When you’re traveling to a new country, there will inevitably be things that are done a different way than what you’re used to. I’ve been in Christchurch, New Zealand for almost exactly a week now, and I’ve compiled this list of things first-time visitors just have to know.
Note: some of these may not hold true for all countries, as they’re based on a Canadian moving to NZ.
Before you go
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t do all the much research about New Zealand before I embarked on my quest for kiwis. Part of this, though, was that I knew I had a place to stay until I found my own. In case you haven’t done enough research, here are some things you should know before you get to NZ.
1. The prices of things vary wildly here from what we’re used to.
If you have the room, make sure you bring your electronics with you. This means gaming systems, games, etc. Because let me tell you – they are expensive as shit over here.
Internet isn’t too terrible, especially if you’re splitting the cost with a bunch of people, but it’s definitely recommended to get a plan, otherwise you’re paying out the ass per GB. One thing that surprised me was how cheap cars are; however, if you’re planning on getting one, you should know that gas is outrageously expensive. Think 2+ dollars per litre. So yeah, keep that in mind. A bike or bus pass is looking pretty attractive now, isn’t it? For the record, a bus pass costs a mere ten dollars, although you need an address to get one. Bikes are about the same. Also, on the topic of an address…
2. Rent is charged by the week here.
This isn’t really a problem, once you do the calculation to figure out what you’re paying per month. It may be a little more stressful, as you have to come up with a sum of money every week, but what I’d recommend is just setting aside a chunk – I did the next three weeks – worth of cash to ensure you have it. There’s also a wide variety of rent options, so when you’re searching, make sure you remember it’s a weekly fee and not monthly. I’ve seen rents from $115 p/w right up to about $500 p/w. More than likely, you – like me – will get a little room in a house, which is really all you need – a place to drop your stuff and sleep at night.
Another good thing about this is you can find non-fixed term rooms, with a minimum of four weeks, and you only need to give two days’ notice of departure. This is good if you’re traveling around and don’t want to stay in an area for a long time.
3. Don’t call the Kiwis Aussies, for your own sake.
Once you’re here, you’ll quickly realize New Zealand is a lot like Canada, except the weather is typically better. The comparison also stands that Australia is a lot like the United States – and Kiwis hate being mistaken for Aussies. Whereas we, as Canadians, will only take offense on the inside and politely explain to the person calling us ‘Muricans that we are, in fact, from Canada, Kiwis spit out whatever drink they have in their mouth at the time, stare at you incredulously, and shout “WHAT?” (sounds more like ‘WOTE’ coming from them) before glaring daggers at you for about ten minutes. Yes, it’s okay to tease each other about how you pronounce words – they say “ear” and “air” the same, isn’t that cute? – as long as you don’t mind being told to fuck off multiple times per day (in an endearing way, of course), but call them Aussies, or even say they sound similar to their neighbours, and you’re in for a world of hurt.
Once you’re there
Now that you know a few things to keep in mind upon arrival, here are the things you should learn quickly if you want to a) survive, and b) enjoy New Zealand without making enemies.
4. LOOK BOTH WAYS OR YOU WILL DIE.
Yes, for those unaware, Kiwis drive on the wrong side of the street, meaning the left. While regular street traffic looks relatively normal, I still get thrown off when a bus goes to turn right, stops in the intersection, and then goes to the far side. The most important note is to look to the right first. I mean, we all know to look both ways (right?) but my first instinct was always to glance left first, then take my first step into the road as I looked right. Do that here, you’re liable to become road kill. It also makes it much easier to catch the correct bus, as they will stop on the left side of the road, so make sure you figure that out. I haven’t driven here yet, but note that the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, as opposed to the left. So, good luck with that!
5. Different currency.
This is to be expected, but here’s a quick rundown of New Zealand currency: they have a ten-, twenty-, and fifty-cent, as well as a one- and two-dollar coin. That’s right; all their prices are rounded to the closest zero, which makes buying things easy. Also, tax is included in all the prices, so you don’t have to guess at what your total price will be.
The bills are the same denominations, and actually look fairly similar to our Canadian money; the coins vary, but the ten-cent one looks like a large penny, the twenty-cent one looks like a large nickel, the fifty-cent one like a quarter, and the two-dollar one looks exactly like a loonie. The only real different one is their one-dollar coin, which kind of looks like a token you’d use at the Palasad. And on the topic of money…
6. With few exceptions, don’t tip.
Yes, it’s shocking, especially for us Canadians, but there’s no need for tipping. It’s not impolite – in fact, sometimes people will get offended if you try to tip. I don’t know exactly why this is, but it sure makes figuring out prices easier. While I am assured most people will only be shocked and very appreciative, not offended, fight your Canadian self and save the money for something else. Like…
7. How to buy alcohol
…beer. Here, like many places that aren’t Canada, you can buy beer and some other alcoholic drinks in the super markets. However, something to note: you must have your passport with you to do so. Yes, some places will accept a driver’s license, but most won’t. Why, you ask? Well, do you have any idea what a New Zealand driver’s license looks like? Well, the Kiwis don’t know what an Ontario driver’s license is supposed to look like either, so it could easily be faked. The best way around that is to request your passport. This will be needed not only to buy alcohol, but to order alcoholic drinks at a restaurant.
8. Weather changes abruptly.
You think Canada’s weather is finicky? In the space of me writing this sentence, the weather outside went from cloudy and rainy, to sunny, back to overcast, and now seems to have settled on partially cloudy. It isn’t unreasonable to expect sun, clouds, and rain, on a simple walk to the grocery store. Also, I haven’t experienced these yet, but apparently there can be cyclones and earthquakes at the drop of the hat (don’t worry, you’ll hear about my first experience, I’m sure). I’ve found the best way to deal with this is the Canadian way – layer, layer, layer. Oh, and always have an umbrella.
9. Pay attention on the bus.
Okay, this one may be specific to London, Ontario – I haven’t tested that many transit systems. However, the LTC, while falling under fire all the time for being crap, does at least announce the stops. Not so here. This makes it especially difficult for a newcomer, as you have to really pay attention and watch street signs, particularly if you’re going to a new place for the first time. Another different thing is that, even if you’re standing at the bus stop, buses will not stop unless you flag down the driver, so make sure you do that. One perk of NZ transit? They have little cash registers, and will give change if you’re paying by cash. And last on the list, but certainly not least…
10. They do coffee weird, you guys.
First and foremost, there is no Tim Hortons in New Zealand. Yes, I know, there there. You can still make coffee at home! However, the way to do so is a bit strange…I’ve yet to see a coffee brewer. Instead, they have this.
It’s a coffee plunger. Basically, you boil water in a kettle, and then let it cool a bit. Poor your coffee into the plunger, then fill it with the water. Stir it, and then let it sit for however long you want. When you’re satisfied, you push the plunger down – I like to do this three times – to separate the coffee goodness from the grounds. It’s actually delicious. Different, but delicious.
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