Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s make one thing clear: I was obsessed with New Zealand before I ever stepped foot on the island. It had been #1 on my bucket list for years, but I had put off visiting because I didn’t think I had enough time to fully do it justice. Perhaps it was my bad for cramming way too much into 15-days that were so hectic I never really had a second to just enjoyed myself, but I thought that was better than leaving with FOMO for having missed out on something incredible.
Whatever version of the country I had built up in my head, it was nothing like what I expected. Here are some things I definitely was not prepared for:
21. I was required to take a breathalyzer on my very first tourist attraction. Looking at you, Auckland Skywalk.
20. How ridiculous the traffic in Auckland was. For being a city 8x smaller than NYC, going one block was just as bad as if you were in LA or the Big Apple.
19. How seriously terrible the Internet is. Charging by the MB? Are we in 1999?
18. Learning there is someone buried in the Auckland Bridge. While that may be true, it’s a bit of a gruesome fact for a historical tour.
17. There are multiple active volcanoes right within city limits.
16. Blackwater rafting is actually the unlaziest river ever. It’s freezing, you can’t hear a word the guide is saying over the raging rapids, and you’re jumping backwards down waterfalls in inner tubes in a pitch black cave. This would never be allowed in most countries for safety reasons. Yolo?
15. Owning acres of farmland is called having a “lifestyle plot.” I guess that’s one kind of lifestyle. Similarly, there are more sheep and cows than people.
14. Hobbiton was a magical butterfly field full of immaculate landscaping right down to the hand-painted trees to make them greener. It’s still worth going even if you’ve never seen a single one of the movies (I was one of the 30% of visitors that hadn’t).
13. Zorbing is everything you want it to be an more. But the fun only lasts for about a minute.
12. Everyone will tell you the South Island is more beautiful, but head to Tongariro National Park and you might disagree.
11. I was expecting Taupo to be a tiny lake town — it’s not. There are streets and streets of shopping.
10. Rotorua was not a haute spa town, either. It was quirky, bohemian backpacker’s paradise. In fact, there was actually a hippie sideshow caravan in town.
9. They’re big on restaurants with sliding cases where you can simply take what you want. Even sushi is priced by the piece, a genius idea we need in America. As such, I made every meal a food crawl. There is also an insane amount of bad British food (no one needs that much fish and chips or meat pie).
8. Wellington the capitol didn’t boast a huge list of attractions, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t spend days exploring the various neighborhoods and taking in the vibes. It’s one of those hip cities with tons of personality.
7. The inter-island ferry was so big it actually had a movie theater on board. But why would you sequester yourself to the dark cinema when you could be watching the sunny seas?
6. The whole country is super gay friendly – rainbow GAYTMs are actually a thing.
5. It’s a lot easier to travel within the North Island as most major cities are just 1-3 hours apart. Factor in the mountains and the water in the south, and flying is definitely your best bet for getting around efficiently. Driving will take you 6-9 hours per stop (a brutal hit to the itinerary if you aren’t prepared).
4. I was expecting New Zealand to be a crazy party place with all-night ragers like Australia is famed for. I didn’t see any of that, but they were crazy in their own way. My bus to the Maori cultural show really enjoyed flying around roundabouts honking like a maniac with the doors open. Again, yolo?
3. I’m pretty sure Queenstown is actually just Jurassic Park in disguise. The colors are so vivid: the greenest grass, the iciest blue waters, and stunning emerald pools.
2. How fast it can all disappear. 75% of Christchurch was destroyed by an earthquake literally overnight. It’s expected to take 20 years to fully repair and the destruction is visible from almost everywhere.
And the biggest surprise of all?
1. That it didn’t feel foreign… at all. English is weirdly universal, even after a 14-hour flight around the world, which is partly why I was let down. You can read about that here.