Today is the last day of my trip to New Zealand, my plane leaves tomorrow at noon, taking me on another 37 hours travel. It’s been one of the busiest and most exciting weeks in my life so far. There was so much information to ingest and process, and so much interaction to sustain. I can’t really claim that I processed all the information and I’m sure there will be weeks, maybe months in which this processing will continue. I think it’s a good time though to make a first round up of what I touched the most during this visit. It’s not gonna be complete, I’m sure, and it will only be a reflection of this moment, but it will help me organize my thoughts and maybe will help other people interested in living in New Zealand, or just visiting it.
The strongest sensation challenges when I arrived here were related to the senses of smelling, viewing and hearing. I don’t know the exact order, and I guess they must be somehow related, but the first thing you’ll notice is an unparalleled clarity of the air. It’s like the sun light is two times more powerful than anywhere else in the world – and in some respect it is, we’ll talk about later. There is a flow of light and a powerful shading contrast you will see even in the cloudiest day. That’s even more intense near the ocean, at the beaches or in the ferry, and I guess is because of the water reflections. You will have to wear sunglasses. Here more than anywhere else in the world, sunglasses are not a fancy accessory but a must have in order to protect your eyes from the unusual strong sun light. The other thing you must carry with you, especially during the summer, is the sunscreen lotion. It’s common to see people stopping on the street, taking out from their pockets or bags a sunscreen tube and rubbing their face and hands.
And this leads to the smelling area. People smell differently, but usually very nice. There are some exceptions, of course, but the main point is that the clear air makes so easy to pick up smells and most of the times those smells are nice. Everything has a smell here, and if it doesn’t, it will just smell like the ocean. Because the level of humidity is very high, the vegetation tends to be luxurious, and even the backyard grass of every house just grows almost by itself. You have to cut the backyard grass pretty often, and that makes for a steady – not very profitable, but steady – business for some people here. Along with the grass, in every part of the city – Auckland, that is – are spots filled with flowers which spread a delicate fragrance. The humidity in the atmosphere gives also some volume to the odor, and I surprised myself several times stopping in the middle of the road and just smelling the air. Maybe this sounds a little bit too enthusiastic, but believe me, there is a huge difference in this regard between Auckland and Bucharest. And on top of this, I haven’t had any moment at all the feeling of pollution in any way whatsoever, nor visually, auditory or by smell. The continuous wind that blows over the shores of those islands is acting like a non-stop cleaning agent.
And the third sensation challenged was related to the sense of hearing. All the noises have a different, usually higher, volume here. I noticed that in my first night, when the noise of the cars passing near my bead and breakfast accommodation was perceived closer than usual. I thought it was because of the flight and all, 37 hours of continuous traveling might affected my hearing somehow, but the next day we went to a reserve – a park – with a view to the ocean. At more than 500 meters from the beach there was a sailboat, and we clearly heard the noise made by the sail when it was hit by the wind. It was like the boat was 5 meters away from us. Pretty scary in the beginning, but you get used to it in a few days. Anyway, all the noises are more intense than usual, and, in combination with the stronger light and the abundance of the – usually nice – smells, this makes for a very intense sensorial experience.
I’ve talked with a lot of local people, usually when I had to get a service from them: at the bed and breakfast facility, at the grocery, on the bus and in the stores. That experience was also surprising. Without exception they were polite, serviceable and effective. During the day you don’t see many people on the streets, unless you are hitting the Queen street and the Auckland center, which is usually packed with tourists. Most of the time everybody is at work, in suburbs you can walk several streets until you actually see somebody else. In the evenings all the restaurants are full, and even in the suburbs you can see people hanging out, with their kids or with friends. They won’t scream on the streets, although occasionally, on week-ends, you might hear some parties going on, and generally they act in a restraint, almost shy manner. Don’t get me wrong, everybody smiles and says “thank you” in almost any conversation. Even when they get out of the bus, in 3 from 5 cases they are are shouting a pretty strong “thank you” to the driver. But they aren’t latin in expression, that’s for sure.
One thing that made me curious was a little sign in several restaurants that stated: “We only accept collective bills”. I asked a local friend, and he told me that traditionally, when you eat out, you pay for your own meal. And after 5-6 people at a table finish their meal, all friends or relatives, of course, you can see them sitting in line to pay with their credit cards, each one for himself. And there are restaurants in which you simply cannot do that, if they are showing the sign with “collective bills”, which means you can only pay in one turn for the whole table. I must reckon that this was odd to me.
Auckland is by far the most culturally divers city I’ve ever been in. A simple look on a busy street, at noun, reveals almost every known human race in the world: local kiwis (you know them because they are all blonds with blue eyes), irish, scottish, british, indians, south koreans, chinese, arabian, maori, pacific islanders (samoan, fijian, etc). Not to mention the romanian guy who’s starring at them (and that would be me, of course)… I find this fascinating. I don’t have any race approach whatsoever when it comes to interact with people, it’s just that this diversity is such a powerful way to understand all the human beauty in all of its manifestations.
Although they do keep their national habits, religion and general life approach, they are all sharing the same lifestyle. They all have the same mortgage and are driving a car on the busy motorway to the job that allows them to pay for that mortgage. That constant flow of people coming to New Zealand (well, not the last year, when they had the first negative immigration year, meaning more people were left New Zealand than the ones coming in) makes for a constant and consistent development of the country. Although the recession has hit New Zealand as well, and you can see that in a variety of ways, they keep building houses for the immigrants, they are building schools, stores, bridges over motorways and plan entirely new neighborhoods to accommodate the new immigration flow. There is a sense of confidence in it, and there is also quite a bit of a courage in this.
On the wall of Auckland airport there is an inscription that says: “Every flyer who ventures across oceans to distant lands is a potential explorer; in his or her breast burns the same fire that urged adventurers of old to set forth in their sailing-ships for foreign lands”. Almost anyone who comes here to start a new life is an explorer, a courageous person who chose to live in the dawns of the Earth, and his or her cultural heritage can only contribute and not separate, can only help and not destroy this new and very different world.
The kiwi lifestyle is a mix of effectiveness and relaxation. One of the national images or icons of the country is the pair of beach sandals that they wear all summer time, when they are not doing barefooting, of course. That is an image of an easy going but aware individual. They are very strict in things that are important, and they are not having any need for an unnecessary show-off. Quite the opposite form what is happening in Romania right now – and to make justice to Romania, in any growing economy, when people are facing stronger competition and tend to affirm their personalities in a much more powerful way. In New Zealand, I don’t think they understand what “tip” means, and I’m talking of course about the 10-15% percent of money you pay over the fee at a restaurant.
Transport is fairly well organized, although if you live in suburbs a car is a must (you know that they are driving on the other lane, don’t you? and that’s because the steering wheel is on the right, of course…). Buses are going quite ok, but during the week-end you do need a car, otherwise you can say you’re either lost or confined. But usually this is not a problem because the urban concepts are quite balanced: every suburb has at least one shopping center, a complete school cycle, from primary to college, and entertainment areas. In fact, you can live a very decent life in suburbs and get to Auckland city only once or twice a month, just to remember how the buildings are arranged, for instance, or to look at the ships that are entering in Auckland harbor.
Main entertainment activity seems to be “going to the beach”. And that if we don’t count of course, street running, which is even more popular than rugby. I guess more than 75% of the people in New Zealand are running every day. Or at least this is the impression I got: it seemed to me that every piece of available time is converted into running, and that is starting from the teenagers and is going up to what they call seniors. From 14 to 84 years they are running continuously. But I said we won’t count this so we get back to the beach thing. Don’t think at the old style “sheets, thermos and tint while gazing at the closest female’s breasts under the swimsuit” beach entertaining. Instead, think at the beach as the place that connects with the ocean, in which you can sit and watch, run or play in a totally relaxed manner. Pacific Ocean is a source of immense energy and even the smallest walk on the beach recharges you significantly.
But not only beaches are used as an entertainment alley, so are the parks. Auckland features more than 800 parks and reserves, and by that I guess it wins by far the title of the city with the most powerful lungs. Parks are also very well serviced, and sitting directly on the grass while talking or having picnics is also a common habit. But you have to be careful when going out, being at the beach or in the park, because Auckland is also famous for its weather diversity. I experienced myself the “4 seasons in one day” formula and I must say is not an easy thing. You have to obey to the “onion clothing” principle, which states that you have to wear different layers of clothes and change them every hour according to the weather outside. Otherwise, you risk to expose yourself to temperature variations of 10 or more degrees in the same day, not to mention the wind or rain which occurs most of the time out of nowhere.
Another way of spending time is visiting the islands. New Zealand is made of several islands and all of them are breathing a wild beauty. I only had the chance to visit 2 islands during this visit: Rangitoto and Whaieke. Both are near Auckland, in the northern island, and the access was by 30 – 35 minutes ferry rides. Rangitoto is no more than an extinct volcano, which erupted 600 years ago – so quite fresh, if you know what I mean – and is not inhabited. Whaieke, on the other hand, has a small population, usually made from rich people who build there their retreat homes. Whaike also features famous wine tours in which you ride a bus and stop at the wineries opened all day long tasting their various product lines. Meaning different wines, if you didn’t get it so far. Didn’t had the time to do this, because I was so busy watching the beaches of a heavenly beauty.
Raw Food Diet
Keeping a raw food diet in Auckland is not an easy thing. At least in the first three days I did my best to fill myself at home, and avoid to eat out. I mainly used those days to search for restaurants and places where you can eat raw vegan. And the choices are very limited. The only salad bar I found was somewhere on Karangahape street (the famous K road, known mainly for its adult shops and activities) in which you could start with a base of green salad bowl on top of which you add then other ingredients: tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum, onion and so on. Tasty but not fulfilling. At lunch I found a solution in Westfield, the aussie mall concept, which features a food court packed with some decent salad makers. But also, with very limited choices. I guess 99% of the public food accessible in Auckland is cooked and in some asian flavor: korean, chinese, thai, vietnamese and many others. Unfortunately, all those cuisines are strongly based on cooked and hot food.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results, keeping in mind that I was on foreign territory. I remained raw vegan and I continued to enjoy the benefits of this diet: more energy, more clarity, and, above all, a very short jetlag period. Despite the 9 hours difference, I was on the local time zone from the first day, with a decent level of awareness and energy. Oh, and I’m quite curious about my weight loss, which, by the way I use my belt now, must suffered substantial changes. Will see more about that once arrived in Bucharest.
I want to say thank you in this post to several friends who helped me enormously during this trip. To be honest, I didn’t even know we were friends before, but we managed to connect in a very open and clear way. First and foremost, Lili and Liviu, thank you for your patience and total availability to my, sometimes, strange requests. Also a big thank you goes to Bogdan, Madalina and their son Cristian, for telling me a lot of nice stories about their life on a new continent. Last, but not least, another Bogdan, once a business partner in Romania, now a becoming kiwi, thank you for your time spent with me and for all the information (not always related to New Zealand) that you shared with me.
That’s all folks, that was for the trip. RIght now I’m focusing on the return to Bucharest and then I’ll take one thing at a time to sort things out for the “big” move, with all my family, which might take place anytime in the next two months. I expect everything to run smoothly and I am so eager to return to my normal writing routine.