As I travel, I make an effort to adapt to my new surroundings. I don’t do this because I am trying to be someone else, I will always remain truly me. I do it because I feel I learn and grow more by being an integral part of a new place, not just a visitor. I try not to stand out too much as a tall, blonde foreigner, taking on elements of interest to me such as fashion, food and language (which mostly consists of just speaking English with different accents!) and respecting the local cultures.
So when I arrived in New Zealand, I was a slightly confused and bewildered. There was little to no adaptation required! It looked like home, arriving in the Canterbury plains. It felt like home, with it’s crisp, cool clean air. Everything was well signed, there weren’t massive crowds of people and they were respectful of personal space, almost comically keeping a set distance in the queues. I also did not stand out, as I had swapped my Fiji tropical Bula skirt for a simple black T-shirt dress and sneakers (adaptation pre-planning). Did we take a wrong turn somewhere and land up in Saskatchewan?! Hmmm….I didn’t recognize anyone, though. Oh wait! That guy looks just like my second-cousin…(another annoying ‘quirk’ my husband good naturally abides. I either think I recognize someone or link attributes of friends and family to complete strangers!)
When I had my first interaction with a New Zealander, the immigration officer, I had an inkling that this was not just like home. She was friendly, she was smiling and seemed to crack a small joke, but I had no idea what she was saying! Seriously, no idea. She WAS speaking English, apparently. I smiled back, nodded and gave a small, “oh-you” chuckle, and she let me in. New Zealand’s official three languages are English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language. So, Sign Language it will be!
New Zealand has to be the easiest country we have travelled. We hired a car and hit the road to Akaroa, Banks Peninsula with only the Lonely Planet map and no GPS. GASP! I was slightly apprehensive, because even after many years of travel, I still suffer anxiety due to navigational responsibilities. Finding our way around NZ was super stress- free and easy. Road signage was phenomenal, not once did I get a nervousness in the pit of my stomach that we may be heading in the wrong direction. Where to go, how to go and the rules were all clearly marked and pointed out. I LOVED this country with its very law- abiding and courteous citizens!
I also loved how we witnessed the Māori culture and that it seemed to remain central to New Zealand’s identity in the names of places, the tradition and art. Well honoured and respected.
Then the scenery…stunning! Once we started getting glimpses of the coastline and Banks Peninsula, which was formed by two giant volcanic eruptions, I knew we were somewhere new. We saw sheep everywhere, honestly, dotting every steep hill and piece of green countryside as we made our way to the historic town of Akaroa.
Our main focus for travel to New Zealand was, of course, food. Dining experiences and wine tasting, interspersed with interesting sights, drives and hikes went into our travel plan. We were not disappointed. Drawing on friends recommendations and internet searches, we had some of the best lamb, beef, salmon and seafood we have tasted in a long time, renewed our quest for a zingy sauvignon blanc (or “Sav”, as coined in NZ, because everything has a nickname!), as well as discovered a new love for pinot noir.
We travelled from Akaroa to Kaikoura and the Marlborough region, taking stops along the way for scenic hikes, fur seal pups, delectable dining and wine tasting. We then hopped the ferry across Cook Strait to end our trip in the incredibly cool city of Wellington.
Here are a few highlights:
Dining & Wining
Finding accommodation wasn’t the easiest part of the trip. We love boutique hotels/ B&Bs that are quirky, clean, stylish and affordable. We didn’t find many options in that category in the areas we visited…at least not ones that we could afford!
Here are the great stays we did find:
The Grand Hotel, Akaroa: Once you get past the dated and slightly shabby entrance, the charm of this historical building can be found. The room was perfect, newly revamped with big bed, great linens, outdoor patio and super view.
Kaikoura Boutique Hotel, Kaikoura: Superb and ticked all our boxes in the quirky, clean, stylish and affordable range (with only slightly cringe-worthy carpeting!). The breakfast was an especially pleasant experience!
Marlborough Vintner’s Hotel, near Blenheim: It felt like we were on a retro suburban movie set! Funky apartments set in beautifully kept gardens over-looking the vineyards towards the mountains- enough said.
Ok, in Wellington we spoiled ourselves after not being able to find accommodation for the Saturday night due to the Homegrown Music Festival. After only being able to secure one night at the Gourmet Stay (cool little boutique hotel near foodie-heaven Cuba Street), we used our IHG reward points and moved over to the InterContinental for a little luxury in the city!
After such an amazing time, New Zealand may not have seen the last of us yet!