Some things about Aotearoa


Giant old pohutukawa at Te Araroa, East Coast New Zealand. Photo by J Wilson

The most popular blogs, it seems, are the ones that compile trivia lists – the biggest, the best, the most awesome, the most very unique, etc. All you have to do is come up with a headline like “what this orangutan does next will truly amaze you”.

So I’m off to New Zealand for a couple of weeks, leaving you in the skilful hands of She Who Also Sometimes Writes. I had an idea of using my inside knowledge, as it were, to compile a little-known list of things you may not know about New Zealand. Surprise, Huffington Post and a half dozen others have already done it (several times). They go for the obvious, mind you. Did you know you can go bungee-jumping in NZ? Did you know NZ has midges which will make your outdoor treks a misery? Did you know the Moa is extinct and the Kiwi cannot fly?

Crivens, as they say in Montrose!

I wasn’t born in Aotearoa, but I got there as fast as I could. Went to school there, tried playing rugby and got my glasses smashed. Tried numerous ways of earning a living, travelled the world, went to Australia, met a girl and, like 650,000 other Kiwis, I stayed.

Now here’s the first thing you might not know about New Zealand. While it is well known that about 15% of the Kiwi population live in Australia (their 2014 estimate), you might wonder how many Aussies live across the ditch. Well, not that many – less than 1% of the population. The 2013 NZ Census showed that 22,470 people who identified as Australian were living in New Zealand on the 5th of March 2013. A third of them lived in Auckland.

Population experts went into this a bit further, noting in a 2013 blog that two-thirds (10,308) of the 15,755 people arriving permanently in New Zealand, after living in Australia for a year or longer, were in fact New Zealand citizens; 3,126 Australian citizens arrived to live in New Zealand permanently, making up just 4.3% of the total number (86,026) of people arriving to live in NZ in the year ending March 2013.

One in 4 born elsewhere

This is a well-known Australian statistic, but curiously, 25% of Kiwis were also born somewhere else. So when you combine this with the tendency for Kiwis and Aussies to travel freely back and forth between the two countries for work or pleasure, it is a moveable figure. The Australian Bureau of Statistics did a survey in 2010 which aimed to quantify the Kiwi/Aussie proportion of the population. The ABS concluded that the annual change in the size of the NZ-born population in Australia tended to hide the two-way movement of the NZ-born population. Although there was a net migration of 94,300 NZ-born people to Australia between 2005 and 2008, this included 156,000 NZ-born arrivals and 61,500 NZ-born departures. About one-third (32%) of people who departed in this three-year period had been resident in Australia for less than two years, while over half (58%) had been here for less than five years.

Demographics aside, here’s a few things about New Zealand that aren’t as well known (or expensive) as, say, bungee jumping from the Kawarau Bridge or a hangi and a show at a five-star hotel in Rotorua.

Day walk across the country

If you felt inclined, you could walk across the Auckland isthmus from the east coast to the west coast, from the Waitemata to the Manukau. The 16-kilometre walk takes you through the city, past, through or over five supposedly-extinct volcanos which are now famous parks and vantage points. They include the Domain, Albert Park, Mt Eden, and One Tree Hill. Pack a lunch; allow time for stopovers at the Auckland Museum and other historic points of interest. Take a brolly.

Island bird watching

Three Tuis 01
Three tuis on Tiritiri Matangi, island bird sanctuary Photo by Laurel Wilson

If you’re a serious bird-watcher, you probably already know about Tiritiri Matangi, a small island in the Hauraki Gulf. This is one of several islands where the Department of Conservation and community volunteers have eradicated all predators and introduced endangered species of birds, to mate and reproduce in safety. You can get there by boat from Auckland harbour. Busy in the school holidays. It’s a very small island.

Craters of the Moon

This self-guided thermal walk used to be a haven for those in the know, a way to experience the country’s geothermal wonders without the crowds and the tourism kitsch of Rotorua. Craters of the Moon is still a beautiful, isolated valley where you can wander alone through active pods of thermal activity. I see they have a kiosk now and an admission charge ($8). Last time I was there, it was free, although you could leave a donation in the metal box next to a sign warning you not to leave valuables in your car.

New Zealand the incorruptible

Jemima Skelley, a BuzzFeed contributor, compiled a list of 69 facts about New Zealand, one of which I found worth further exploration. It seems Kiwis are equal only to the Danes in terms of incorruptibility. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be: Zero is highly corrupt and 100 ‘very clean’.

Denmark and New Zealand each scored 91 points, which suggests there is still some scope for the brown paper bag. Australia came in at 9th position with a score of 81, as did Canada. Two thirds of the 177 countries surveyed scored less than 50 with the bottom three (Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia) on 8 points.

Transparency International says the index uses different assessments and business opinion surveys carried out by independent and reputable institutions. Surveys (TI uses a minimum of three), include questions relating to bribery of public officials, kickbacks in (tendering), embezzlement of public funds, and the effectiveness of public sector anti-corruption efforts.

Is there really a town called Waikikamukau?

Ah, no, that would be, in Kiwi-parlance, taking the pus. Pronounced why-kick-a-moo-cow, this is a fictional place where people are presumed to live. Waikikamukau is not unlike Springfield (the Simpsons’ home town), in that you know it’s not real, but somehow it seems to be.


Now to a real place, an otherwise undistinguished hill in central Hawkes Bay which boasts the world’s longest place name. Wikipedia’s somewhat Pythonesque English translation is:

“The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”

Filleting the whitebait – A Kiwi urban myth

If you catch whitebait (tiny transparent fish, the immature fry of other fish), it is not necessary, despite what you may be told, to gut them, or cut off their heads and tails. A hundred or so whitebait washed and fried in batter actually makes a lovely fritter.


Yes, I know I did it a few paras ago, but Kiwis really do not like their accent being mocked. They don’t. So if you’re at the chick-out and need a biro to sign a treveller’s cheek, don’t ask for a pin or a pun.

Next week: The joy of small towns

Travel without regrets

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LA freeway photo by Jeff Turner flickr

Dedicated readers will know by now my penchant for tinkering with numbers, so you won’t be surprised that I have done an inflation-adjusted calculation on my/our travel adventures over 45 years. O.M.G. We could have bought a second home, or a third; a luxury yacht, a Maserati or achieved the mythical $1 million retirement target.

New Zealand is Australia’s most popular outbound travel destination – 1.06 million went there in the year to March 2015; 483,000 for a holiday, another 603,000 on business or visiting family and friends. The next most popular outbound destination, according to Austrade’s Tourism Research Australia, was the USA (590,000 holiday makers and 286,000 people doing business or visiting family and friends). In third place was Indonesia (830,000), then Thailand (596,000). The UK is up there, with 510,000 Australian visitors. In all, 8.81 million Australians travelled overseas, for holidays, for business or to visit family and friends.
The other 15 million or so stayed home.

Ignoring travel alerts

Surprisingly (well, I was surprised) 77,000 Australians went on holiday in the Middle East and North Africa in the year to March 2015. There’s a risk/reward equation that probably adds a frisson of excitement to travel in unstable regions.
Egypt (population 91 million) attracts tourists who have the Pyramids on their bucket lists. Wikipedia says Egypt attracted a record 14.7 million visitors in 2010, but numbers have dropped significantly since 2013, due to civil unrest and travel warnings.
Reader M took her teenage sons to Egypt in 2008, “for an education”. It was also a rite of passage, as she had travelled there in 1985. She has no plans to return to Egypt, however, disillusioned by the lack of progress in that country since visiting 23 years earlier.
“Back then Egypt was pretty much culturally secular and was atmospherically a wonderful cross of east meets west. Many women wore the head scarf but an equal number did not. Cairo was cosmopolitan, with French, English and Italian influences. People were open, educated and friendly and the country looked affluent.

“Fast forward 23 years and nothing had been progressed in the country. In fact, a real sense of stagnation was evident. Not a road mended or a building finished….. Every woman was covered and there was pollution and filth everywhere.
“Where previously we were invited to people’s homes and the conversation was about global issues, politics, religion and family, this time the conversation was one-way rhetoric-driven, narrow, politically driven. The difference was staggering.”

Renovate or travel?

So far, we have not been that adventurous. In 1990, we’d been doing the sums on a major renovation of our 1930s colonial in Annerley. We planned to claw the $20k back from mortgage payments as we’d been keeping ahead of the game. Suddenly, in 1991, I found myself between jobs, with two months’ leave before I started the new one. We took our son (aged 9) out of school and spent the $20k on a tour of the US, Canada and New Zealand. We parlayed with the boy’s teacher – he had to keep a journal and make notes of all the amazing things he saw (Niagara Falls, the bilingual McDonald’s in Montreal, the Grand Canyon, Universal Studios, Disneyland, Giant Redwoods, Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump (more on that another day), and Fort McLeod, birthplace of Joni Mitchell (and She Who Planned the Itinerary). We hired a 20-foot recreational ‘ve-hicle’ (RV) from a depot at Anaheim and set off on the LA Freeway at 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon. What were we thinking? I later counselled son that “Mum and Dad were screaming in the car” was not the sort of diary entry his teacher would appreciate.

No regrets at all

Looking back, you never regret the money spent on travel, even when it was shitty; when the digs were below standard, when you all had head colds and the exchange rate was unfavourable. I remember nosing the RV into a parking spot at the Grand Canyon lookout. Our son got out, ran over to the rim of the canyon (it was almost sunset) and went “Wow”. We all went “wow”. He took an amazing photo with a cheap Kodak camera. We drove right around the canyon in the next week, shopping at Native American roadside stalls, talking Aussie to people, feeling light-headed from the rarefied air. A lasting family dinner-time catch phrase stems from overhearing this at an Arizona RV park all you can eat buffet:
“Hey Hank, you wants any more?
“Nope, if I eats any more I’ll be sick.”

US road trip

We rattled across four states in that big RV. The odd highlight (for me) was parking it in a 500-lot RV park in Las Vegas, getting a complimentary shuttle bus to the casino, winning $17 on the slots and queuing up for the $3.99 all you can eat buffet at Circus Circus. I tried to persuade SWPTI to get (re) married in an Elvis chapel (you can do that in Nevada), but she couldn’t get out of Vegas quick enough.
Every time we stopped for a meal at a roadhouse or diner, the wait staff would fuss over our boy and say “make him tark”. We did three days at Disneyland, drove up the coast to San Francisco, took a tour to Alcatraz, went camping in national parks, hugged a redwood, made sure we stored our food in bear-proof lockers. We drove across the desert in the RV we dubbed “Horse with No Name” and nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning because someone left the rear window open.
We ended the adventure the way it began, stuck in a 90-mile traffic jam (between Vegas and Anaheim).

Those inspired to travel reading books by Robert Byron, Evelyn Waugh, Somerset Maugham, Bruce Chatwin and such probably see travel as M does − as a pilgrimage (religious or not), to experience the journey for itself and to walk in other people’s shoes.
Others have a list of famous places, or a list of risky things to do in said places (e.g. running with the bulls at Pamplona, climbing Uluru or bungy-jumping off the Kawarau bridge at Queenstown).

Uluru 02 LW
Photo by Laurel Wilson

On our first visit to the Red Centre, we arrived at one of the elevated spots where one can watch the sun set over Uluru. There were a lot of people there, complete with picnic hampers, bubbles, wine glasses, cameras and mobile phones.
Anyway, the sun began to sink and the rock started changing colour; it should have been time for a bit of hush, right? Not for two old blokes from Queensland who spent the entire time talking about how the Broncos were going and who’d win the State of Origin. They’ve come to this ancient, spooky place and can’t handle the feeling they aren’t really supposed to be there. So they drown the feelings out with white fella tribal talk and a few tinnies.

Next day we walked past 30 people waiting to climb the Rock (the climb was later closed because of high winds), which doesn’t excuse the wannabe climbers from ignoring the wishes of local Aborigines.
We took the Mala Walk around Uluru and I wished I’d gone before I left because (hint for others), there are no public toilets on this 11km walk. Apart from that, it was stunningly beautiful; a bit overwhelming, really.
As travel probably should be.