It seems a cliché to title a post ending in “mate!” but New Zealanders do utilize that word above any other.
But let’s start from the beginning. Traveling with my co-worker Doug, we checked in to our connecting Qantas flight from LA to Auckland. Coming off a seven hour, American Airlines operated cramped flight from Boston, neither of us were looking forward to a thirteen hour connection to Auckland. “You’ve been upgraded to business due to an oversold flight,” the Qantas agent says with a smile. “Really pays to have your frequent flyer number in the system. You’ll be on the top deck, Sir.” It was like winning the lotto. The MegaMillions kind of lotto. I returned to my seat in the departure lounge with the relative equivalent of a Wonka Bar Golden Ticket and a big fat smile.
How can you not sit in a seat that reclines into a flat bed without trying all the buttons to see what they do? Doug and I played like children as the rest of the true business folk, in suit (of both the skirt variety or standard) and tie boarded. Resting comfortably, at one point the video system has to be reset for some reason and the stewardess apologizes for the inconvenience. She quotes that it should take half an hour to reset, but ultimately it takes an hour. She returns to profusely apologize that the reset took longer than she anticipated. Doug looks to me as she walks away and says, “I’m nobody.”
Wellington is a very small capital city. Propped in a cove at the southern tip of the North Island, it’s home to just around 300,000 people. What I just called small is a huge city to those who live there. It sits among rolling hills with houses scattered around the hills and the bay. To walk the majority of the downtown area would take under twenty minutes. Wellington has great bars, restaurants, cafes, walking malls and a fantastic national museum, the Te Papa which houses Maori art. And everyone is incredibly friendly. The best way to explain New Zealanders would be this: picture your closest friend, your nicest friend. Your friend is always positive and never has a bad thing to say. The friend always is excited to see you and lives as though today is the best day that’s ever been – and it genuinely is. Not one person I encountered was dismissive or annoyed. Everyone wants to chat and tell a story. Even cab drivers. (One cab driver, as we counted, said “thank you” roughly over a dozen times during a ride that lasted five minutes.) Another man who worked in a wine shop told us how he had lived in Bahrain for three or so years and when we asked how it was, he remarked that it was fantastic, and what a rich a wonderful experience of culture it had been. If you can be positive about living in Bahrain for years without making any negative claim, it’s a testament to a general outlook on life that was incredible.
New Zealand is not a tip culture. When the check comes in a restaurant, you pay at the cashier just as you would if you bought a soda at a supermarket. A taxi, the driver will give you exact change and won’t grimace as he says, “oh, sorry, I have no change.” He’ll walk to every nearby store to insure you get proper change. It is a fantastic relief. No one looks to profit at the expense of another and service is always given with a smile and not via a tip jar that says, “Tips = to insure prompt service.”
But if life was good in Wellington, it was about to get better. Doug and I finished work and planned a whirlwind tour to the South Island: a trip that would cover nearly 1200 kilometers or 750 miles, span mountain ranges and limitless, breathtaking scenery.