Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Zealand

While the Euphoria of the Lord of the Rings may have been completely lost on me I had on many occasions seen the Haka, marvelled at Jonah Olomu and of course pretended to be surprised each time a person compared the landscape of New Zealand to that of Eire. I was also vaguely familiar with proper nouns such as Christchurch, Auckland, Wellington and Maori but unfortunately that is as far as it went. I am however at long last proud to to say that not only I have finally cured my ignorance all things Kiwi but I am also suddenly very sad to have to leave it all behind.

For all of my time here I was based on the South Island where I am told only about 30% of the population live. Indeed you certainly grow to love this place as you become more and more accustomed to that extra bit of elbow room allowed to you. As you might guess given the rural nature and unpopulated landscape it was easy to see very quickly that the principle industry in thses parts is agriculture and more specifically dairy, sheep and deer farming, the last of which is in considerable decline in recent years. However the size of the farm is like nothing I have ever seen with two of the nearby "stations" milking upwards of 700 cows daily. As you might guess this is for the most part automated with the cows stepping on and off the revolving "merry-go-round like" milking platform. Meanwhile the preferred vehicle is understably the UTE although when rounding up sheep or cattle a quad-bike seems to be the practical mode for jaunting through the fields.

It is always said that the Kiwis are big drinkers and cometh the occasion they don't disapppoint. That said, in the farming communities of Howarden and Hurunui it is not unusual for the pubs to close around 8.30pm with all of the farming folk already tucked in for the night before first milking at 5am. However when they do choose to have a late night they drink half pints known as "handles" or alternatively a large jug (pitcher). Incidentally I knew one local named Mick who liked to drink straight from his jug as if it were a glass but he was the exception as far as I can tell. Speights seems to be nations favourite lager although over the weeks I became fond of the west coast brewed Monteiths.

House numbers were at first a complete anomaly as 690 and 705 were the respective numbers of rural neighbours situated on the same side of the road. I later learned that in areas such as this the number of your house is a multiple of 10 of the km-distance from the nearest junction of significance. This works perfectly for emergency services.

As in Eire people drive on the lefthand side. However one rule that was impossible to install in my brain was the that the person driving on the left and wishing to turn off to the left must first surrender right of way to a car coming from the opposite direction who also plans to turn onto the same road. Not rocket science, just different.

Yes it is true that the landscape is in places similar to Ireland but in my view it is generally more spectacular and unspoiled here, often being able to savour it alone without having to share the beauty with others around you. More similar was the way of life and attitudes which remind me of Ireland but perhaps that of 10 or 15 years ago. Kiwi's have far more interesting things to talk about over a pint than capital gains tax and property prices which is of course the favourite Irish past time at present.

New Zealanders are mannerly on the street and in no way full of their own self importance. Futhermore they are never in too much of a rush to be courtious, polite and perhaps even engage a random chat on a street corner, things that a person can never ever grow tired of. I am nonetheless most impressed by how much the New Zealander's know about nature and wildlife. Every bird call or plant is easily recognised by young and old who then elaborate at length on the subject.

I will miss New Zealand most for the outdoor lifestyle that it offers. White water rafting, kayaking, hiking and camping are suddenly much more appealing than ever before. While doing these activities the night skies are somehting to remember although Orion and the Milkway look quite different from down here !

I'll be back soon. So much more to do here.

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