Aileen and I have just wrapped up a lovely little vacation on New Zealand’s South Island. Having just reached our twenty-fifth anniversary and with both our girls now in college, we took the opportunity to let Air Canada travel miles take us as far as they could. We enjoyed ourselves a lot and at the end of it all offer these brief reflections on New Zealand.
Friendly people. There are lots of friendly cultures out there, but I have never experienced people as consistently friendly as New Zealanders (and this was true of my last visit as much as this one). From strangers in the towns to employees in the stores to Christians who were eager to offer hospitality, we didn’t encounter a single person who wasn’t eager to meet us or serve us.
One lane bridges. Somewhere way back in New Zealand history someone must have decided that the country could save a lot of money by making bridges only one lane wide rather than two. And so driving involves routinely slamming on the brakes to wait for oncoming cars to make their way down that single lane. Quirky! And probably a bit annoying during peak tourist season.
Tourists. Speaking of which, we chose to visit at the exact opposite of peak season. We would rather see a place when it may not be quite as beautiful but when it also won’t be quite so crowded. That worked well. It was wintery for our visit, but that suited us fine. The driving was always simple enough and never dangerous (though we did just avoid a couple of road closures by no more than a day or two). And even at non-peak some of the touristy sites were quite busy, making us wonder what it’s like in summer. And especially so in a place like Milford Sound.
Beauty. There are many nations that boast an incredible amount of natural beauty. While I have not visited them all, I have been blessed to visit many. New Zealand is without a doubt right up there. I still think Norway is probably the most incredible place I have been, and both Switzerland and Scotland rank highly as well, but New Zealand now takes its place among them. Everywhere you go there is something wonderful to see, some of it mountainous and harsh, some of it pastoral and green, some of it roiling and oceanic.
Uninhabited. We were surprised at how much of New Zealand is uninhabited. Much of the land is committed to conservation and so is largely untouched for that reason. But then much else is simply the way it must have been many hundreds or thousands of years ago. We drove 2,500 kilometers so truly saw the country, and we often encountered stretches of 100 kilometers or more with no homes, no towns, no people. And, very often, no cell phone reception. It was glorious. But we did quickly realize we needed to make sure we kept our gas tank relatively full.
Doubtful Sound. I have been to many beautiful spots in the world, but Doubtful Sound may top them all. If not, it’s well within the top-five. Milford Sound was incredible as well and had by far the better drive, but we visited Doubtful Sound on a day that was dark and brooding and it was truly a sight to behold. I took many photos but none of them really seem to adequately capture its haunting beauty. I can’t recommend making that day trip too highly. The Lord very nearly outdid himself when he created that area. It is utterly magnificent. (And, despite the name, is a fiord rather than a sound.)
Speed limit. The otherwise-unmarked speed limit in New Zealand is 100 km/h (62 mph) versus 80 km/h in Canada and something roughly similar in the US. This is true even when roads are just one lane in each direction and when they are twisting, winding, and wet. We were assigned an SUV that came with a rollover danger warning and this made things … interesting. And fast. If you don’t drive the limit you are soon guaranteed to have an eager driver hanging on your tail and waiting to sneak by you, probably just beyond the next one lane bridge.
Sandwiches. New Zealand has great sandwiches. Every time we wanted lunch we stopped at a little cafe or restaurant and every time we received a great sandwich or toasty. The food was consistently expensive but consistently good.
Coffee. Australia and New Zealand are different countries (much to the surprise of one of my friends when I told him I was coming here) but they are bound together by this—they both have bad coffee, at least by my assessment. They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing while hoping for a different result. Well I keep ordering the long black hoping to eventually experience a really good one. I’m still waiting.
Trash. If Jesus had lived in 21st century New Zealand rather than first-century Palestine, he might have replaced his “camel through the eye of a needle analogy” with “it is easier to find a garbage can in New Zealand than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And everyone would have marveled at how difficult it is for a rich man to be saved. Because good luck finding a place to throw out your trash in New Zealand. We even stayed in hotels that insisted we take it with us rather than leave it behind!
We had a really good time here, both interpersonally and in exploring a delightful country. We very much hope to return in the future.