I work in Melbourne for a company based in Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve visited the Auckland office twice before, but saw nothing other than the office, the airport and the motorway. As a reward for working our rumps off all year, the company owners treated their staff to a Christmas Dinner in the City of Sails. They paid for our return flights and Friday night accommodation, but of course we all elected to stay an extra night out of our own pockets, because Auckland is a four hour trans-Pacific flight from Melbourne and we’re not idiots.
Turned out we’re a tiny bit idiot, because The Rolling Stones were in town at the time and every single bed in Auckland was booked on Saturday night. So one girl stayed with her family, another colleague stayed with a random guy he found on the internet, and I gratefully crashed on the couch of one of my Kiwi workmates, while my boss disappeared to one of the islands with his wife.
Dodgy sleeping arrangements aside, it was one of the best weekends I’ve had all year. Auckland is built on a narrow neck of land with ocean views from every corner. If you can’t see the ocean, all you need to do is put down your Hawkes Bay pinot and take a stroll up one of the sixty-odd volcanoes to get a better view. The town planning is awful – a road map of Auckland looks like someone crammed a ball of ramen into an hour glass – but it’s not as if you’d ever be in a hurry there. If you think Aussies are laid back, you’ve never met a Kiwi. They’re essentially Aussies with a funny accent and the stick removed from their arses.
Our work dinner was in the revolving restaurant in the Sky Tower, which one of my workmates referred to as the ‘heroin needle’. The floor of the restaurant revolved independently of a narrow carpeted strip next to the windows. I didn’t notice this until I was standing on it while chatting to some colleagues at the next table, and found myself crab-walking in place to prevent myself drifting towards the strangers at the next table. Every five minutes or so the floor would pass a supporting pillar, and I’d have to perform an awkward clamber around it while simultaneously trying to dazzle my CEO’s wife with my poise and sparkling wit. This became increasingly difficult the more wine I drank.
The next day, one of my Aucklandian colleagues took me and one of the Melbourne sales reps on a drive through the Waitakere Ranges and out to Piha Beach, while we stared out at the passing scenery like this:
Seriously, Auckland is beautiful, and apparently it’s one of the least attractive places in NZ. Also there’s a little café in Titiranga that sells coffee in bowls. IN BOWLS. And yes, there is a town called Titiranga.
Later that evening and several Radlers later, I decided it was a brilliant idea to stay out with my Kiwi friends until 2am, when my flight left at 8.30am the next day. I fell out of the couch precisely six minutes before Randy the Overtly Canadian Corporate Taxi Driver arrived to collect me, then had a stern talking-to and my $15 BPA-free water bottle confiscated at the security screening because I’d forgotten to empty it. I also happily waltzed through the screening point with a hot chocolate, then dribbled melted marshmallow all over my chin when an insanely attractive border security guard told me I’d have to drink the whole thing before I went any further. I said to him, “can I please leave before I get any more awkward?” and he laughed and wished me a safe trip while I stared at his muscles. In America I bet I would’ve been tasered.
New Zealand is like a little reward for Australians who can overcome the traditional sibling rivalry between our nations, and refrain from bagging the All Blacks for at least a day. It’s usually cheaper to fly to NZ than to most places within Oz. Aussies can move to NZ and get welfare payments. We can breeze in and out of customs using the Smartgate – a magical portal that scans your passport and face and whisks you through border security in 30 seconds flat, while the poor plebs with passports from other hemispheres shuffle dejectedly into queue. The scenery is stunning, the ski fields are unrivaled, and the dollar is almost always in our favour. NZ gave us Crowded House, Lorde, Bic Runga, Flight of the Conchords, the Nek Minnit meme, this ad, Whittakers chocolate, and delicious wine. They gave us Once Were Warriors, a movie that came out 20 years ago and there’s still not a single Antipodean woman who doesn’t judge a man by their reaction to the phrase “cook the man some eggs”. (It’s from a graphic domestic violence scene, if you’re curious). And finally, this is one of the Air New Zealand inflight safety videos:
How can you not love these people, bro?
Things I now know about New Zealand:
– “Wh” is pronounced “f” in the Māori language, giving them fabulous place names such as Whakapapa and Whakatane. And they have the gall to laugh at our Wagga Wagga, Woolloomoolo and Fannie Bay.
– Stoats were introduced to cull the introduced rabbit population, and now the stoats are a pest – despite being cute as hell.
– Auckland is built on a dormant volcanic field, and the city council actually has a volcanic contingency plan in place – which seems appropriate when there’s a chance your country’s most populous centre could be Pompeii’ed at any moment. A couple of years ago, some smartarse decided it would be funny to ferry a truckload of tyres to one of the offshore volcanic peaks and set them on fire as a “prank”.
– New Zealand is officially a bi-lingual nation. Kids learn some Maori in primary school, students may take exams entirely in Maori if they choose, and there’s a whole bushel of Maori words that seem to be a part of the local patois.
– Jandals, chilly-bin, twink , gapped it, tramping.