We are officially home from New Zealand and I have so much to share with y’all about our travels! First up though, I thought it would be fun to share some of the differences I noticed between New Zealand and America.
It’s no question that every country across our beautiful world is completely different. One of the greatest joys of traveling for me personally, is discovering what makes a country unique. You can’t fully prepare yourself for visiting a foreign place, but I hope this list can be helpful to any readers who plan to visit the stunning country of New Zealand from the United States.
Kiwi – You may have heard of New Zealanders being referred to as a “Kiwi”. If you’re anything like me, your mind immediately goes to the fuzzy brown fruit with the seedy lime green center. While New Zealand IS a main producer of the worlds kiwifruit, China actually produces more. The “Kiwi” nickname does NOT derive from the fruit! It actually comes from the native, flightless Kiwi bird which is a national symbol for the country. While visiting a Kiwi Conservatory, we learned all about this beloved bird, whose species are listed on the vulnerable/endangered lists. There has been a nation-wide initiative to save this beloved bird, so the nickname, “Kiwi” isn’t at all offensive to New Zealanders, in fact, its viewed as a symbol of pride and endearment.
Chips – Keeping with food, “Chips” are listed on A LOT of menus as a side item. These are not potato chips, they are french fries! Not at all uncommon in America, “Fish N’ Chips”, is a staple meal in New Zealand. This didn’t at all throw me, I knew when ordering I would be getting fish and fries, but when I ordered a burger and chips, I found myself thinking “Oh yeah, chips are fries here! Duh!” Fries being called chips, I can deal with, but what really boggled my brain was that they don’t serve ketchup with their fries…er, I mean chips! Y’all, get this, they serve tomato sauce with them! Tomato sauce! And this said “tomato sauce” isn’t sitting on the table next to the salt and pepper, like it is in most restaurants here in America! My kids, whom are Nashville natives, could get down with it just fine, but I’m from Pittsburgh, which is home to Heinz, where ketchup is king! I just couldn’t! Call me a ketchup snob, fine, but just give me my Heinz while doing so!
Water – Like in the U.S., water is free in New Zealand. (Did you know water isn’t free in some parts of the world?! In Austria, water actually costs about as much as a beer, which made day drinking there a no brainer for us 😉 Water is not really served in New Zealand like it is here though. It was super common for restaurants to provide a chilled glass bottle of water upon ordering, and any more water needed after this could be refilled at a self-serve water station. Patrick, whom is known to tip higher to servers who keep his water glass filled, absolutely loved this! He so enjoyed being able to control his own water intake! I was indifferent. What I didn’t love is that this said water is consumed without ice! The things you take for granted here in America!! Ice just isn’t served in New Zealand!
Coke – Let it be known, Coke is my coffee! I love me a good Coke mid-day as a pick-me-up! I’ve tried to love coffee but I just can’t. Bleh! Patrick doesn’t love my little love-affair with Coke, but he really didn’t love it in New Zealand…Coke is expensive there! A small can costs about $2, while a 20 oz. bottle is about $3 (In US Dollars) and get this, there are no fountain drinks in New Zealand! At least from what I could see! All restaurants had coolers (which they call a ‘chilly bin’) with cans or bottles you could buy. There were no glasses of Coke served over ice! There were no refills! Even at McDonalds, there was no $1 Coke, there was no self-serve refilling station, and there were no refills in the cups that were considerably smaller than the ones in the U.S.!
A soft drink I could get my hubby to get behind was L&P. Lemon&Paeroa is a yummy citrus drink that is a New Zealand original and was actually quite lovely!
Tipping – Tipping is not at all expected in New Zealand! This made their more expensive prices a little easier to swallow. First view at a bill can really get you there! 1 NZ dollar equates to .68 US, so automatically everything just looks more expensive than it actually is! When you add a U.S. tip of 20% into the equation, I’d say realistically, New Zealand prices are only just slightly higher than those in the U.S. for a meal.
With the lack of a tip at a meal, service wasn’t as good as it is in the U.S. Most places didn’t have servers, but the few we went to that did, weren’t super attentive.
It was honestly so refreshing to not be hounded for tips after excursions and experiences! Just when you thought a closing statement was going to head in the direction of asking for a tip, they would only ask that you leave a positive review on Trip Adviser or tag them in a photo on Facebook or Instagram. It meant more to them to receive positive words than a few extra dollars. This simple act gave off a feeling of genuine care. New Zealanders want you to enjoy your experience so much that you want to tell others about it! There is no personal gain in their motives!
Play Areas – Here in America, I hate that the only restaurant choice we have to simultaneously feed and get energy out of our children are fast food spots. Sit down restaurants here just don’t offer a children’s area, which can make going out for a good, healthy meal with your family more of a task than just cooking for them at home! Granted, I seek out child friendly restaurants when traveling, but it’s never hard to find places that welcome children by providing a small area for kids to play in.
This restaurant in Auckland, The Grounds, was actually created by 2 dads so that “foodie” parents could enjoy high quality food and drink, while their kids play!
One cafe we visited didn’t have a play area, but instead provided a basket of toys for kids to choose something to play with. Kids always like playing with new and different toys, especially when traveling with a limited amount, so this was such a nice touch! Here in America, kids are provided a coloring page and crayons, which can be fun, but can easily get old.
WiFi – Free WiFi isn’t as readily available in New Zealand as it is in the States. Restaurants were hit and miss, and 2/3 hotels I booked didn’t have WiFi in the rooms, only in the lobby. One day, we were really needing internet to look up our flight information, so we went to McDonalds, totally expecting they would have free WiFi…they did, but you had to sign up for it with your email, which is a little sketchy.
I’m not going to lie, it was refreshing to unplug! Not having WiFi made our time together that much more enjoyable because we were in the moment instead of on Instagram. Even with a “good” connection, internet was still pretty slow in New Zealand.
Driving – I didn’t do any driving in New Zealand, but my husband did, and it’s NOTHING like driving in the States! First of all, New Zealand drivers drive on the opposite side of the road. Additionally, the drivers side is on the opposite side of the car. Further complicating things, the turn signal and windshield wipers swapped sides of the vehicle. It was absolutely hysterical to see the wipers randomly come on when attempting to make a turn! It happened at least once a day and it never got old!! Even more comical, on his first drive back in the States, my husband again put the wipers on when trying to turn! Haha!
Peace – We were unfortunately involved in a hit-and-run accident while sitting at a red light. As the woman sped away from us, she flipped us a peace sign. I was so mad! I wanted to tell her “No peace! You just hit our car and sped away!” I quickly learned that the peace sign doesn’t mean “peace” in New Zealand. It’s actually equivalent to the middle finger here in America. Learning this strangely made me feel better about the entire situation! It was a relief no longer feel like I was expected to show peace for the situation!
Modesty – Cars in New Zealand are very modest. We didn’t see any flashy cars or large vehicles (other than tour vans or shuttles) We saw a handful of pickup trucks, but none had more than a 4 foot bed in the back. This is likely because gas in the country is super expensive! They charge per liter, and a liter was about the same price as a gallon here in the U.S.
Houses were also very modest in New Zealand. Most looked to be older, ranch style homes that couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 bedrooms. Patrick and I had more than one conversation about how excessive even an average home in the United States must look to people from other countries.
No Shoes, No Problems! – One of the more jarring things to see was people walking around with no shoes on. I’m not talking about people walking outside of their homes to grab their mail…I’m talking people walking in the grocery store with no shoes on! I first noticed a child walking around the market like this. Being a mom of three little ones, my initial (honest!) thought was “Well she looks a little old to not have shoes on but kudos to those parents for not caring what others would think!” Then I saw grown adults with no shoes on…and not just one or two! I’d say about 1/3 of the people in the grocery store were strolling shoeless! To each their own…but I’m gonna keep my shoes on, thanks!
Cultural – New Zealand is made up of mainly two types of people, the Maori people, who are of Polynesian descent, and Caucasian people. Given this, you would not expect how cultural the food scene is there! We saw Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Turkish, and Indian Restaurants regularly. We even ate at a South African chicken place! I wouldn’t say New Zealand has their own type of food, but rather it’s a melting pot of different cultures. Our most fun meal in the country was definitely the Maori dinner, which is cooked “hangi” style. A hangi is a giant underground oven where meats, kumara (sweet potatoes) and other vegetables are cooked by the heat of the earth!
Cleanliness – New Zealand is a very clean country! Kiwis take pride in their beautiful surroundings and it most certainly shows! Recycle bins are all over, sorting paper, plastics and trash. Because of this, there was very little litter! I grew up picking up litter around my neighborhood with my dad. I see red when I see someone in the act of littering, to the point that I will say something to them about it if given the chance! Not an issue in New Zealand! Check out this awesome sign that was posted in a park in Queenstown…
Rest Rooms – One of the biggest differences I see when traveling to other countries are the toilets and bathroom habits in general. It’s seriously fascinating to me to see how we all as a human race treat this common practice so differently!
I feel like America is kind of catching up to New Zealand on their potty practices. All of their toilets have a duel flusher, one button for pee water flow, and a stronger flow for poo with the second button. We are starting to see these more commonly here, though the single lever flusher still rules here. It was also interesting to see how much more water we use in the basin in comparison to the toilets there.
Almost every toilet I saw was equipped with a SaniPod, a motion activated trash bin for feminem hygiene products…way better than the tiny bins that you have to lift yourself and always seem to be stuffed here in America…these make me shudder just thinking about them! So unsanitary! The Sani-Pods are quite large, especially in comparison to the boxes here…so if I had to take my guess, their toilets may not be equipped for any product to be flushed, though I don’t know that for certain.
Traveling as a family of 5, family restrooms are always a relief! We didn’t see family restrooms anywhere out of the ordinary, but when we did see them, they usually had two toilets, one adult sized one, and one child sized one. Some were even equipped with an adult and child sized sink! So very helpful!
I’m sure there are other differences between the United States and New Zealand, but in our time there, these were the main things that jumped out at me! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I had fun compiling it for you!
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