Sweet As Kiwi Stuff – these are a few of my favorite things

I love so much about Aotearoa New Zealand! I thought I should share a few of my favorite things with you.  In no particular order:

1) Dramatic landscapes (duh)

My love affair with New Zealand began with pictures of its scenic landscapes and after living here for nearly two years landscape has certainly not disappointed.  While I have come to discover that this scenery is often not correlated with environmental health (I will write about this later), from a visual perspective my soul is happy to have the privilege to experience these landscapes.   From picturesque fiords, treacherous glaciers, rugged mountains, rolling hillsides, windswept plains, foreboding volcanic plateaus, subtropical and alpine forests, miles of sandy beaches with secret coves, and minimal distances between east coast sunrises and west coast sunsets, New Zealand packs in a lot of sweet as landscape in a tiny area.  Many of the other favorites that follow will be subsets of landscape, because they deserve their own category…and well that is a big reason why people are drawn to New Zealand.


2) Podocarp and Kauri forests and other fascinating trees

New Zealand has some old trees and when I say old, I really mean it.   The Podocarp and Kauri forests date back to when Aotearoa New Zealand was part of the super continent of Gondwana, hundreds of millions of years ago.  As you look at the form and growth habit of these trees, it is not hard to imagine that dinosaurs once roamed amongst them.   These towering giants have massive trunks with tufts of leaves at the ends robust branches.  They support a host of epiphytic plants with perching lily species that resemble prehistoric nests being quite common.   While there are 15 different podocarp species, rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides), and tōtara (Podocarpus totara) are some of my favorites.  Other well known trees of New Zealand are the the silver fern tree (Cyathea dealbata), the symbol commonly associated with the country, pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) also known as the Christmas tree with big puffy pom pom looking December blooms, and the cabbage tree (Cordyline australis) whose quirky form is highly distinguishable.  I am in love with New Zealand trees!


3) Remote Beaches

Maybe ‘remote’ is not the appropriate word for most of these beaches are not far from the roadside.  However, with only 4.5 million people living in this country, you can easily find beaches with absolutely no one in sight, eliciting the ‘feeling of remoteness’. Somehow the absence of people make many of these beaches truly special.   A few included in this bunch do require some long hikes planned around tidal schedules or a long kayak trip to reach the shore, but so many others we accidentally stumbled upon in neighborhoods or were clearly visible by road.   Although I generally consider myself a mountain girl, I do enjoy some lazy time on a beach, especially if there is a fantastic sunset.  Below are a few of my favorites.


4) Marine Life

I am fully aware that many of the marine life I am about to dedicate my love for can be be seen in the United States, we share the same Pacific Ocean.   However, I haven’t lived near the sea in years and when I did (Los Angeles), I lived at the base of mountains not along the coastline.  Therefore, I LOVE that I can see many of these beautiful creatures here in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington.  With birds, lizards, and insects as the terrestrial native species here, I have to look to the sea to find larger animals. While I have yet to spot the orcas that occasionally come into the harbor here, we have seen plenty of dolphins, sea lions and little blue penguins (you definitely can’t find those in the US).  The harbor holds some pretty rich kelp forests and pāua shells, which are equally as fascinating to me.  We are learning quickly how to become ‘sea people’.

We have had some of the best luck spotting marine life along the east coast of the South Island Te Waipounamu.  From the orcas, whales, and dusky dolphins in Kaikoura to the albatross, fur seals, and blue penguins of the Otago Peninsula, these two areas stand out as ‘wild coastline’ in my mind.   We still have yet to spot the yellow-eyed penguins (east coast) and fiordland penguins (west coast), but we have a lot of New Zealand left to revisit.

5) Young and Active Geology

New Zealand was born only 5 million years ago, which is relatively young on the geological timescale.  The country, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, is known for its earthquakes, geothermal areas, volcanic activity and boy is it super restless.  Straddling the Pacific and Indo-Australia Plate at a rate of 40 mm/year, tiny earthquakes occur throughout the island nation on a daily basis (most are too small to feel), giving New Zealand the nickname Shaky Isles.

Fault lines can easily be spotted in the landscape, the uplift that resulted from a massive  8.2 earthquake in the Wairarapa is visible along most of the Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington coastline, and devastation of the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes is still visible throughout the city.  We have felt tiny tremors, taking cover a few times while at work.  In November 2016 we were rattled awake by a 7.8 earthquake in Kaikoura.  It shook our house long and hard and I struggled to grab the doorway to hold on.  It was scary, yet fascinating all at the same time.

We live far south of the volcanos that rise from the Central Plateau (Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, Mount Taranaki) and Bay of Plenty (Whakaari White Island) and the hub of geothermal activity in Rotorua.  The steaming vents, turquoise hot pools, bubbling mudpools, and eye stinging sulfer found in these places showcase the immense energy within the earth, just waiting to escape.  Settlements in Auckland weave between dormant volcanic cones with massive craters.  These landscape scars are powerful reminders of the forces of this young and active geology.

6) The Wind

I should place an * next to this, because I can grow tired of the wind sometimes, especially when it challenges my running and cycling plans. ‘Windy Wellington’ is the windiest city in the world.  Supposedly Chicago is second, but I have never experienced wind there that rivals those that blow through this city.  It is not uncommon for Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington to see gusts over 150 km/hr (near 100 mph) when a storm blows through.   The city sits on the northern shores of the Raukawa Cook Strait where winds blocked from the Southern Alps (south) and Tararuas (north) funnel through the strait blowing the city away.

I don’t think a day goes by without talking about wind, what direction is it blowing?, is the crosswind too strong to remain upright on my bicycle? what is that large heavy object flying down the street?, etc.  Some things you can expect and be prepared for in Windy Wellington is, messy hair, shorts should be worn under dresses at all times, traditional umbrellas are worthless, anything that weigh less than you do should be tied down.  Wind sculptures dot the city, the Wellington sign illustrates letters blowing away, and there are heaps of wind turbines harnessing this energy along the west coast.  Wind is big, bold, and brash here!

While the picture collage remains constant in this excerpt, I thought a video might be helpful to demonstrate.  It is not uncommon for airplanes to struggle with landings, in fact my partner was just unable to land due to the wind the other day, forcing his plane to return to its origin in Auckland.  I imagine that was a fun two hour flight to nowhere.

Aborted Landing

If you still don’t get it, here is a cartoon that accurately depicts wind in the city.


7) Māori Culture

Māori culture is one of the elements that fascinates me most about this place.  However, I have a lot of learning left to do, so this part of the post will contain many gaps worth filling as time passes.   Māori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, arriving from polynesia by waka (canoe), the first captained by Kupe, sometime between 1250 and 1300.   Their culture is rich in language, ancestral papatupu and mother earth papatūānuku connection, distinctive crafts such as wood carving and weaving, and dance such as the haka.

Traditional Haka

Māori are deeply connected to the land and natural world and see themselves as kaitiakiti (guardians of the land) which provides a source of unity and identity for tangata whenua (people of  the land).  They see humans and the land as one with the natural world able to speak to humans to give them knowledge and understanding.   There are many stories of humans who transformed into birds, fish and other creatures  as well as landforms.  Story telling is an important māori tradition and is used to explain their connection to Aotearoa New Zealand.

A well known story, is one of the demi-go Māui.  He was fishing Aotearoa when he caught Te Ika a Māui (North Island) from his waka Te Waka a Māui (South Island).  Te Punga a Māui (Stewart Island) was his anchor.  The images below show the connection of these elements and the shape of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Aotearoa New Zealand (left) And The Waka And Fish (right)
waka and fish

Typical of many relationships between colonists and indigenous people, the Māori relationship with the european settlers included violence, disease, missionary conversion, trading, and eventually a treaty settlement.  The original Treaty of Waitangi , first signed in 1840 between Māori chiefs and the British Crown, recognized Māori ownership of their land and forests and gave them the rights of British subjects.  Despite the treaty agreement, colonial supremacy views enabled oppression of Māori with the Crown confiscating large areas of Māori land, while displacing people in the process.  However, unlike many colonist – indigenous people settlements throughout history, the Crown publicly recognizes that they breached the principles of the treaty and is engaged in the process of settling confiscation claims since the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975.

Today’s government has tried to rectify many wrongs through the incorporation of cultural rights and inclusion of Māori consultation in many legislative and decision making processes.  However, the systemic power enabling abuse and marginalization of generations of iwi that is still evident today will have lasting cultural and societal effects.  The Crown – Māori relationship is front and center in political and human rights discussions in Aotearoa New Zealand.

8) Quirky New Zealand Phrases

I have to give thanks to the Hollywood film industry.  Because of them, everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand understands American jargon and slang.   I on the other had lots of learning to do, apparently the english language is vastly different depending on which country you are speaking it in.  I think even after two years, I am still learning ‘kiwi slang’.  Below are a few helpful graphics as an introduction.  The first one provides a direct translation between kiwi slang and american english.  The second organizes some slang into three simple categories.

Direct Slang Translation


Categorized Slang

I have naturally adopted many sayings, but I am desperately waiting for that moment that the phrase ‘good as gold’ naturally passes through my lips.  Below I have used a few kiwi slang words in a sentence and provided some super fun ones not included in these graphics:

  • Keen and Yip: Are you keen to grab lunch today?..Yip! (this means the lunch date is accepted).
  • Good on you: I heard you ran up the mountain, good on you!
  • She’ll be right:  Wellington was rattled by a huge earthquake and there is so much damage….oh, don’t worry, she’ll be right.
  • Yeah naah and cuppa: Would you care for a cuppa?  Yeah naah (meaning no).
  • Flash (or swish):  I hate going to that restaurant, everyone is always dressed so flash and I like to be casual.
  • Tiki tour: Do you want to take a tiki tour around the coast to the grocery store rather than the short way?
  • Could do:  Hey what if we did this instead?…Could do? (meaning one will consider it, but aren’t very excited about the option you presented)
  • Good as gold and no worries:  Sorry, I forgot to send that memo yesterday, but it went out first thing this morning.  No worries, good as gold.
  • Togs, jandles and bach (pronounced batch): I am headed to the beach near my bach (simple cottage), I have got my togs (bathing suit) and jandles (flipflops).
  • Cracker: what a cracker of a day (lovely day)
  • Chilly bin: Lets keep these brews cold in the chilly bin (cooler).
  • Dairy: Just headed out to the dairy (corner store) to pick up some snacks.
  • Tramping (this one is still confusing):  I am headed out tramping today in the Rimutakas.   Are you tramping (hiking with a backpack for a long time, usually overnight) or walking (hiking)?
  • Bloke and mate: reference to men.  I find that bloke is often used in a more negative context (though not always) with connotations of masculinity and mate is positive.   That event was dominated by bloke conversations, as a woman I was offended.  I am meeting up with my mates later for dinner.
  • Chur, ta, and arvo:  too lazy or simply just too busy to say the full words: cheers, thanks, or afternoon? Consider using chur, ta, or arvo.  Saves heaps of time!
  • Sweet as:  That sunset was sweet as (awesome).

This is a perfect segue into the next section…coffee, long black or flat white?

9) Coffee

Wellingtonians (and most New Zealanders) take their coffee very seriously!  The city boasts a flourishing coffee scene and was named by CNN as one of the world’s coffee destinations.  Although Donald Trump revealed that CNN was fake news (insert sarcasm), they seemed to get this story right.  Not only are there high standards of how coffee is served here (drip coffee just doesn’t happen here), but it tastes absolutely divine.  There are endless cafes, ‘hole in the wall’, and coffee carts throughout the city, you don’t have to walk far for a quality cuppa.

Some of favorites in town include:

Now for the ordering business, because you can’t just say small coffee with cream and sugar or venti sumatra…no ordering a coffee is special and pretty distinct here.  One of the first things my partner taught me when I arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand was how to order coffee.   Here are some of the basics:

  • Flat White – Possibly could be the national drink of NZ…it is made of 1/3 espresso and 2/3 steamed milk with a swirled froth on top
  • Long Black – Probably the second most common coffee order, this is a shot of espresso served over hot water (occasionally served with a wee bit of hot water on the side).
  • Short Black – I have never seen anyone order this, but it is a shot of espresso served in a demi-tasse cup

If you need your ‘american sized coffee’, you can always order an Americano and receive a double shot of espresso with hot water poured on it.   It is basically the reverse long black but bigger. If you don’t like your milk flattened, you can also kick up the frothiness with a cappuccino, but why not stick to the national coffee story and order a flat white?  Finally, if you simply can’t handle your cuppa without milk, but you want to cut back on the fatty milk, I suggest you try a ‘trim’ flat white….trim is code for low fat in American english.

After two years I am still not even close to the coffee connoisseur level of the average Wellingtonian, but the city has certainly ruined our ability to enjoy subpar coffee.

Flat White


10) Our Home

I am not typically the kind of person that appreciates spending time at home, but we often find ourselves hiding out at our little cottage on the sea during summer weekends.   We would never be able to afford to live by the sea in the US and lets face it, the days living at this location are numbered due to climate change.   While we are 5+ meters above sea level and are highly protected in a bay within the harbor, having some years before the sea rises into our home, we do live with the threat of tsunami.  Having fled uphill following November’s earthquake that threat has already been all too real.

In general, our cottage and surrounding community is a quiet little gem on Karaka Bay.  Our home was built in 1901(ish), which is considered pretty old by Aotearoa New Zealand standards.   It sits amongst three others equally as old that were only reachable by ferry from a pier that still exists today.   While the pier has suffered some damage over the years that no longer make it accessible for ferry service, today it is a hub for daily fishing activity.  We love watching people of all ages and ethnicities come and go and have gotten to know many of the regular visitors.  When there are gaps between angling activities, it becomes a place for the neighborhood to come together for a daily dip.  The pier, along with the iconic red telephone booth at the entrance, is the central hub of our neighborhood and we have a front row to this social stream from our deck.

Our life on this bay also makes us feel deeply connected to the constantly changing weather patterns in Te Whanganui a Tara Wellington.  We see the wind shift even before feeling it.   A morning southerly will settle to near stillness forming tiny speckles in the water before shifting to a choppy northerly.  We watch what we call ‘the smoke monster’ (dense fog) roll in from the Raukawa Cook Strait before it reaches the city.  The water displays the strength of the southerly, crashing violently into the pier.  The our little bay tells this weather tale so well.

Lastly, I have to mention our neighbors…I just can’t say enough great things about our little community, generously sharing meals, books, frigid solstice dips in the sea, and access to bathrooms while ours was being renovated.  They even shared in our grief when Trump was elected (see American flag picture below).  I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to live in such a special place.


Author: angie campbell

I am an expat from the United States living in Wellington, New Zealand. My love affair with landscape, culture, and learning has led to a life filled with travel and academic institutions. Endowed with endless curiosity, I spend a great deal of time philosophizing about anything and everything, but very often pertaining to environmental issues. I should note that I am not formally trained in environmental philosophy, nor do I have the vocabulary competency to pass for someone who has. My writing is a somewhat tongue and cheek. I am using this blog as a means to work through some of this thinking and to follow my own pathway of inquiry, while providing (hopefully) some meaningful insight of what it is like to live as an American in Aotearoa New Zealand. I am sure at some point there will be some interesting travel photos once I make the leap from iphone to fancy camera. There is a secondary tab to the this blog spot. Reflections of the Watering Hole is an old blog I started during one of my academic stints studying the social and environmental impacts of oil and natural gas development in the Denver Julesburg Basin in the United States. While some of the information is a bit 'dated' (I started it in 2013), many of the conundrums remain relevant today.

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