Random Observations during Trip to Australia and New Zealand

As I used to do when my writing was in email form to friends and family, I am going to share some of the random things I observed that caught my attention in my trip to Australia and New Zealand.  These are not earth-shattering observations or anything that is better or worse in the places I visited than what I am used to, just things that caught my eye.  I always find it interesting to hear what others find curious so I will share what I found curious…  Hope no one takes offense!

  • I arrive in Sydney, my first main stop in the trip.  After surviving the strict customs and health things they do at the airport, I leave the secured zone and what is the first thing I see?  Krispy Kreme.  Don’t get me wrong: nothing wrong at ALL with a KK doughnut.  And Aussies sure have a right to enjoy them like I do. But it’s funny that I travel halfway around the world and the first thing I see is an outlet of a doughnut chain founded in the southeastern U.S. where I live!
  • Alright, I get past KK (without stopping), handle a few things (ATM, buying SIM card, etc.) and eventually get to my friends’ place (a train and a metro ride away – plus a short hike).  I shower, unpack somethings, and venture out to combat jet lag.  But first, let me load up on caffeine!  I look around and there are coffee shops EVERYWHERE!  I did not know Aussies were so into coffee.  Not that it should surprise me, coffee is good but there were coffee shops not just in every corner but in between corners and multiple ones at almost every corner.  Wow.  That’s a serious devotion of coffee.

  • So I pick one coffee shop – a hard thing to do with so many around.  I ask for a coffee.  I get a blank stare.  I repeat myself.  The young woman has an accent (eastern European, perhaps) so I assume my own accented English is too new to her ears.  I repeat my request “a coffee, please”.  She asks if cappuccino, latte, or flat white.  I didn’t want either of the first two and the third option sounded like a cup of milk – just white, flat white, only milk.  I say no I just want coffee.  It occurs to me that perhaps I needed to explain that I meant coffee with nothing else.  I get a blank stare.  Eventually, the other clerk joins us and I repeat the last statement.  I succeed in getting black coffee.  I wasn’t sure what the deal was but, heck, I got my black coffee.  Only to discover it was horrible.  And then it dawns on me:  perhaps black coffee here is not as good as say, PR, France, Italy, hence they must always add some amount of milk and/or foam.  Got it.  But I still didn’t know how I should have asked for black coffee… Nor did I get what a flat white was… (until later and then I loved them).
  • It is not “how are you doing?” but “how are you going?”.  At first, I wanted to say by bus or by train until I caught on.
  • There are these “stores” called TAB in Australia.  I wasn’t quite sure what they were and my friends explained they are sports betting places.  Mind you, not glitzy or big like casinos (they have those too) but like small stores.  And they can be quite a common sight in Sydney and Melbourne – one every couple of blocks?  (an exaggeration on my part but it felt like that!)
  • Air travel is a breeze here.  Not sure if that is good or bad but for domestic flights, just show up 30 minutes beforehand.  Security doesn’t even require shoes off.  My belt and shoes set off most US airports’ machines.  Not here.  Nada.
  • Driving:  in some places, it felt like these were the best drivers in the world and, in others, pretty bad.  No locations shall be named…
  • The times I ordered salads, not once did I see regular plain lettuce.  I love these countries!
  • More than a couple of times, I think I was fed some mis-information by eager-to-share-knowledge guides.  Like Lake Taupo being the largest lake in the southern hemisphere.  It IS the largest freshwater lake in Oceania (616 km2) but that is a far cry from Lake Victoria (69,485 km2)…  Another was the “world’s longest bridge” somewhere between Dunedin and Christchurch…  I didn’t buy either of these claims but I wonder how many I “bought”!  Now, I am sure Dunedin DOES have the world’s steepest street (it is so according to the Guinness Book of Records, I checked).

Dunedin’s most famous street

  • Constant references to something being the x-most in the southern hemisphere.  It felt like everything wanted to claim something.  Best example:  the Christchurch airport signs telling the travelers that the company that runs the airport was the 1st airport company in the southern hemisphere to become carbon neutral.
  • Rainfall in the north island of NZ is measured in inches but in the west part of the south island, it is measured in meters!  (I am raising this not because they used different measurement systems when giving me these data points but because it points to the significant difference in rainfall amount.)
  • Train restrooms were clean (as opposed to those in many other countries I have been to; ahem, Europe…).
  • Power outlets have a small switch immediately next to them to turn them on.  If you don’t realize this, that electric razor you are trying to charge up won’t be doing anything the next morning!
  • Upon arriving at a motel or B&B in NZ, the person at reception ALWAYS offered me milk.  It took me a while to develop a solid theory on why (outside of “they just love drinking milk here perhaps”):  since it was winter and the rooms had electric kettles, maybe it was in case I wanted tea/milk or coffee/milk?
  • Many places had windows with 2 positions for closing the window.  One was to entirely shut it but the other was to leave a slight crack open yet have the window locked.  It was hard to see that the windows were slightly ajar.  At first, I wondered why motel rooms had a draft…  I figured it out on my own, thank you very much.
  • Every motel or B&B I stayed at had towel warmers.  I loved that since it was very cold.
  • Airlines had a bit of an obsession that the safety card in the seatback pocket must always be the FIRST thing in the pocket.  Before landing, flight attendants requested this and/or would fix it for you if they noticed the items in the pocket were not in the right order…
  • Public restrooms in every town’s central area!  And easy to find!

Do you share any of these random observations?  Any others from your travels down under??

How I Found the North Island of New Zealand Different than the South Island

When I planned my trip to New Zealand, I decided based on my interests and what was on offer to spend more time in the South Island than in the North Island.  However, this does not mean the North Island lacks places to explore.  I left the visit to the North Island for the last 4 days of my month-long trip down under making Auckland my base and then traveling around the center of the island to visit places like the Waitomo glowworm caves (incredible!), Rotorua, Taupo, Huka Falls, and the geothermal fields.  There was so much to see that even 2 days for these sites was a bit rushed.

Huka Falls, New Zealand, nature, dam, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, nature, majestic

Huka Falls

I noticed a few differences between the two islands during my visit quite easily:  two different worlds.  Clearly, the North Island is more densely populated (this does not mean it feels crowded) and there was more evidence of human presence along the roads traveled in that part of the North Island whereas the South Island felt more vast and empty.  Also, the presence of the Maori culture was much more evident in the North Island than it was in the parts of the south Island that I visited.  Finally, the North Island also seems to have more going on in terms of volcanoes and geothermal activity but the South Island has the more extreme mountain scenery (the Southern Alps, glaciers, fiords).  Here is a bit more of the North Island…

Meeting the Maori Culture for the First Time

One of the highlights for me of the north island was to get a small peek at Maori culture by visiting the Auckland Museum (I highly recommend it) and one of the cultural visits in the Rotorua area.  It was great to understand better the songs and dances of the Maori, including the scary “haka” that I was familiar with only through watching the All Blacks rugby team in action!

Sample Maori meeting hall - being greeted when we arrived

Sample Maori meeting hall – being greeted when we arrived

Maori dance performance

Maori dance performance

Hot Lava, Anyone?

Another highlight for me was visiting the geothermal fields and understanding why those fields exist and are so active – the area is a very “alive” volcanic area.  I visited a few sites where I saw geysers and thermal pools.  The Artists Palette and the Champagne Pool were my favorite among the various famous sites near Taupo.  But everywhere you looked, you could see a column of steam coming off the ground, not only in the areas set up for visitors but just about anywhere you looked.  I have never seen anything like that before!  Of course, along with all this comes a strong “aroma” of sulfur.

Geothermal, New Zealand, Taupo, colorful, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Geothermal, New Zealand, Taupo, colorful, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Geothermal, New Zealand, Taupo, colorful, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Part of the Artists Palette pool

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating too much so I did not get a good view of the lakes in the area.  It rained a good bit the weekend I was in the North Island so I am sure that kept me from enjoying some nice views.

Geothermal, New Zealand, Taupo, colorful, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo


In Auckland itself, I limited myself to the Auckland Museum and the Maritime Museum, and to do a very long walk around the central business district (“CBD“), Ponsonby (where I stayed) and “K” road (Karangahape is the proper name).  While the central business district had some neat architecture that I assume is early 20th century, it was the districts of Parnell and Ponsonby that seemed to have more of the charming feel.  I did not explore beyond this central core of the city so there is likely more than I got to see.  For instance, the central business district waterfront area is only a fraction of the coastline that is available to the city, which is bounded on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by the Tasman Sea.

Auckland, New Zealand, architecture, green, design, art, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Buildings seem to grow out of the ground in Auckland!

Auckland definitely felt very different than everything else I had seen in NZ in the trip.  It is the most populous city in NZ (around 1.3 million residents out of the 4.something in the entire country).  By comparison, the next largest city I visited, Christchurch, has about 350,000 residents.   Dunedin, a charming southern town, even less.  After spending a week in the southern half of the South Island, coming to Auckland required a bit of an adjustment for sure.

Other Areas

Among the many things I did not see but heard were worth seeing were the Coromandel Peninsula, the city of Wellington, islands off Auckland like Waiheke, the areas on the north of the North Island, etc.  It seems, therefore, that I need to return to NZ to complete my visit 🙂  GLADLY!

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