Perhaps this article should be called ‘NZ, Ten Things I Find a Bit Irritating About You.’ But that wouldn’t be paraphrasing the title of a popular movie so I’ll leave it as is… Hate does seem a little strong given that I’ve spent the guts of two years travelling in the country and obviously, for me, the positives outweigh the negatives by some margin.
That being said, there are a number of things about New Zealand that is nothing short of infuriating. I’ve discussed these with other travellers and compiled a list of the worst offenses based on the general consensus. But since this is my blog, some are my own personal pet hates that most likely no one else cares very much about.
If you have ever travelled New Zealand, I’m sure you’ll relate to at least some of these.
The Internet has been the main bane of my life in New Zealand. Even as I write this, I am not sure when I’ll be able to post my ramblings online, such is the contrary nature of New Zealand’s World Wide Web. Back in February 2012, when Stephen Fry stayed in Wellington whilst shooting The Hobbit, he wrote the following on twitter: “[New Zealand] has probably the worst broadband I’ve ever encountered. Turns itself off, slows to a crawl. Pathetic.”
I was in Wellington about a month ago, as I was back when Mr Fry wrote those words. Believe me, nothing has changed.
The price of cell phone data is so stratospheric in New Zealand that I decided not to bother with it at all. WiFi is terrible wherever you stay, most hostels and campgrounds charging extortionate amounts for close to ‘dial-up’ speeds. (Remember ‘dial-up’? Come to New Zealand if you’re feeling nostalgic).
Currently I’m paying $18 a week at Base Backpackers in Queenstown for a ‘premium’ package. It slows to a trickle at peak times, is snail-slow at other times, and often inexplicably stops working altogether for an hour or more. Anytime.
I echo Mr Fry. In fact, I’ll go further. New Zealand Internet is by far the worst and most expensive Internet I have ever had the misfortune to encounter anywhere in the world. Absolutely diabolical. Sorry Kiwis, but you must feel the pain too.
What is the traveller’s most valued possession? A passport perhaps? Why yes, that may be rather important. Losing a passport can ruin your plans irrevocably. A temporary passport can be issued, but it only allows you passage home.
Probably not the best idea to insist that the only form of ID acceptable to get into bars or nightclubs for non-nationals is a passport then. Going drinking with your most valuable possession? Sure, why not, what could possibly go wrong?
I went to the police station recently with a mate who’d lost his doing just that. The police officer informed us cheerfully that it happens all the time. “Retrace your steps from the night before and hope it’s been handed in behind a bar,” was the advice, “they sometimes hold onto it for months before giving it to us.”
Driving licence, maybe? It works for driving a vehicle (which is a lethal weapon, especially in my hands according to my driving instructor), so why not for having a drink?
Overzealousness / Silly Protocols
Overzealousness and ludicrous protocols are par for the course in New Zealand. If you buy any alcohol at a supermarket you are forced to take part in a bizarre ritual: you approach the checkout, the cashier asks you for your ID, you produce said ID, cashier looks into your face earnestly, cashier examines ID, cashier nods approval at your being of legal age, cashier talks into intercom, everyone waits, someone joins the queue, everyone waits some more, a lady approaches with a key, lady looks into your face earnestly, lady examines your ID, lady nods approval, lady swipes key, cashier enters birthdate from ID. You are now permitted to proceed with the rest of your shopping. Insane!
This nonsense is almost certainly linked to the astronomical fines the government imposes on both businesses and individuals alike for breaching the rules. For example, if, as a bartender, I serve someone who is noticeably intoxicated, I am liable to a personal $2000 fine, the duty manager $5000, and the business itself $10000. How you can implement this law is beyond me. Everyone knows someone can look fine one minute and be three sheets to the wind the next. Not Kiwi politicians, apparently.
Talking of laws that can’t be implemented. Try this. A child is allowed into an establishment that serves alcohol as long as he or she is accompanied by his or her parent or legal guardian. (That rules out uncles, aunts and grandparents). Now, how on earth is someone working in a bar going to prove this one way or another? Who comes up with this stuff?
As a result of draconian drinking laws, everyone who works in hospitality, or any store that sells alcohol, appears to live in a constant state of paranoia. I, at thirty four, have to carry my passport around even to buy a six-pack in a supermarket. I’m almost twice the legal age! As youthful as I think I look, even I can’t convince myself that it is even possible I could be seventeen. Nor do the people who are forced to make a pantomime out of checking my passport, of course. It’s all just too silly.
A few years ago, my friend and I tried to purchase some beer at New World supermarket without ID. We were refused. We fetched our passports from the car and returned a few minutes later. We were refused again, despite producing our passports. We asked the reason why, of course, and this was the cashier’s response: “I’m really sorry, but I can’t serve you. Our policy is that if you have been refused service once, for whatever reason, we don’t serve that person again on the same day”.
We stared at her, mouths agape. Only in New Zealand.
The Red Man
My word, what is going on with New Zealand traffic lights? Pedestrians don’t just get screwed over, they get turned upside, beaten senseless and… never mind. In Auckland, I have waited up to four minutes for the green man, only to walk a few metres to wait several minutes more for another. Frustrated, bewildered pedestrians often stand waiting when there isn’t so much as a bicycle on the road.
Jaywalking is rife, of course. How could it not be given the circumstances? Auckland is one of the least congested city centres I have ever seen, but with the longest waits for pedestrians. You could argue that one is the result of the other, but I ain’t buying it.
Wellington is marginally better. Marginally. Christchurch… it’s been a while, but I remember it being pretty bad in places.
Rules, Laws, Regulations and More Rules
Okay, we’ve already covered the rules and laws surrounding alcohol. But if only it stopped there, at least. British Liberal MP, David Goldblatt, visited New Zealand in 1955 to convalesce after a heart attack. He admired many things about the country including its education system and newspapers, but he despaired of its tariffs and barriers and wondered at laws that amounted to ‘the complete control of the individual by the government’.
No doubt things have improved in this regard since that time, but it seems the government still can’t resist telling its citizens what to do and what not to do. And some of these dos and don’ts are absurd.
Here are a few more examples.
Do you know you can’t walk your dog down the main street in Raglan on pain of a $300 fine? I don’t have a dog but if I did I’d like to think I could walk it anywhere I pleased so long as it was public land and outdoors. Dogs are banned from lots of places, including many beaches. But not family barbeques, apparently. Priorities people.
Freedom camping is not officially illegal; it’s merely prohibited almost everywhere, at least anywhere near civilisation. There are some designated campsites that are free but you can’t necessarily camp on a mountain, for example. Or a forest. Or on a sand dune. Or on a grassy knoll. Hefty fines are often dished out for this anti-social behaviour.
Incidentally, if you are planning on camping in New Zealand, here’s a handy app that will tell you where the cheapest spots are. It allows you to download the map to your device, so you don’t have to be online to use it. I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise given the current state of Kiwi Internet.
Smoking is soon to be banned by Auckland City Council on beaches and on streets. No doubt the rest of the country will follow suit at some point. It has already been proposed in Parliament, though rejected for now. Cigarettes are to be raised in price by ten percent year-on-year to ‘phase them out’, so no one will be able to afford them soon anyway. Not legally, at least.
You can’t purchase alcohol (sorry alcohol again) on Anzac day unless you buy food to have with it. Same at Easter. How does this work? If you purchase food once, is that enough to drink as long as you like? The answer is no, apparently. OK, so once you finish your food, may you drink on for a while if you leave the plates on the table? Or may you drink to your hearts content as long as food is left on the table? When must you leave? I asked. No one seems to know.
There are countless more absurd laws, including one currently being proposed about paddling pools in private gardens. I despair.
So you’re travelling along the New Zealand highway, content in the knowledge that you’re going in the right direction and that you will reach your destination forthwith. You may not be exactly sure when as a lot of road signs are curiously missing basic information such as distance to destination… But no matter. There are signs every few kilometers. All is well with the world…. Peace of mind is assured.
And then… nothing. No signs. Not so much as a pole. Nothing at roundabouts. Nothing at ‘T’ junctions. Nothing along the thoroughfare. Nothing.
You travel on, more and more convinced you must have missed a turn. Should we go back? Should we go on? Where are the signs? Where? For the love of… where are the SIGNS?
And then, when you’ve gone some 200 km and your stomach has settled into a tight knot of despair, a sign suddenly appears. If you’re lucky the sign will bear the name of your destination; if not, it won’t. You cannot depend on the road signs in New Zealand. This is a sad fact.
Who is responsible for the planning of New Zealand cities? The worst offenders are probably dead, but if not, perhaps they should be taken out and shot in the city squares (oh wait, there aren’t any).
Harsh? Take a look at this. This is Sydney’s waterfront.
Seriously though. Why on earth would you place an industrial facility there? They’ve done a similar thing in Wellington. I feel for postcard photographers in this country sometimes. Although, to be fair, they have a pretty easy job in rural areas.
Cars are also allowed almost everywhere in New Zealand towns and cities. There are almost no pedestrian-only areas in centres, unlike European cities. Constantly waiting for ages to cross the road and no reprieve from the noise and fumes of traffic isn’t exactly conducive to pleasant browsing or shopping.
I’ll not bang on too much about the architecture, except to say I think a lot of the buildings, particularly in Auckland, are pretty ugly (that’s pretty ugly, not pretty-ugly; for me, they are ugly and have no aesthetic merit whatsoever). But what would I know? I know nothing about the subject, to be honest. It’s too subjective anyway. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and all that. But still…
I can’t help but feel…
Or at least…
Let it go, Hugh. Let it go.
Power Sockets / Plugs
I’ve stayed in houses, hostels, lodges and even a hotel once (go me) in New Zealand and one thing all of these places have in common is the scarcity of power points. Most hostels have one or two outlets for a dorm of eight to twelve people. Even before cell phones and portable computers, how was this ever considered adequate? Common rooms that serve a whole hostel often have one power point. Needless to say, a multi adaptor is a necessity.
But worse is the nature of the plugs themselves: miniscule little things with three flimsy flat pins that bend with the slightest persuasion. If you decide to do a spot of vacuuming, you are sure to spend more time plugging the vacuum back into the socket than actually vacuuming.
Plugs literally fall out of the wall. Devices stop charging halfway through. Dinners are served cold and half cooked. Shirts remain half ironed. Children go hungry. Iron lungs collapse willy nilly…
There is no comparison between the puny Kiwi plug and its British equivalent, a reassuringly sturdy affair with thick oblong pins. Tears spring to the eyes of grown men when they step upon the latter’s prongs with an unshod foot. Standing on a New Zealand plug barely warrants a grimace.
Of course, it’s not just New Zealand that uses this plug: Australia, China, Argentina and a number of Pacific islands have also made a grave error by adopting it.
The Kiwi Bloke
I have a love/hate relationship with the Kiwi Bloke. There’s no denying he has a charming and friendly persona. And there’s no denying that his lack of planning, his laidback approach to life and his general ‘slackness’ is so well developed that it is nothing if not impressive. Everyone has heard the expression: “so laid back, he’s horizontal”, well the Kiwi Bloke is so laid back he’s completely inverted and standing on his head, mostly.
This is fine. You may have to do a job three times, when with a bit of planning once would have sufficed. And you may spend hours waiting around because something isn’t ready when you cannot for the life of you understand why it wouldn’t be ready. But who’s counting? He’s paying the wages.
When it wears a little thin is when you’ve gotten up at six in the morning three times in a row to go to work only for the Kiwi Bloke not to show up, texting you later to say you weren’t needed or something came up. Or when you aren’t paid on time and have to keep asking for your wages. Or when the Kiwi Bloke thinks a day’s notice of termination of employment, due to the expiration of a contract, is adequate. That’s when laid back becomes a little less charming and a little more inconsiderate and unprofessional.
And while I’m at it, what’s with those hideous shorts? In the dead of winter the Kiwi Bloke will don a cosy beanie, a sensible number of layers and a robust windbreaker. Thick woolen socks will disappear into heavy steel-toed work boots. But on his legs? Nothing. Nothing but a pair of hotpants, known in New Zealand as ‘stubbies’. These are truly awful. Words cannot describe. I can’t think of a worse item of clothing for a guy. I really can’t.
Price of Fruit and Vegetables
This is the tenth one and so must be my last. There was a bit of competition between the price of fruit and veg, the lack of adequate insulation in buildings (some houses have corrugated Iron roofs. That’s houses, not barns!) and Eftpos cards. (My gripe with Eftpos is that it can’t be used online and Kiwis insist on using it for every single transaction, however small, offline, slowing everything to a crawl). In the end, the price of fruit and vegetables won the unenviable prize.
I remember when I first arrived in New Zealand four years ago, staring open mouthed at a pepper (curiously called a capsicum in New Zealand and Australia). There was nothing particularly special about the capsicum except the price: $4 for one! I couldn’t believe it. Yesterday I saw a red one for $5. I’m still speechless.
Out of season, lettuces normally sell for $5 (I met a guy who saw one in Invercargill selling for $9), broccoli and cauliflowers for over $4, and a single tomato for $1.80. I bought an apple last week that set me back $2, and they’re in season. In New Zealand, even Subway charges $2 to change your six inch sub to a salad. The only vegetables that are reasonably priced are carrots and brown onions.
Needless to say, that isn’t good news for backpackers’ healthy eating. I’m a backpacker and I like to eat healthy. On the bad list it goes.
Well that’s it. That’s my list of things I dislike about New Zealand. I will probably do one soon about things I love about the place but I felt the need to get that off my chest first. I feel much better already. And I’m online, too. Things are looking up…
Agree? Disagree? Have your say. I’ll post it even if you’re a New Zealander and want to express your… disapproval.