Surprising New Zealand

Let’s talk about New Zealand again! My wife and I love a road trip, we have just finished one around the central South Island, a short 4-day epic. There are images from that journey on my other, photographic, blog site. I’ll put a link to it at the end of this; let’s not distract you early on.

The road is my happy place; behind the wheel is where I do my thinking. It occurred to me as I was gazing upon the epic natural wonder outside the car that New Zealand is full of surprises, and often not the ones you would think, which in itself is of course, surprising.

This is a post for someone who might be considering a trip to New Zealand, having not been before. You’ll know about all the big and famous stuff, that’s why you are considering a trip to New Zealand. This is about the other surprising stuff you’ll encounter. Maybe it won’t all be surprising, but some of the small surprises are worth elaborating on. Where to start? I guess with the first thing you’ll probably notice when you get off the plane.


  • New Zealand is incredibly informal. When you make your way through the airport, you’ll notice people waiting for their visitors and relatives getting off your plane, I’ll bet you a number of them will be in bare feet and inadequately dressed for the environment, climate and occasion.


  • New Zealand is very ‘low rise’. The vast majority of our houses are one story only. This makes them less likely to kill us during one of our frequent earthquakes.


  • Even in winter, New Zealand is still very green, almost all our native tree species are evergreens.


  • New Zealanders are terrible drivers, really shockingly bad.


  • There is an extraordinary and seemingly inexplicable level of poverty in evidence, third world like in places. People actually live in those derelict hovels you’ll see dotted about the place.


  • During the tourist season, every place you can park off the road, anywhere near any main tourist spot, you’ll see abundant campervans parked up. There are large numbers of spaces you don’t have to pay to park your campervan. This doesn’t mean you are allowed to shit in the undergrowth though.


  • Stop beside the road at any scenic spot, anywhere in New Zealand, with a place set aside to park so you can view the amazing scenery, look down at the undergrowth at the edge of the parking space. Every single one of those spaces will have evidence of people shitting in the bushes nearby. It’s disgusting and it’s everywhere.


  • I reckon about 75 – 80% of traffic on South Island roads at any given time of the year would be rental vehicles.


  • Our ice-cream is amazing, our milk is amazing, our yoghurts are amazing. Our butter is amazing. We make really good things out of milk.


  • We also make really good coffee, you are never more than about 10 minutes walk from a place you can buy coffee. I imagine there is probably a container made into a coffee shop on top of Mt Cook. There is coffee everywhere.


  • Our native birds are remarkable and the songs they sing are incredible, the dawn chorus in the New Zealand native bush is a thing of wonder.


  • You can easily find places where there is complete and utter silence.


  • The sky is so clear you can see for hundreds of kilometres on a clear day. You can see mountains 250 kilometres from where you are standing, if you are standing in the right place on a clear day, or evening.


  • You have never imagined there could be so many stars visible in the sky.


  • If you like to play golf, there is golf everywhere and it’s cheap. Every town or village in New Zealand has at least one golf course nearby. Green fees can be as low as NZD $10


  • It’s almost impossible to buy good quality fashionable clothing outside one or two expensive boutiques in Auckland and Wellington. There are almost no good quality affordable clothes or items of non-sporting footwear for sale in provincial New Zealand.


  • There are 2ndhand and opportunity shops everywhere, lots of them.


  • We have amazing 2ndhand book shops


  • There are an extraordinary number of cars on our roads that should have been scrapped years ago. A lot of them are uninsured.


  • Our roads are rubbish, dangerous and poorly maintained.


  • There are almost no passenger trains outside Auckland and Wellington. Our non-commuter trains are so few, they have names, there are 3 of them. The Coastal Pacific, The Northern Explorer and the Tranzalpine. I’m not making that up. We literally have no passenger trains outside Auckland and Wellington.


  • It costs you  about NZD$400 to take your car from the North Island to the South Island or vice versa. That’s if you have no passengers, add $100 per person, for every passenger you want to carry. So a family of 5 will pay $900 to cross Cook Strait, return, that’s before they eat anything on the ferry. The ferry crossing is just 3 and half hours.


  • The 100% Pure New Zealand and ‘clean, green New Zealand’ myth is largely a myth. Recycling is inconvenient and expensive in most places. Your average kiwi has zero interest in, or knowledge of their carbon footprint. There is no Government policy to reduce vehicle pollution or encourage lower carbon vehicle usage. Many of our rivers are heavily polluted with nitrates because we passed peak cow many years ago and cover our grassland with granulated phosphate fertilizer.


  • Small town New Zealand has a remarkable array of shops. You’ll be amazed how many shops there are in provincial New Zealand towns.


  • The bakery lunch in NZ is fantastic, a filled roll or a pie, a donut or custard square, every town has at least one and probably several bakeries which stock a wide array of delicious items to take away and eat on your road trip.


  • Commercial Radio is shocking. There are literally hundreds of radio stations in New Zealand. I believe they are forced to play the same play-list of about 100 songs largely from the 70’s to the 90’s. The songs are interspersed with inane chatter and advertising for local furniture stores. Listen to Radio New Zealand, National Radio instead.


  • Food is very expensive for no good reason. We grow the stuff ourselves.


  • Doing stuff is easy. There are a surprising lack of enforced regulations and an abundance of free things to enjoy.


  • The Police really enjoy catching people speeding, there are lots of them and they will smile at you while giving you a ticket.


  • Shoes are optional.

New Zealand is an amazing country, far from perfect and has many faults to counter the awesomeness. But I’ve lived in other countries and it’s so great to be home. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Enjoy your trip. Here is the link to my post about some of the sights you can see along the way

Central South Island Road Trip




3 replies »

  1. Hey Sandysview,

    Another good and informative blog, not sure I’d get you write for NZ tourism though :-). Can the bad be as bad as you make it sound!! I know the good is as good as you make it sound (great piece of copywriting), I’ve experienced the good myself back in 2014 and looking forward to experiencing it again at the end of the year. As for the bad, maybe things have changed in 4 years as I don’t remember it that way and we were there over the Christmas period. I actually thought the roads were pretty good compared to a lot here in Europe, especially the UK and as for the bad drivers, just give plenty of distance to the car containing passengers with cameras wrapped around their necks and silly floppy hats!

    My wife and I are looking forward to our own road trip through NZ, North to South, East to West. I’m a kiwi returning home after many many years living abroad and we’re bringing a motorhome with us. Plan is to travel the width and breadth of NZ before deciding on where to settle, exciting times ahead. We’re going to be fully loaded, golf clubs, kayaks, fishing rods, paddle boards, e-bikes etc etc. Modern day Huckleberry Finn’s looking for adventure.

    After reading your blog, we obviously need to stay away from the main tourist areas, especially in peak season and I certainly won’t be letting the good lady dump her waste in a roadside bush!!

    If you’ve any further tips re road tripping, would love to hear them.

    All the best and keep the blogs coming. Love the photos by the way.

    Cheers, Martyn (mgkiwi)

    • Hi Martyn, coming home! Awesome! I don’t think I’ve exaggerated anything here, maybe generalised a bit. ☺️ The key tourist Mecca’s of Queenstown, Rotorua, Bay of Islands, are busy year round now. Mid winter and outside school holidays are still the best times to hit the road. It’ll be interesting to hear where you decide to settle. I’ve got loads of road trip recommendations of course. Our next one is East Cape and Te Urewera. SH4 from Whanganui and back down the river road is an epic day trip. In Northland, Tutukaka Coast from Whangarei and across the island to Opononi, then back round through the Waipoua Forest is a great trip. The back roads of Wairarapa have some great alternatives to SH2. Gentle Annie from Taihape to Hawkes Bay or vice versa is an awesome run through NI classic high country.

      Things are very different here to even 4 years ago. I think, there’s just been such an upsurge in visitor numbers, particularly from Asia. Best to avoid Auckland altogether. Happy trails, get in touch when you get home!

      • Cheers mate, much appreciate the info. Can’t wait to get back to my roots. What excites me most, not knowing where we going to end up. I was born in Napier so that’s on the list. Evidently it’s has some major changes. Both our sons are in NZ, 1 in Wellington the other in Queenstown, both doing well and loving it. We’ve had a lot of advice from both boys and cousins. Nelson is top of their recommendation list due to the location and what’s on tap. Never been there so looking forward to exploring that aera.

        Will certainly keep you posted, never know, might bump into one day on a road trip.

        All the best,


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