July 3, 2012
First in a series
For some time, it felt like we never left the states. Despite the 50-degree difference between California's summer and New Zealand's winter, downtown Auckland reminded me somewhat of San Francisco. We even saw one of those stand-still men covered in gold spray paint. However, unlike some major cities, Auckland was not uncomfortably crowded with cars and people. Here, people drove on the left side of the road (with their steering wheels on the right side of the car). Likewise, people stayed on the left side of the sidewalk — something I couldn't get used to.
Everything in New Zealand is more expensive. To give you a sense of what I mean, the lowest gas price I've seen so far is 1.39 New Zealand dollars per liter, which is equivalent to about $4.23 (U.S.) per gallon. It is also difficult to buy lunch for less than $10 here, as goods in general cost more. A drink often goes for $3 to $5 and bottled water is never less than $3. However, New Zealanders are tap water drinkers; in the Auckland airport, I remember asking for a water fountain and the airport staff told me that water fountains were hard to come by. She then directed me to the bathroom sink for drinking water. Frankly, it tasted terrible.
We stayed in a hotel by the harbor, something not too different from the piers in S.F. The air was crisp and often biting cold in Auckland, but it was fresh next to the water. In Rotorua, a three hour drive south of Auckland, our noses were forced to breathe the inescapable, foul stench of rotten eggs, or hydrogen sulfur from the nearby hot springs. The hot springs, mud pools, and geyser made parts of Rotorua seem like a snippet of Yellowstone National Park. Both Auckland and Rotorua were beautiful places, but in different ways. Rotorua boasted a cultural liveliness but was much emptier in population and things to do compared to the New Zealand's biggest city, home to 1.2 million.
Although New Zealand has a small population — a mere 4.4 million — its sheep population is much more impressive. During the sheep shearing show, we learned that there were over 40 million sheep in the country. We saw over a dozen kinds of sheep, from the Merino to the Black Romney, and watched a sheep get sheared in a few minutes. While it looked incredibly uncomfortable for the sheep, it was a great learning experience for us.
New Zealand is not a difficult country to love. While it may be small compared the U.S., it is a comfortable place rich with culture and rich with life.