired sheep farmer, made our wish come through and arranged a visit to a friend’s farm where we could see the shearing sheds and the real work with the sheep, the weighing of the lambs, the working of the dogs. Fascinating!
Some of those generous hosts were recent or long ago immigrants, all having one thing in common—loving New Zealand and not ever wanting to leave. We are tempted to stay ourselves.
Have you ever considered staying on in a country you visited? Which one and why?