8 Things To Know Before You Go To New Zealand

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

I’ve been here a long time!

As the world deals with the medical, financial and emotional problems created by Covid, I’ve been in New Zealand, where my biggest problem (besides the pending expiration of my visa) is which city to visit next and what lodging I can afford. Since my problems are some of the most trivial, unimportant ones that exist in these times, I thought I’d turn them all into overly melodramatic issues to hopefully distract you from those other ones that actually matter. Then again, if you’re coming to New Zealand one day, you probably want to let me continue to set your expectations. So, without further ado, here are 8 things you should know before you go to New Zealand.

Cows in Christchurch

Copyright, 2021. Heather Markel.

1. There Are Lots Of Cows, But No Good Hamburgers

For the past year, every burger joint I encounter piles on more toppings than meat. You can’t find a hamburger without the all important beetroot, a smothering of cheese, some bacon, lettuce, tomatoe, a fried egg, and possibly an herb from someone’s garden. I’ve craved one of those juicy, flame-grilled, naked burgers from the US for ages. Recently, I decided to try and get one at a restaurant in Wellington. I went to the counter with the menu of towering toppings to choose from, and asked the server, “Can I just get a naked burger?”

He shifted his eye contact away from me, to the menu, and asked me what, exactly, I was talking about. I guess “naked burger” means something else here, or his girlfriend was within earshot. Any-who, I managed to get him to order me a hamburger, on a bun, (while discreetly checking out his buns) with nothing else, and a side of curly fries. When my burger arrived I could not wait to bite in. When I did, I understood why they coat their burgers with all those toppings. 

2. It’s Impossible To Find A Hairdresser Who “Gets” Curly Hair

Hair is always a drama, and cutting hair can be one of the biggest problems on earth, even in a pandemic. I’ve now had three haircuts, and sorely miss my curly hair salon back home. My first hairdresser dared to dry my hair straight, and THEN even out the different lengths. (If you have curly hair, I know you are cringing with me right now). I returned to her after I washed and restored it to its natural curl. At this point, the left side was blatantly longer than the right. I asked whether she thought my hair was even. She grabbed a strand of hair on each side of my head, pulled them taught, and said “Yes, they’re completely even.” I walked away figuring that explaining the issue to her would make a bad problem worse.

More recently, I was overjoyed to discover a salon that said they do dry cuts! While there, I met a Brazilian woman who has been living in New Zealand for four years, and hasn’t been able to find anyone who understands how to cut her very curly hair. In fact, her last hairdresser butchered it so badly trying to fix all her mistakes that she lost about 7 inches. We both hoped she’d do better in this place.

Sadly for me, my latest hairdresser said it would take her less time to cut my hair after highlighting it, and ended up blowing my hair dry, and cutting it straight, again. I give up. It’s such drama to try and find someone who gets curly hair, waaaaa! (Insert dramatic sweep of hand on head and a few eye-drops to mimic tears down my face…) I think the real problem is, in New Zealand, nobody cares how you look. They’re going to be nice to you, despite your hair.

3. The Ketchup Tastes Funny

It’s bad enough you can’t find a good burger, but no good ketchup?! You won’t find Heinz, not easily anyway. The local ketchup brand tastes different. I surmise that Heinz has lots of added chemical ingredients I’ve adapted to, and New Zealand ketchup is made of something like tomatoes and water, with no strangely-named preservatives. I must be craving some chlorotextaholihide or metadextrose… 

4. There’s No Jif Peanut Butter

YOU try living without your favorite peanut butter for a year and see if you don’t consider this a big drama! OK but the nut butters here with every kind of nut and hemp are actually really good.  In fact, it may turn out I become a Jif-traitor and actually end up missing New Zealand local nut butters when I go. Forty Thieves’ Nut Butter is my favorite! Sorry, Jif, I hope I don’t create some awful brand war. On the flip side, with mail moving so slowly, I’ll probably need to get some Jif when I return home to bridge the delay in shipments.

5. It’s Hard To Find Good, Full-Bodied, Red Wine

I’m partial to red wine. Full-bodied reds like malbec and cabernet are some of my favorites. So, I’ve felt deprived in New Zealand. It’s a climate problem that bums me out. At wine stores, I gravitate to the export reds or, cast a cautious eye over the local reds, wondering whether I’ll be disappointed. And, you know, being disappointed with the red in your glass after slaving away in the kitchen to boil water for your pasta can be a depleting experience. Without good red wine, I whine! (I’m so punny…) I’ll admit, I was quite pleased with Marsden Estate’s Pinotage, and the pinot noir from Out Of The Ashes.

6. Too Many Men Have Curled Mustaches

While New Zealand is supposedly a safe country, I get scared every time I see a man with a curly mustache, and it’s been more than once. This style should have remained in the 1930s. Waxed, curled mustaches give me the creeps, and I’ve been surprised to see young-ish men sporting them. The worst of it was the manager of one of my hotels. He had that looooong, perfectly waxed/curled mustache accented by his over-sized, round glasses that covered his entire face, right down to his mustache. The mustache was so big it was supporting the eyeglasses, like a muscle man lifting a 2 ton weight. I had to consciously take a breath and mentally talk myself out of laughing hysterically every time I saw him. It wasn’t easy. I wouldn’t stay at that place again for fear I would bust out laughing.

7. You’ll Lose Your Hat If It’s Not Glued To Your Head

Even though there’s a lot of land that seems far away from the sea, there’s a lot of wind here. This means you will lose the hat right off your head, at least once, unless you glue it on. It may happen in the middle of crossing a street in heavy traffic, or on a mountain. This is one of the biggest problems in New Zealand because a good hat can be expensive, and getting the only one that’s secure, with a strap that attaches around your chin, means you’ll look like a serious dork. (Nobody laughs at you when you do wear it, though, speaking from experience…)

8. Napkins are served underneath the food

Sometimes there isn’t a napkin at all when I order food, or it comes in a box with cutlery. Most of the time, I get a napkin on my plate, beneath the food (chocolate cake, a slice of quiche…) and I’m not sure why. This leaves me contemplating whether my food perhaps has a mouth I’m supposed to wipe before I eat it? Or, maybe they want me to wipe my plate clean after I’m done eating? I’m still trying to figure it out.

I know you think you’ve got bigger things to worry about, but one day when you come to New Zealand, you’ll be glad I told you all these really important experiences you might have. By the time you get here, you may have forgotten this blog post, but in my wildest dreams, you’ll be here saying, “That Heather was sooo right, thank goodness we came to this country so well informed!”

I may try to swing a meeting with Jacinda to discuss the possibility of greenhouses to try and grow better red-wine crops, and see if she’ll swing for some flame-grilled burger chef training. I’m sure she’ll make time for me, and be very polite in her rejection of my ideas. 🙂 Because, really, New Zealand is already one of the most perfect places on earth.

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