We took a driving tour through North New Zealand where we had fun visiting waterfalls, villages, hot springs and seeing the magnificent countryside we’ve always heard about. We met some great people and tried some new foods and drinks along the way. Here are some of the smaller notes we made while there.
Tipping and the real cost of eating out
There is no tipping which can really throw you off with understanding what is expensive or not in the country. For example, you may find that you can get two burgers (2X$10) and beers (2X$5) for a total of $30 NZD. That sounds pretty pricey at first, but it includes taxes AND tip.
In the U.S. before tax and tip you’d be looking at roughly $21.84 ($30-%20-%9.) Then, you have to consider the exchange rate on top of that which is currently $1.3USD=$1NZD. So the true U.S. equivalent would be a $15-$16 meal for two with alcohol before taxes and tip. Not bad at all.
Paying at the counter
This threw us off at first, and even though you are reading this it will throw you off too. When you’re done with your meal you must get up and go to the host, tell them where you sat, and pay your bill there. It’s easy to get comfortable relaxing after your meal and forgetting there is one more bit of effort expected of you before you can leave. A friend told me they see this in most countries, out of the 10+ countries we have visited so far only Australia and NZ worked this way.
Ordering all at once
When you are in NZ the idea of ordering drinks, then apps, then the meal (with time breaks in between,) is lost on many waiters. They expect you to consolidate your whole meal upfront and give your final order all at once. We had a few awkward moments where they were waiting for us to keep ordering and us waiting for them to leave.
Signature or Pin
I know much of the world has moved onto the chip and pin for credit cards but New Zealand had the hardest time understanding what do with my pinless card. It really confused them. Most countries have just run the card and handed me a pen to sign the receipt. I know it wasn’t a language issue, since we speak the same language. I visited many countries so far and the pinless card (even though it had a chip) confused NZ/AUS the most.
Lost In Translation
Between all the above customs our first few days in NZ felt a bit awkward at the restaurants. There were a couple times we clearly ordered one (with the one finger gesture) coffee for Jackie and we would still get two. Weird. Is it our accent???
Grilled cheese sandwiches are lovingly called “Toasties.”
Kiwi’s offer a lot of lamb, avocado,calamari, steak , and fish & chips in their menus.
We noticed that fast food joints like McDonalds or KFC were a bit more up-scale and modern looking, compared to our fast food teenage run shacks. I personally think the chicken at KFC was better – Jackie didn’t care for it. (I would agree that the biscuits and the mashed potatoes were sub-par). There was far more variety at the McDonalds stops with a larger McCafe selection and tasty salads and lamb wraps.
We also thought the burgers in New Zealand were pretty bad. To each his own. I’m sure they say the same about us. BUT for other Americans out there, I’d try something else on the menu. The bread is crumbly and the meat is – bits of chewiness. We tried burgers at local fast food joints as well as restaurants and they all had the same textures and flavours.I think it is the local preference. We did quite like the sides though. The Sweet Potato fries and Pumpkin Balls were great. Also, the ribs were a bit off for me.
Every country has a local favorite that gets replicated in every store, from 7-11 to, McDonalds, to a full blown restaurant. (In Japan for instance they had sushi at 7-11.) In New Zealand it was meat pies. We had a few, at the best and not so best places. I didn’t find a huge difference between the best and worst. It is basically a gravy rich chicken pot pie you ate with your hands. Meh.
The kiwis seem to prefer sparkling water so check the label. Yes every country has options for either but New Zealand leaned to sparkle.
Alcohol and Beers
We have ginger beer in the states but they are non-alcoholic. Ginger Beer in NZ and AU were mixed with vodka, others Rum etc. They were our favorite drinks. We couldn’t get enough.
The liquor store carried tons of premixed beverages. Almost every standard mixed drink came pre-mixed and canned. (eg. Johnnie Walker and Code, Rum and Coke)
If you like ciders than NZ and AU are great spots for you. They have a plethora of cider selections eg peach, pear, apple – you name it.
If you like India Pale Ale you are out of luck. Jackie loves the stuff and most Kiwi and Aussies had no idea what we were talking about when we asked for the stuff.
A few times we asked for directions. The person would tell us “it is a minute up the road.” It turned out to be 5 steps away. A minute was what we would call “a sec.”
In the U.S. our salutations usually go, “How you doin?” or “How’s it going?” In New Zealand it is merged into “How you going?” The U.S. response to “Thanks” is either “All good” or “No problem”, “you’re welcome” or even “no worries.” In New Zealand we often got “that’s alright” or “that’s ok.”
It may say “yield to pedestrians” but no car yields for pedestrians. We would almost get run over on designated crosswalks and plenty of distance for the car to slow down and stop. We would get edged off the cross walk. Rude drivers overall I’d say across the country.
The rules for stores and restaurants vary greatly on public holidays. Some areas are shut down, some are not. We were around for easter and many spots (if open) had rules that a customer couldn’t drink without ordering food. The amount of food required varied greatly as well. Some places demanded multiple meals, others just allowed an appetizer.
Supposedly, from what we heard, drinking rules are strict – they post measurements of how to rate the intoxication level of customers (eg. by talkativeness, slurring, and posture) on the bars.
Don’t get me started on this. It was hard as hell to get internet in New Zealand and Australia. If we got it it was limited, if it wasn’t capped it was slow as molasses. Upload and download speeds were faaaaar below 1Mb/s. Hotels would often give us a 50 MB vouchers that we could use for free while there. Gee thanks.
When you turn on the telly you might be surprised with some of the sports you see. I don’t think snooker or rugby would surprise anyone, but there is one game called Netball where people run around with a version of a basketball (without dribbling) and shoot a into a hoop without a backboard from a few feet away.
Other micro notes
We noticed the Kiwis were pretty chill about rules. A few cents here or there were no problem. If something was misunderstood about an agreement or rule the business didn’t put up a fuss.
Get a camper or suv if you can swing it. The higher view over fences as you drive would have been worth it for us.
We heard that all emergency care is completely covered by the government whether you are a resident or foreigner. So, that’s nice 🙂
I know this is a small thing, but I started to notice that all the lights were set as down being on and up being off. Subtle, but noticeably different.