The South Island

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As Americans, what do we really know about this small country at the bottom of the world? It is next to Australia which gets much more play. I’d heard rumors it had some big beautiful mountains and was good for adventurers but that was about the extent of my knowledge.

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The reality is there are only 4 million people here so it is tiny—the same size as Costa Rica actually. It is composed of two large islands and so we decided to visit both. There are literally alps, the Southern Alps, on the South Island and the tip of the North Island is considered sub-tropical. So the natural variety is huge.

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New Zealand is charming and funky. It is like a throwback to the 1950’s with some 1970’s thrown in. All the architecture is square or rectangular with simple corrugated metal roofs and some buildings are corrugated metal on all sides. The towns have 1950’s looking downtowns and sort of out of date clothes in the windows. A British lady we met in our first B and B said, “oh yeah, everyone says you go to NZ and it’s like going back to the ‘50’s.” Well, the English knew it but we didn’t.   Must be the Commonwealth relationship…they know a lot more about NZ than Americans do.

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The music in every bar, restaurant, quickstop is 1970’s American. We did get one Bruno Mars song on the airplane between the two islands but that was it. Haven’t even heard their very own Lorde yet. When I asked a Kiwi college student what she thought of the Lorde phenomenon, all she said was “well it’s a bit weerrrd, you kneeeww” (trying to write the Kiwi accent is tough), like they were all completely befuddled that one of their own, indeed at 17, had taken the international music scene by storm.  The insides of most buildings are plain and very few establishments have anything we would call “style.”   I don’t mean to sound snobby but it is just very apparent. An upstate New York couple we met noticed the same thing, and they weren’t even from Manhattan! Some of you may remember how I did a whole blog post on Paris style and the breezy, effortless, endless style of French women. New Zealand is just…well….kind of the opposite.

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I finally have theorized that maybe because the natural beauty here is so over the top, they don’t have to pay much attention to architecture, clothes or any kind of style. The stunning mountains, bays, lakes and beaches say it all. As one Kiwi innkeeper said to us, “you can’t use the word majestic very often, but that Rob Roy glacier hike is majestic.” And that sums up New Zealand’s landscape!

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The other side of New Zealand is that the people are so sweet and endlessly friendly and kind. So maybe they really have some key life secrets in action. They live in a gorgeous place, which they appreciate. And they are kind to each other and their many visitors. Can’t get much better than that!

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Every innkeeper has gone above and beyond with us. Craig, on the ocean outside Christchurch, called me “love” every other sentence, gave us loads of history and advice and called his son for surf shop recommendations when Dave discovered his surfboard had been dinged during flight. Craig gave me a huge bear hug when we left, cementing the feeling I had that he was like a loud, hilarious, favorite uncle. Neville and Sandra in Dunedin had established a gorgeously maintained modern set of apartment style rooms, complete with a washer dryer and Jacuzzi tub. Sue and Dave at Homestead Lodge in Wanaka have the best place we visited yet—complete with comfort, style and a beautiful setting all in one. Mountain bikes to use for free, great breakfasts made fresh, living room with fireplace to hang out in, lovely gardens for happy hour. Just great.

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