30 December 2012

New Zealand: the good stuff

Each time I come home from living overseas, I am reminded of the things I value about New Zealand that I had previously taken for granted.

Fern-covered seating fabric
For example, though I’m sure many people would moan about the public transportation system in Auckland – and I’m sure there are valid things to moan about – compared to the local buses in Cusco, Peru, the Auckland buses are a dream come true! (see my previous blog A dangerous commute for a glimpse of Peruvian bus travel)

For a start, they have timetables, and they almost always run on time. The drivers are mostly friendly, greeting their passengers with a friendly ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good afternoon’. If they’re not in a rush, they will actually chat to you – one read the name ‘Bolivia’ on my t-shirt and wanted to know if I’d been there and what it was like. They give you advice: ‘You’d be better to get a transfer ticket, dear. It’s cheaper’. They wait for the elderly and those with babies and young children to get seated before zooming off.

And the buses themselves are clean, with comfortable seats in bright colours and patriotic designs. They have buttons you can press or cords you can pull to indicate you want to get off at the next stop, though on one occasion I almost shouted out ‘Bajar’ as I would have on a Peruvian bus. Their roofs are high enough that even the tallest person doesn’t have to bend over. They don’t try and fit 100 people on a vehicle designed for 40, or have a conductor hanging out the door when the bus is overcrowded. They don’t contain chickens or guinea pigs or lambs or cats, though a seeing-eye dog would be allowed. They are much more expensive, of course, but believe me, the price is worth paying!

Another thing I really value about New Zealand is the greenness. There are trees everywhere, not just where I was staying in the bush-clad hills of Titirangi, but trees line the streets in almost every city suburb and in every small town, as well as the centres of the big cities. And in New Zealand we have our very own Christmas tree, the pohutukawa, which produces its magnificent bright red blossoms over the Christmas period. This year the trees were producing an amazing display.

Waterlilies in Auckland Domain
Most New Zealand towns and cities have public parks and green spaces for everyone to enjoy. In the middle of Auckland city, there’s a beautiful big park called The Domain, and one of its attractions is its large glasshouses. The display of flowers inside these glasshouses at the moment is truly stunning.

New Zealanders as a whole are great gardeners. We love our flowers and shrubs, and many people still cultivate their own vegetable gardens and grow fruit trees. For Christmas dinner, we ate new potatoes, freshly dug that morning from my uncle’s small allotment at the retirement village where they live, and I'm sure a lot of my fellow New Zealanders did the same.

Walking alongside the Waikato river in Hamilton

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