I’m born and bred from a place that is blessed with year round 80 degree weather, sunshine, golden beaches, beautiful history, and the best food in the world. I love you Hawaii. You’d think I’d be used to jaw-dropping scenery since I grew up in the islands around beautiful people and gorgeous sunsets. Yeeaaahhhh, well let me just tell you that New Zealand has an ace up it’s sleeve. I was speechless for most of our trip and here are a few reasons why, along with some other observations of our three weeks in this beautiful country.

The people. Kiwis are truly happy people. They are genuinely thrilled you are visiting their country. They are proud of their culture and heritage, and want you to experience as much of it as possible. This was a shock to me especially coming from Hawaii. Hawaii survives off of tourism and yet there is a tension between locals (caveat, not all), who resent the dependency on tourists for survival. I expected, almost assumed we’d get some of that tension from the locals but never did. It was completely refreshing.

The South Island is better.  The South Island reminds me of the outer islands back home; where it’s quieter and a bit more quaint compared to Waikiki or downtown. I’ve heard this time and time again that the South Island is so much more beautiful and relaxing. After spending two weeks on the South Island and one week on the North Island, I’d have to agree. Despite a handful of amazing things on the North, like Hobbiton, we kept wishing we were back with nature and less traffic. If you’re thinking of what island to spend more time on, think the South!

Beautiful lupins throughout the South Island, New Zealand

The roads are insane. Coming from the US, even Hawaii, I was shocked. The entire country’s roads is a one lane road in each direction, with hairpin turns, and hills where you can’t see what’s coming ahead or below you.  At times, it felt like driving on the road to Hana in Maui. Not all roads, but enough had me holding my breath or catching some shut eye while the hubby drove. It doesn’t help that you’re driving on the left side of the road, the driver is in the right side of the car, and your signals are where your windwipers are so when you want to pass someone your wipers are going crazy. Because of this, it takes so much longer to get to your final destination. Thank goodness locals and tourists have the whole passing lane down to a science. Everyone follows and respects it, especially the speed limit. #fistbump

Scenery is bomb dot com. It’s breathtaking, beautiful, and will leave you completely speechless.  Every hill you climb, turn you make will lead you to even more amazing views. And you keep thinking…”It can’t get better than this! Can it!?!?!” And it does. Over and over and over again.  The scenery changes as you drive with rolling hills and adorable sheep to steep mountains and thousands of waterfalls. We have gorgeous scenery in Hawaii, but nothing like this. Hands down, New Zealand wins.

On the way to Milford Sound

Minimal advertising and commercialism. This is a breath of fresh air. You don’t even realize how much you’re bombarded with ads from companies trying to sell you shit you don’t need until you go to NZ. Companies in NZ are prohibited from putting up advertising billboards on the side of the road, forcing you to pay attention to driving (novel idea) and the gorgeous scenery. The only road side adverts you’ll see are state run ones that encourage you to take a break if you’re tired and share the driving with a friend.
That said, there are only three anomalies to this observation; Queenstown, Wellington, and Auckland. These are the largest cities and thus have been influenced heavily by advertising and marketing. It is complete assault on your eyes and ears when you come into these cities and completely overwhelms you. After not seeing so many adverts for days on end, your senses become more sensitive to it. It’s difficult to describe, but can only suggest you keep your stays to these cities to a minimum.  Besides everything you need in these cities you can get back home. And let’s be honest, that top or pants you are thinking of buying…you didn’t need it backpacking through the Abel Tasman so why do you need it now?

Towns are quaint. But if you blink, you might miss it. This sounds harsh and I don’t mean it to be.  I appreciated the fact that these towns weren’t commercialized or trying to sell themselves. It was truly a NZ town, doing their own thing, without a care in the world who visited and who stayed. Honestly, it was quite romantic and authentic. After being in a car for hours on end, with limited days to explore, you have to pick and choose what you want to spend your time on.  Not all towns are like this, but many of them are small, so you need to be choosey on where you end up exploring.

Rough water. Growing up in Hawaii and relocating to the PNW, my experience with water has been smooth sailing until this trip. Some chop here, some chop there. The beach has been like bath water, nothing to write home about. However, because NZ is so far south, the water is cold, rough and choppy, even on gorgeous days. It made me appreciate mother nature even more. Be prepared and don’t under estimate the waves or currents. It will literally take your breathe away.

Environmentally obsessed. Because New Zealand is an island, they are sticklers for recycling and reusing everything. It reminded me of the PNW because we too are super passionate about caring for the environment. Knowing others in the world care just as much about our world and the impact we have on it was an awesome experience and connection throughout our trip.  In addition, the Kiwis are passionate about their land, oceans, and animals. I’ve never experienced first hand the success of government, non profits groups, and private groups working together towards a common goal, like saving native plants and animal species, and seeing success from it. I can only hope the US, especially Hawaii can learn from the Kiwis. They’re doing something right and it shows.

I’ll be sharing more about our trip, recos, and advice in the coming weeks. In the meantime, while the US is covered with snow and freezing temps, New Zealand is just getting ramped up on their summer season with warm weather and sunshine. Air New Zealand is running a great sale on RT tickets through Jan 10th. Book a ticket and start defrosting today.