With the news that Australians can return to New Zealand for holidays starting on April 12, now’s the time to take a look at some of the great things that make New Zealand a unique place to visit.
There’s a moment for most Australians when they’re travelling overseas, when they’re far from home and feeling a little sentimental, and they catch a Kiwi accent in the air. Suddenly they think: “Yes! A friend.”
Because the good people of Australia and New Zealand might profess to be rivals back home, but as soon as you’re far overseas and you find a Kiwi, you know you will instantly understand each other, and you realise just how close our two nations are, culturally and politically and historically and more.
We’re same-same. So many shared cultural touchstones. So many mutual characteristics. But then, of course, we’re also different. That’s one of the surprising things about travelling in the Land of the Long White Cloud, the fact that everything is recognisable over there and yet at the same time completely different. It’s what makes New Zealand feel so safe and welcoming, and yet at the same time absolutely fascinating.
Same-same, but different. That’s our two countries, our two cultures. Next time you’re travelling in New Zealand, keep an eye out for these quirks.
Flying to the South Island? Be sure to grab a window seat. Photo: iStock
WE’VE GOT The Great Dividing Range
THEY’VE GOT Actual mountains
SEE IT Make sure you get a window seat if you’re flying from Australia straight into Queenstown, in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, because the view is incredible: vast ranges of snow-capped peaks, jagged alpine splendour that you would just never find in our own sunburnt land. The Southern Alps are stunning in every way, and put the Australian version of mountains to shame.
DON’T MISS The classic experience of the Southern Alps is to take a helicopter flight up to the Franz Josef Glacier, near the South Island town of the same name. To walk on the creaking ice up here is to know the power and the beauty of nature.
MORE It’s also possible to hike from Franz Josef up to the face of the glacier, or do a guided ice walk. See newzealand.com
WE’VE GOT Mod-Oz
THEY’VE GOT Mod-Kiwi
SEE IT Putting aside, for a second, Kiwi gastronomic classics like Southland cheese rolls and the curious popularity of Lemon & Paeroa, food in New Zealand has progressed lately in much the same way it has in Australia, with chefs incorporating native ingredients and techniques, as well as ideas from a vast number of migrant communities.
DON’T MISS To taste the future of Kiwi cuisine – as well as its long history – book a table at Hiakai, chef Monique Fiso’s celebrated Wellington fine-diner, where Maori techniques and native ingredients are harnessed with haute cuisine style.
MORE You’ll find great restaurants throughout New Zealand, from Queenstown to Christchurch to Auckland. To book in at Hiakai, go to haikai.co.nz
A kea on New Zealand’s South Island. Photo: iStock
WE’VE GOT Cockatoos
THEY’VE GOT Keas
SEE IT Just as you may have had a brush or two with cheeky cockatoos during your travels in Australia, you will probably have a run-in with keas when you’re across the ditch. Keas are parrots, found in alpine regions of the South Island, that are notoriously curious and highly intelligent, and will easily steal your food if it’s not bolted down.
DON’T MISS Great place to see keas in the wild? Try Arthur’s Pass, the highest pass in the Southern Alps, which is not only an incredible natural landscape, but home to a large population of keas.
MORE Arthur’s Pass is on the main road between Christchurch on the east coast, and Greymouth on the west. See newzealand.com for more.
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington. Photo: WellingtonNZ
WE’VE GOT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history
THEY’VE GOT Maori traditions
SEE IT The culture of New Zealand’s original inhabitants, the Maori, is relatively easy for visitors to access, whether that’s just by witnessing a haka in person, or visiting a museum such as Te Papa in Wellington, or going to visit a “marae”, a traditional Maori meeting ground, in the North Island, particularly around Rotorua and Gisborne.
DON’T MISS A visit to a marae usually involves a sacred welcoming ceremony – a powhiri – as well as a tour of the meeting house, a cultural demonstration, and a meal that will probably be cooked in a traditional hangi, or ground oven.
MORE To find out where there are maraes to visit, as well as get more details on Te Papa, see newzealand.com
New Zealand’s parliament building in Wellington, AKA The Beehive. Photo: iStock
WE’VE GOT Canberra
THEY’VE GOT Wellington
SEE IT While Australians tend to have a measure of distain for their capital city, Kiwis are more likely to be fans of theirs, despite its reputation for blustery weather. Wellington is a fantastic destination, with a high-quality bar and restaurant scene, world-class museums and galleries, and plenty of space to explore and relax in.
DON’T MISS As mentioned earlier, Te Papa is amazing, a hugely popular museum featuring interactive exhibitions that take visitors through the history and the modern culture and environment of New Zealand.
MORE To plan a stay in Wellington, including information on visiting Te Papa, go to wellingtonnz.com
WE’VE GOT Thredbo
THEY’VE GOT Queenstown
SEE IT Without wanting to throw shade on Thredbo – we love it there – Queenstown really is next-level. This is New Zealand’s adventure capital, known for skiing and snowboarding in winter, hiking and mountain-biking in summer, and jet-boating, bungy-jumping, sky-diving and anything else that’s scary any time of the year. Throw in a great bar and restaurant scene and a spectacular lakeside location, and you’re in heaven.
DON’T MISS Queenstown’s adventures don’t have to be white-knuckle: hire a bike and hit one of the many gentle trails in the area, which will take you through small towns and skirting alpine lakes.
MORE For more information, and to book attractions and accommodation, see queenstownnz.co.nz
Paroa Bay in the Bay of Islands. Photo: Shaun Jeffers
WE’VE GOT The Whitsundays
THEY’VE GOT Bay of Islands
SEE IT Australians get so obsessed with New Zealand’s mountains that we tend to forget about another major natural drawcard: its islands. The Bay of Islands, up off the far northern tip of NZ, is a stunningly beautiful area of 144 islands lapped by crystal-clear waters that’s perfect for hiking, sailing, snorkelling and scuba-diving, camping, or hanging out in a “bach” (a Kiwi holiday home).
DON’T MISS The Bay of Islands is the home of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a hugely important historic site where the treaty between the Maori and European settlers was signed. Be sure to visit.
MORE Find out more about the islands and their attractions at newzealand.com
The Routeburn Track. Photo: Tourism New Zealand
WE’VE GOT The Larapinta Trail
THEY’VE GOT The Routeburn Track
SEE IT Kiwis don’t mess around when it comes to long-distance walking tracks: the country has a series of 10 “Great Walks”, which vary in distance and difficulty, highlighted by the mighty Routeburn Track, a 32-kilometre path that winds its way through the alpine beauty of the Otago and Fiordland regions, with forests, lakes and waterfalls at every turn.
DON’T MISS One of the real pleasures of the Routeburn Track is the group shelters you’ll spend the night in along the way, where hikers gather to trade yarns and rest weary limbs.
MORE Bookings are essential if you’re hoping to tackle this hike, which is best done from November to April. See doc.govt.nz/routeburntrack for more.
WE’VE GOT The Barossa
THEY’VE GOT Central Otago
SEE IT As with Australia, there are a heap of great wine regions to visit in New Zealand – from Marlborough to Hawkes Bay to Waiheke Island; however, our favourite would have to be Central Otago. Here you’ll find not just the country’s best pinot noir, but also some of its most visually spectacular wineries, and a reliably friendly welcome.
DON’T MISS Here’s a great way to combine two of New Zealand’s great loves: the Central Otago Rail Trail, a gentle 152km track that takes cyclists past several excellent wineries, as well as country pubs and bakeries that ooze charm.
MORE Plan your trip – including hiring bikes and booking accommodation – at otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz
WE’VE GOT Witjira National Park
THEY’VE GOT Rotorua
SEE IT Rotorua’s thermal activity is so famous that plenty of Australians probably know more about it than they do about our own hot-spring wonderland, in South Australia’s Witjira National Park, home of perfect, 37-degree natural baths at Dalhousie Springs. But anyway, Rotorua: a geothermal wonderland of sky-high geysers, bubbling mud pools, multi-hued rocks and steaming lakes and pools. There’s a reason it’s so well known.
DON’T MISS For the ideal snapshot of Rotorua’s thermal attractions, get yourself down to Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park, where visitors can soak in outdoor mud baths, cool off under a waterfall, and check out hot-water lakes and other pools.
MORE Find everything you need to know on Rotorua at rotoruanz.com
Five things the Kiwis have that we can’t even compare to
THE ALL BLACKS
The Kiwi national rugby team is one of the greatest – if not the actual greatest – sporting organisation on the planet, a phenomenal group of players and officials that seems to magically regenerate year after year. Here’s a country of only 5 million people, and it absolutely dominates the world of rugby. It’s astounding, and endlessly impressive.
FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS
Sure, Australia has some great comedy duos, but none who have mastered the dry wit and self-deprecating weirdness – not to mention the musical genius – of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, aka Flight of the Conchords. The pair stopped making their eponymous TV show almost 15 years ago, and they’re still world famous.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS
Of course it’s not just the film series itself we will never compare to – a three-part epic that runs for something like 56 hours and single-handedly reignited a worldwide love for classic fantasy literature – but also the scenery that made it so great. To watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy is to want to visit New Zealand, whether on a quest, or just a holiday.
As mentioned earlier on in this story, New Zealand has mountains – mountains that put Australia’s little hillocks to shame – and it also has glaciers, slow-moving rivers of ice, of which Australia has, well, none. Kiwis can choose from Franz Josef, Fox, Hooker, Murchison and more.
Without wanting to get too political, the Kiwis have a national leader who is a charismatic and largely popular figure, someone who has been able to rally her country as a whole while presenting a competent and likable face to the outside world. And Australia… well.
YOURS, OR OURS?
Five contentious things that could be Kiwi… or not
There’s no doubt this is the favoured coffee style of both New Zealanders and Australians – the issue comes with its invention, which both sides tend to claim. The accepted history, however, is that flat whites emerged in Sydney cafes in the 1980s, and then – according to Kiwis as least – was perfected in Wellington in the 1990s. Melburnians make take issue with that.
The verdict: Ours
Pretty much every Australian grew up eating pavlova and considering it a dessert of their own country’s making. Trouble is, so did Kiwis. And in a hilarious turn of events, we’re all wrong. Researchers have discovered that meringues topped with cream and fruit were being served in the German-speaking world in the 18th century, and the dessert was popularised in the US in the 1800s.
The verdict: Neither
Australians have always felt a strong affinity towards Crowded House, despite the band’s key member, Neil Finn, being as Kiwi as Hokey Pokey ice-cream. The band formed in Melbourne, with Australians Paul Hestor and Nick Seymour involved, they were based in Melbourne for a good time, and played their 1996 farewell concert in Sydney. The current line-up, meanwhile, is three-fifths Kiwi (and all Finns).
The verdict: Um… ours?
If you know anything about Maori culture, you probably know about the “hangi”, the Polynesian technique of cooking meat and vegetables in a large hole in the ground, which is filled with hot rocks and then covered in dirt. It’s a famous invention. Only thing is, Australia’s First Nations peoples had been cooking in ground ovens for thousands of years before Polynesians even began migrating towards New Zealand.
The verdict: Both
Australia’s most famous race horse, the Melbourne Cup and Cox Plate winner Phar Lap, was born in New Zealand, near Timaru on the South Island. The gelding, however, was trained in Sydney and shot to fame in Melbourne, creating a deep affinity among Australians for this big-hearted racer. His hide is now displayed in Melbourne, his skeleton in Wellington, and his heart in Canberra. Which goes to show we can share.
The verdict: Both