Last week I celebrated my 30th birthday in Dunedin, New Zealand. It was awesome!
Milestone birthdays do have a tendency to make one think though. I don’t feel old enough to be 30! When I was 20 I knew what path my life was on: I was in university training to be an engineer. When I was 25 I was newly graduated and starting my career with my new husband. I figured by the time I was 30 I would have a house, a kid or two, pets, and be settled on my life path.
This certainly hasn’t been the case. The last two years have thrown a few curveballs at Andrew and I that have made us re-evaluate our life goals, lifestyle choices, and the path that we would like our life to follow.
It is rather silly in a way. We ask children with relatively limited life experience to decide what they would like to do with the rest of their lives! After 3 years of working in the oilfield I determined that, while I would like to be an engineer still, I would much prefer to be a design engineer and that I will not deal with the idiocy of the oilfield unless I am completely desperate.
Well, now that the existential life stuff of dealing with a milestone birthday is out of the way…how was my birthday? It was a lot of fun. I told Andrew that what I really wanted was to have a stress free weekend where he dealt with the day-to-day planning and organization of stuff.
He was a good sport about it and made our weekend quite enjoyable. It started with taking the cats to the vet to have their post-neutering check up (and their socks off…yay!) and groceries. Both quite necessary!
We then did our bi-weekly game night with friends back home, with a twist. Andrew let me DM the game! It was my first time running a game, so Andrew helped me out with the 5ed rules, but it went fairly well.
He then cooked me an awesome dinner with an incredible dessert that he made from scratch.
The next day we had planned to go to the pool but we both woke up feeling kinda lazy. The day was instead spent playing games and watching movies with each other, until the evening. Andrew invited a few of our friends from the holiday park to one of Dunedin’s Escape rooms.
I won’t say too much so that I don’t spoil the puzzles for others, but it was a lot of fun. We did the Contagion room, where we were challenged to find the vaccine and then escape the room to save humanity. We did it too! The puzzles were well set up and the ambience of the room was a lot of fun. I got to play with an endoscope and Andrew had a thermal imaging gun, among other fun tools for puzzle solving.
He also got me an amazing ice cream cake and a balloon to top off the evening.
New Zealand is beautiful. It has a wonderful reputation for its stunning scenery, friendliness, and adventurous activities. Being part of the Commonwealth, it is easy to forget sometimes that you are indeed in a different country. So what things are different that might culture shock a traveller?
While this might seem odd, especially for tourists from Canada and the United States, New Zealand does not have a tipping culture. The minimum wage is high enough that even the lowest paid professions make a living wage.
Now, if you want to tell the taxi driver not to give you change or drop the change from your beer into the jar on the bar, nobody is going to object. But don’t worry about tipping the wait-staff, bell-boy, hotel cleaners, or other services.
Hotels and Camping
A vast majority of people choose to camp in New Zealand rather than stay in hotels. There are campgrounds everywhere, with most cities playing host to at least two or three. Most small cities will have a campground and one or two hotels, making travelling easy.
Pay Per Person
One major difference is that you will pay for accommodation on a ‘per person’ basis. Want to camp in a holiday park with just 2 people? $20 per person. Want to squeeze your entire extended family onto 1 site? $20 per person.
The Department of Conservation also has a few hundred campsites scattered across New Zealand, offering very basic facilities (i.e. pit toilets and maybe drinkable water). These will run around $5 per person.
You can also try your hand at freedom camping, but for this you will need a certified self-contained unit. Some of the larger campervan rental companies will provide a self-contained unit. This lets you camp for free in designated areas!
It Gets Busy!
It is important to be conscientious of timing when travelling. Even in the largest cities, every single hotel and campsite will be booked out during a large event like a rugby game. Particularly if you are attending a large event, you will need to book accommodation weeks or sometimes months in advance.
It is also generally best to avoid school holidays, as this is when most locals will be travelling, adding to the strain on the system. The busiest season is between mid-December and the end of January when most of the schools are out for the summer.
If you stay at one of the big chains, you can expect the same service that you would find in most places. However, the Hilton, Best Western, Ramada, etc. brands are generally not found outside of the major cities such as Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.
For most travellers, this will mean staying at a smaller, locally run accommodation at some point in their travels. From a budget cabin at a holiday park to a large chalet, it is important to realize that there may be some differences to what you are accustomed to.
Kleenex/tissues are usually not provided
There usually isn’t a restaurant on-site, so bring your own food or be prepared to drive or walk to the nearest restaurant
Rooms are generally not serviced…so if you want fresh towels every day or your rubbish taken out, you will frequently need to ask. You will usually get odd looks if you ask for your bed to be made every day as this is just generally not done.
Linen NOT Included
Wow! What a deal! Only $59 per night for my room!!
Hold on and think for a moment. If it sounds to good to be true, it usually is. Make sure you read carefully when you are booking your rooms.
Many hotels offer super-cheap rooms (particularly at holiday parks and hostels), but there is no linen included. No sheets, no blankets, no towels. You can frequently rent the linens, but the prices are usually set high enough to discourage many from doing this (i.e. $10-$15 per person extra).
One of the highlights of visiting a new country is trying new foods and different tastes.
Sticker shock much? Remember how I mentioned no tipping above? Well, New Zealand also includes GST in all of their prices, including into the prices of meals.
So, you might look at your meal and think “$15 for a burger? $25 for a curry?” Keep in mind that, while you might only pay $10 or $15 at home for the same meal, you aren’t adding a 20% gratuity and 7% taxes onto your meal.
Just don’t do it. A standard 750mL beer will run you around $9 at a restaurant. Best to swing by the grocery store and pick up a case for $30!
They are also extremely strict about drink driving here (not drunk driving).
I’ll just cook my own food! This is a great way to save on costs, particularly for easy meals like breakfast and lunches.
However, if it is winter, expect prices for fresh produce to be high. Ridiculously high. Like $5 for a single capsicum (aka bell pepper). The cheapest is Pak n’ Save, followed by Countdown, New World, and Four Square.
Things will also have different names and stores will be organised differently from the ones at home. Expect your first shopping trip to take around double the time you expect.
To the left, to the left
Keep left! For a majority of visitors, this one takes some getting used to. Always keep left. On freeways where you have multiple lanes, keep left unless passing.
No turns on red lights!
This can get particularly confusing when the main light turns green, but the arrow stays red. Make sure you are watching the right light for the direction that you want to go.
All Around we go
New Zealand tends to favour roundabouts (aka traffic circles) to traffic lights about half the time. If you are unfamiliar with traffic circles, it is best to take some time to read up on them. Never be afraid to ask for clarification when you pick up your rental vehicle.
It Takes HOW LONG?
New Zealand is a smaller country. It shouldn’t take me that long to drive from here to there…it’s only 50km! Slow down and rethink that idea.
New Zealand roads are narrow, twisty, and different from what you are accustomed to. The average speed on highways is 100kph and in cities 50kph, however it isn’t uncommon for every corner on a road to be marked at 60-75 kph. Especially if you are driving anything larger than a tiny car, they mean it! Although it doesn’t happen as often, Andrew and I have encountered signs on corners on the main highway (SH1) that advised slowing to 15 kph for the corner.
Double your time estimates when planning your trip!
One of the advantages of living in one of the four largest cities in New Zealand is that Dunedin is just large enough to still attract the major events that visit the larger cities like Christchurch and Auckland, while still being small enough to have that small town feel.
This past week, Dunedin played host to the ‘Night Noodle Market’, which hosted both performances and foods with an Asian influence. According to their advertising, it would allow locals to experience the “sights, sounds, and tastes of an authentic Asian street market”.
Authentic? Not so much…far too orderly with neat little queues marked out in the grassy fields of the Kensington Oval. Far too neat and orderly if anyone’s been to any actual Asian markets, but still, the food was quite tasty.
Andrew and I arrived just at the dinner rush, which wasn’t the best timing on our parts. We were hungry and most of the lines were ridiculously long (think around 20-30 minutes in line).
The portion sizes were also quite small given the prices. The only thing we were tempted by that we didn’t go for was the pineapple smoothies; they wanted $12 just for a small smoothie in a pineapple!
That being said, the food was still absolutely fantastic. Andrew and I shared our dishes and got to sample four different dishes while we were there. It did mean standing in line for each dish, but once we had our first one and weren’t so hungry anymore, it was a lot more enjoyable.
The atmosphere was nice and the people were quite friendly. Each of the stalls was quite efficient in their food delivery as well, getting through the long lines quickly.
The skewers were definitely the most popular stall in the place, and I can see why! They were absolutely delicious. It was $12 for 2 sticks and some people were walking around with entire bouquets of the things. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people spent upwards of $100-$200 on dinner, although Andrew and I kept our evening reasonable.
There was also some fire dancing performances, which were fun to watch. The fair could have really benefited from a small craft market as well, in my opinion.
Overall, Andrew and I really enjoyed our evening and the opportunity it gave us to sample food from a bunch of the different local restaurants.