On the eve of our departure, we decided to compile a list of our favorite things about New Zealand. To start, it's phenomenally easy to travel in -- unlike other countries (including our own), "tourist" is not a dirty word here, and the Kiwi people sincerely seem to want to make sure you're having an amazing time at every possible juncture. For example, NZ has this magical little concept called the i-Site: traveler centers in every town, small and large, that will impart valuable tourist information -- and will book all your accommodations and activities for free and with a smile. I'm not sure if this exists in other countries (certainly none I've traveled in), but I'm sure you can appreciate the convenience of *not* fumbling with a complicated foreign calling card in a sweaty phone booth, dialing hotel after hotel in search of a room. Here, you just pop into the neigborhood i-Site with a few names jotted down for as many future destinations as you please, and they do all the work for you. It's genius. Of course, the country itself is aesthetically gorgeous and there's so much to do -- in our four weeks, we only completed 11 of The Rough Guide's (excellent guide book, BTW) top 35 New Zealand sights. Oddly, the list did not include llama training.
Here are two dozen things that made our time here so special:
1. i-Sites, glorious i-Sites!
2. The design and architecture of Kiwi homes.
3. Latte bowls!
4. The diversity in landscape, from ocean to mountains to plains.
5. A wonderful week with Heather and Eugene.
6. The willingness of New Zealanders to put strangers up in their homes in exchange for a few hours of work each day, aka WWOOFing.
7. Monteith's beer!
8. It's large enough to sport international cuisine, but small enough to run into friends from home by surprise.
10. Clean, comfortable, and cheap hostels.
11. Selfishly, an improving US exchange rate.
12. The best sauvignon blanc on the planet.
13. Driving on the left side.
14. Helpfully marked, mapped, and difficulty-level-specified hikes in every town.
15. Handy electric water kettles everywhere. (Why don't we use these!?)
16. Dickie Roberts, Former Child Star, playing on the TV at exactly the right time.
17. Unique local artwork.
18. That the Kiwis speak English, but with a charming accent.
19. Hearing the s-word on plain old terrestrial radio.
20. SF-like weather.
21. The abundance of Campbells, Drakes, and even Preb(b)les.
22. Fun adventure activities.
23. High-speed internet access, on occasion.
24. Dirty Dancing, the musical!
Naturally, there are a few we won't miss, like local radio's preoccupation with Nickelback, paper-thin pillows, and nasty biting black flies on the west coast. We leave tomorrow morning for Sydney, where we're hoping to sublet an apartment for a month to hang our hats for a little bit. We're excited for the next phase of our travels. Goodbye, New Zealand! And thanks.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006