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Five weeks from today we’ll reunite with our families at Logan airport. As we enter the twilight of our trip, it’s hard not to reflect on everything we’ve experienced: the people, the sights, the food, the weather, the lifestyle. The first six months were a case study in nomadic living, while we’ve spent the last five immersing ourselves in a unique and close-knit community. Between these two distinct experiences we’ve unearthed almost every corner of New Zealand and observed several differences between our present home and our past one.

Here are ten that range from subtle to obvious and everything in between:

1. Temperament

Preface: this is a sweeping generalization. Three words I’d use to describe New Zealanders are outgoing, easygoing and friendly. Those aren’t exactly the first descriptors that come to mind when I think about New Yorkers. Here’s an anecdote from my first day living in Manhattan:

A hot and sticky June afternoon. We hopped on a packed subway car and jostled for standing room. I grabbed the rail in front of a seated middle-aged lady. She surveyed the car, then bowed her head down and leaned over my flip-flops. And then she sneezed…all over my foot. I gaped at Meg and couldn’t help but blurt out, “Gross!!!” The lady looked at me and rolled her eyes, as if to say “welcome to the big apple kid.”

Conversely, on our first day in New Zealand–technically it was somewhere over international airspace between San Francisco and Auckland–we met Karen. She was our neighbor for the 14-hour flight. We mentioned that encounter back in September. Karen is so genuinely friendly and helpful; she put us in touch with her daughter, who needed a pet-sitter for November in Wellington, and more recently hosted us for a delicious dinner at her Nelson home when my dad and sister visited in May.

Karen, we want to thank you for your friendship this year. Hopefully our paths will cross again...on this side of the equator or the other!

Thank you for your friendship this year, Karen. Hopefully our paths will cross again…on this side of the equator or the other!

2. Pizza

Nothing beats a New York slice. Whether it’s noon or 4am, New York pizza always hits the spot. New Zealand pizza is different. It has a fraction of the cheese and sauce, is almost exclusively thin crust, and rarely sold by the slice.  But I love it. Kiwi pizzas have a deep appreciation for toppings, which is why I think they make a perfect meal (whereas NY pizza is a perfect snack). Fresh meat, local veggies and creative sauce combinations blend together exquisitely.

If you’re ever in the area and looking for a good feed, try one of these institutions that serve up delicious pizza with a handful of other kiwi specialties:

Costa’s Pizza, Raglan

Shawtys, Twizel

Fork and Tap, Arrowtown

3. Insulation

From our experience it seems that many homes in New Zealand are built without insulation. We’ve struggled to understand why–someone told us it has to do with building permits not requiring it, another person attributed it to costs (which is ironic given our heating bills)–but this has been our biggest grievance with winter here. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing our breath during all waking hours. This is how we dress for bed:

sleeping bag, winter hat, long underwear, sweatshirt/pants, smart wool socks

sleeping bag, winter hat, long underwear, sweatshirt/pants, smart wool socks

4. Immune Systems

New York is a crowded city that becomes a germaphobe’s nightmare during winter rush hour. The subway is a cesspool of runny noses and swine flu. There’s something inherently healthier and restorative about day-to-day life in New Zealand. It could be that the air is cleaner. Or the lifestyle is more active. Maybe it’s the fact that people use less chemicals on a daily basis–e.g. they clean their homes with sugar soap rather than a potent cocktail of Mr. Clean and Ajax. Whatever it is, the kiwi lifestyle is conducive to building a more resilient immune system.

the active lifestyle is definitely an immune booster

bright orange pants also boost your immune system

5. Suspension bridges

In the U.S., suspension bridges are large and provide access to cities. In New Zealand they occur everywhere to bring people into nature. You’ll encounter a suspension bridge on many walks or drives and it will feel like a scene out of Indiana Jones. They’re a lot of fun to cross, but some are quite narrow with weight limits that test your mental math skills.

at Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest peak

at Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak

6. Driving

Yes, they drive on the left here. But after four road trips and five months of owning a car, we’ve observed some subtler differences. Rotaries, or “roundabouts” as they’re called, are frequently used in place of traffic lights. They’re pretty efficient–so long as people know how they work.

State highways are usually two-lane roads with no medians and the occasional passing lane, which makes for some aggressive driving. Fortunately we’re from Boston by way of New York, so we have plenty of experience with such maneuvers.

The cars here are generally older than the ones at home. There is no societal pressure to drive a flashy new car, so people are content with twenty-year-old Subarus. This makes a lot of sense to us. As long as she’s a runner, why spend the big bucks when you could save the money for something more meaningful? Like, for example, a once in a lifetime trip.

there's no social pressures to get a fancy car, but we got one anyways

no social pressures to have a fancy car, but we got one anyways

7.  Coffee

We’ve covered this before. But to summarize the difference: kiwi coffee is almost exclusively espresso-based. You can’t just order a plain coffee. If you do, the barista will stare at you until you realize you aren’t in Kansas anymore. Typical coffee orders here are flat-whites, cappuccinos, and the indulgent mochaccino. While we’ve enjoyed these caloric delicacies, we’d be lying if we said we aren’t excited to walk into a cafe and say: “large coffee, please.”

recently engaged friends Bart and Kate enjoying their espresso beverages

recently engaged friends Bart and Kate enjoying their frothy espresso beverages

8. Pets

In the U.S. people have cats and dogs. Lots of New Zealanders have cats and dogs too. But some residents have less traditional pets. In Glenorchy we met April, an eccentric character who let us pose with her roommate:

April's pony, Lacey

April’s pony, Lacey

Another difference is that people own pets for practical reasons, not just cuddling. For example, the rooster meat and bacon we ate back in Gisborne.

9. Seasons

The New Zealand climate is mild and comparable to San Francisco. There are four distinct seasons–amplified or muted depending on what part of the country you’re in. The North Island is generally warmer; the west coasts of both islands get more rain. We packed the right stuff and overall it was pretty easy to acclimate. The thing that takes the most getting used to is the Southern Hemisphere seasons. Meg had her first summer birthday and I celebrated mine with a fresh coat of snow. No matter how much you mentally prepare yourself for the change, it is still surreal when you get to do this in the middle of June:

opening day at The Remarkables coincided perfectly with Kate and Bart's visit

opening day at The Remarkables coincided perfectly with Kate and Bart’s visit

10. Beer (aka piss)

It’s been eleven months since we’ve had bud light or any other watery excuse for beer. New Zealanders take a lot of pride in their barley sodas. Pubs have high quality domestic beer on tap–ranging from large corporate players to popular micro-brews–and we’ve tried them all. Among our favorites are Macs, Steinlager, Emersons and Three Boys.

enjoying some frosty Three Boys IPA at Ohau Lodge

enjoying Three Boys IPA at Ohau Lodge

Beyond the pub scene, home-brewing is a celebrated hobby. Dave, our first host on Waiheke island, had a five valve tap on his back porch. So while our experience has led us to rank New Zealand beer above American beer–where strong offerings like Sam Adams and Magic Hat are offset by keystone light et. al.–there are pros and cons to consider, mainly economical. The average pint in Queenstown is $7, but it’s a lot tastier than the $3 coors light back home. I suppose it boils down to where you fall on the quantity vs. quality debate.

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But it’s been difficult to maintain this notion in New Zealand. Eliott and I have been living a much quieter lifestyle over here. At first we accounted our early bedtime to the wwooffing lifestyle. It’s hard to stay up late in someone else’s house. Then we assumed it was living in the suburbs- there’s just no where to go. Then we got to Wellington where we lived on our own, in the middle of a big city. On most nights we made it to 11 before crashing. At that point we decided the lack of nightlife was due to our particular situation. As a couple, it’s awkward to sit at a bar for very long where you don’t know anyone. As two guys or two girls you at least have the option of flirting with strangers. As a couple, that’s just weird.

The essence of cool

The essence of cool

So we were really excited when Broghan came to visit. We figured with a third member of our crew we’d be able to make our own party. I envisioned our group seated at a table laughing like hyenas at our own cheeky jokes. Laughing so hard that nearby tables pulled their stools up to ours and we became the largest, loudest, most fun group at the bar.

I know right? And this is when we're sober. You can only imagine the fun after a few drinks

I know right? And this is when we’re sober. You can only imagine the fun after a few drinks

However, that dream never really came true. It was certainly not for lack of trying. On the way to each destination we researched the best bars and picked up a case of New Zealand Lager for our pre-game. Time and again, our plans were foiled. The pre-games at the hostels often ended up becoming the full game, and on one of the best nights that game became Monopoly. Honestly, our night of Monopoly in New Plymouth was the closest we came to my vision. We were the loudest, most fun group in the hostel and we even attracted a crowd of on-looking Germans.

Flashback: is this the outbreak of WWII? American capitalists dominating while hungry Germans chomp at the bit to join?

Unlike every Monopoly game of my childhood, this one did not end with me flipping the board over…I just threw my cards

So we adjusted our expectations and just made the most of the opportunities that presented themselves. For example, the Raglan hostel had a lot of fun-looking guests so we brought our NZL’s into the common area where we found a large group of boys mesmerized by the “Planet Earth” dvds. We awkwardly enjoyed our drinks, watching quietly, until a woman in her late 50’s joined us at the table. We never did get her name, but we refer to her as Verushka, because it just seemed like it would fit. Verushka entertained us for hours with her stories. Kiwis are notoriously good travelers and she was no exception. She regaled us with tales of opium tripping in Thailand and beating back wild hogs with a stick while on a bathroom break in Vietnam. We had intended to visit a bar that night, but for obvious reasons we abandoned that plan in favor of Verushka’s company.

NZL- the unofficial sponsor of the BrogTrip 2012

NZL- the unofficial sponsor of the BrogTrip 2012

Over the course of two weeks we learned some valuable methods for coping with un-vibrant nightlife scenes. First, make dinner a production. If you’re going to cook at home, take your time at the supermarket- carefully select ingredients and when in doubt buy the bigger one. Always drink while cooking. It makes for very interesting decisions and a convenient painkiller if that grill flares up. If you’re going to a restaurant order appetizers, eat slowly, and make sure to stuff yourself to the point that you’re unable to stand up. This will prolong your dining experience.

The grill master. A regular bobby flay here

The grill master. A regular bobby flay here

Let's just zoom in here and take note of the burger size. America really does do everything bigger

Let’s just zoom in and take note of the burger size. We chose the bigger ones obviously

Secondly, be sure to survey the company surrounding you. There are unsuspecting gems here, but also some potential landmines. If you look at someone and think, “what the hell are they doing here,” you should make a point of hanging out with them. They will supply hours of entertainment. If you find yourself surrounded by 19 year-old Germans that arrived at your hostel on a bus blasting techno music, you should stay in your room and create a drinking game to a movie like “Mean Girls.” Know your surroundings and know your limits.

So what if we did feed the black swans? That might make for an interesting night

What if we did feed the black swans? That might make for an interesting night

So in the end, it always came back to the three of us. We had to make our own fun a lot of the time, and New Zealand offered up some unconventional resources to work with. I have a feeling that other backpackers have had similar experiences so these are lessons that we’ll bring with us as we continue to travel and may even have to use at home depending on where we move!

Just like the good old days

M&B, Just like the good old days

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Before we jump headstrong into Wellington we thought we’d share our thoughts on Auckland. We were only in town for a week, so our impressions were probably a bit skewed, but nonetheless here they are. Hopefully it’ll provide a bit of perspective for our adventures in the capitol.

Rain

  • Queen Street: Have you ever heard a New Yorker rave about Times Square? Then you get the idea, I don’t think many Aucklanders go off about Queen St either
  • Ponsonby Shopping: Was actually amazing (think Urban Outfitters but the clothes are actually from local and vintage shops) but I’m giving it a Rain because I wasn’t able to buy anything and the temptation was cruel #poverty #backpacking

Tempting windows. Heavy bags

 

Shine

  • Happy Hours: Fatboy Fridays and $5 drinks at bars all around Ponsonby, and even one downtown, made drinking an easy choice
  • Ponsonby Cuisine: Plenty of variety and again some good deals meant we dined like kings
  • Gallery & Museum: Well you guys read about these already, and if you didn’t- caught ya! Here’s your second chance
  • Hostel Mates: Cool locals and visiting Aussies made our hostel feel like a college dorm- pre-gaming, movie nights, and all
  • Hostel Gossip: For as many cool people, there were a few nutters as well, but they provided some good stories for dinnertime chats

Fatboy friday specials at Degree on the Viaduct

 

Overcast

  • Corporate Auckland: Those suits look just as miserable down undah as they did in NYC
  • The Sky Tower: Rather phallic. We’re over it
  • One Tree Hill: We got lost on the bus ride over and didn’t care enough to find our way, so we figured you wouldn’t either. JFGI

 

A bit over the top right?

 

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Our last three days in Gisborne were more action-packed than the latest Bond movie. All-hallows-eve in New Zealand was fun, but less of a spectacle than we experienced growing up. The loot was pretty tame compared to the monjo-sized candy bars we used to collect. #americanobesity

face paint in broad daylight just didn’t feel the same

Luckily, the lack of sucrose on Wednesday helped us squeeze into wetsuits for our surf lesson on Thursday. That’s right, a truly Endless Summer. We were a little nervous because kiwis are renowned for their extreme take on sports, but it all turned out for the best. The waves were pretty mild. Surfing with Frank was amazing! He drilled the basics, but got the both of us standing within 20 minutes.

unparalleled form right here

We even advanced to surfing the “green faces” and turning, which he said was pretty good for first-timers. “You’re freaks,” was the actual language he used. We hear that there’s good surfing outside of Wellington so we’ll try to keep our momentum going. Who knows, the surf may now be a factor to consider when we look for our home-base back in the US!

hanging ten-ish

We ended our lesson with a dinner party hosted by Greg and Sue. We enjoyed some local fermentations, a massive pork shoulder, and a signature NZ Pavlova with some of the neighbors. Our crew included a surprising number of Americans who had moved to NZ, including the Putnams from Cape Cod and Kris from Michigan. After spending 3 weeks in Gisborne we weren’t at all surprised by their moves, but don’t worry everyone- we still miss you too much to stay here permanently.

we’re growing a taste for the local flavors

Which brings me to our next and last piece of business, the highly anticipated announcement of Sheap Travel’s political endorsement. Well the wait is over folks:

the ballots were a bit confusing this year

So while our votes won’t be counted in Massachusetts (little snafu with the absentee ballots on our part), just know that the outcome on Tuesday might sway our inclinations towards NZ a bit further….

Just Kidding! Politicians couldn’t really influence our plans that much. In the end they’re all just a lot of bark, and never much bite.

too bad Rover’s not a citizen, he’s 44 in goat years and his foreign policy is second to none

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Last Saturday we attended our first New Zealand party. Ever the gracious host, Sue invited us to join her for a house-warming party at her friend Eileen’s newly renovated home. Eileen’s house is doubling as an osteo-clinic, where Eileen will care for patients with osteoporosis and other bone-related health conditions. It’s a beautiful home overlooking the harbor. With high ceilings and open rooms it’s the perfect venue for a party. And a perfect spot for a clinic. We left the camera in our lodge because we didn’t want to be the creepy foreigners sniping candids of everyone, but it was a great house. Trust us.

following Frodo’s footsteps to the party

We met a range of interesting people, the majority of whom are not originally from New Zealand. Piri, from the vampire grounds of Transylvania, is a petit woman in her mid-forties who has jumped out of a plane over 800 times. She’s worked all over the world as a parachute-packer and videographer. If any of you have ever gone sky-diving and had someone film the experience, it was someone like Piri. After her son was born she gave up diving, but encouraged us to give it a try. Meg is staunchly opposed. I’ll try anything once, but hate the idea of doing it alone. So does anyone want to visit and give it a whirl?

Then we met Sue’s acupuncturist. Paul is a white-haired buddhist in his early sixties. He’s apparently known for putting people on the spot with his razor sharp tongue. The music was loud and Meg started raising her voice to talk over it, so Paul said, “Why are you shouting?” Meg kept a straight face and retorted, “Because I want to make sure you can hear me, grandpa.” According to Sue she’s never seen anyone make Paul blush the way Meg did. So we’re all waiting to see how Sue’s next acupuncture appointment goes…

We also befriended Nan, the sweetest grandmotherly woman you could ever meet. She brought a tray of mini egg salad sandwiches, with the crust meticulously cut off of each slice. After complimenting her on the snack we ended up talking for quite a while. At the end of the night Nan gave us a slip of paper with her address and invited us over for drinks the next day. She lives in a beautiful home on Onetangi beach and we spent the following afternoon there drinking lime sodas and swapping stories.

made a wrong turn en route to Nan’s but we figured it out eventually

When we returned to the EcoLodge Dave and Sue invited us to have a night cap on their deck. Dave brews his own beer and keeps it fresh on tap.

wouldn’t it be nice to have this on your back porch?

One beer turned into a few too many to count. Dave and his oldest son, Zion, are passionate Chelsea football fans and invited us to stay up late and watch Chelsea take on Arsenal. We’ve watched a handful of soccer games in America, but nothing compares to this experience. Dave and Zion hung up banners and jerseys all over the living room, transforming it into a blue dome. By the time Dave’s friend Paul (a big-time Arsenal fan) arrived, it was clear he would be watching behind enemy lines. (Paul–not the acupuncturist–is another interesting guy. The son of a diplomat, he’s lived all over the states and went to Skidmore, where he met his wife, so he was quite familiar with Hamilton).

At halftime Dave served homemade pizzas and topped off our pint glasses. The match ended with a 2-1 Chelsea victory just before 3am. Meg and I made good on our promise to wake up and get to work by 9, albeit with our first New Zealand hangover. Cheers.

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