I love traveling, and during my travels, I've had the opportunity to meet some truly amazing people. It's often my favorite part of traveling. My interaction with these people always impresses me because I often learn many things I did not know before. Here at Traveling with a View, I'm always looking for new ideas to share with everyone, and so I'd like to introduce a new blog post series known as Interview with an Expat. As an expat myself, I've had the opportunity to meet other expats who have lived or are living in different parts of the world, and it is often through people like them that I have learned about these places.
For the inaugural post of Interview with an Expat, I had the chance to interview Caitlin Rovner about New Zealand. In full disclosure, Caitlin is actually a native of New Zealand, but this is exciting and special since we get some true insider information that I certainly would not have known if she hadn't told me.
Please enjoy the interview!
1. Could you please tell me a little about yourself and how you know about New Zealand?
I was born and raised in NZ but have spent the last ten years living in different countries. That makes NZ really special to me - I see it both as a native and as a tourist. I’ve been able to return home every two years or so, and I have enjoyed exploring the country with other visitors while I’ve been back.
2. In your opinion, what are some of the must-see places and attractions in New Zealand?
There’s honestly so many! If you came for a week, I would recommend Wellington (voted the best capital city in the world!), Rotorua (boiling mud, Maori culture, adventure tourism), Taupo (giant lake, bungee jumping, amazing waterfalls), De Bretts hot pools, Napier (Art Deco capital of the world, plus my hometown!), Waitomo (the most amazing glow-worm caves), Matamata (Lord of the Rings/Hobbiton tour), and Whakapapa (the Wh- sound in Maori is pronounced ‘F’) to stay in the Chateau on Tongariro (an active volcano where Lord of the Rings was filmed).
All of these are on the North Island. It’s more populated, so there’s a lot of tourist sights, but the South Island is arguably more beautiful. You can cross on the ferry and check out Kaikoura (whale watching), Hanmer Springs (natural pools high above the snow line), Dunedin (NZ’s most notorious university city), Queenstown (ski-resort city above a lake), and Milford Sound, one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
3. Is there any place you can recommend that is maybe off the beaten path or not commonly visited?
Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki in the South Island are ridiculously beautiful. In the North Island, try to get to some of the more remote East Coast beaches - wild, empty, windswept and completely unlike anywhere else on Earth.
There’s also a lot of natural hot springs, which were formed because we’re a very volcanic country. Some are fancy and expensive, but others are not more than a small pool in the middle of the bush. It's definitely worth a hike!
4. What kind of activities (outdoor/physical) can a traveler do in the different seasons?
New Zealand is set up for adventure tourism, so there’s something for every month of the year. In the summer, the Bay of Islands has cruising and parasailing. In the winter, the ski fields are busy. Year round, there’s world-famous hikes, river rafting, beautiful beaches, national parks, wineries (must-do!), shows, museums, shopping, and coffee, coffee, coffee - the best in the world!
5. What are some traditional New Zealand dishes that a first-time visitor must try?
A flat-white coffee is the standard morning drink. You’ll see everyone clutching a coffee in the cities as they head to work.
Fish and chips are probably the most famous Kiwi meal- being surrounded by ocean means that we take seafood very seriously, and every neighbourhood has it’s own shop - but ask the locals where the good ones are found! Fish and chips are served out of paper with a side of tomato sauce (like ketchup but better!). We eat them about once a week.
Meat pies aren’t like anywhere else in the world- sorry, UK and Australia. You also have to get a steak and cheese pie from a bakery. Warning - seriously addictive, and hard to eat when driving!
New Zealand's wine is first class, so you should try to get to a winery to sample the local grapes.
Our ice cream and cheese are also world-famous - as is the chocolate!
You must also try feijoa. It's a fruit that’s a cross between a kiwifruit and a pear. They're super sweet and juicy!
Hangi is a traditional Maori fare. It's cooked under the ground for hours, even days, so the meat and vegetables have a real organic taste and flavor. It's also super healthy, too!
6. In your opinion, which city or town in New Zealand should a visitor spend most of their time in and why?
I would really recommend not staying in one place. New Zealand has such varied landscapes - mountains, coast, desert, forest, volcanoes, plains, lakes, rivers, islands. It’s definitely worth travelling to see as much as you can.
Wellington is an excellent base to start. At the bottom of the North Island, you can catch ferries to the South Island, and drive around the North Island. Plus, it’s an international hub for air travel, and it's only a one hour flight from Auckland.
7. For people who are maybe thinking of moving to New Zealand in the future, what advice would you give in order to have a relatively stress-free move?
I would advise people to think outside Auckland if possible. It is by far the largest city, but it has a severe housing shortage, and this has driven real estate prices sky-high. Many people are now beginning to move from Auckland to Tauranga, the Waikato, or Hawkes Bay for a more laid-back environment (and better climate!).
If you can find a job with a sponsor, you’re golden. Otherwise, NZ offers visitor visas for up to nine months or working holiday visas for seasonal work - fruit picking, tourism/hospitality etc. Many people come on these visas and end up staying - not overstaying a visa but legally changing their status in the country.
Be prepared to be surprised by the cost of food and basics- everything grown locally is export quality, so it’s expensive, and everything else is imported, so it’s also expensive! Cars, clothing and cosmetics are particularly highly taxed!
8. What is your favorite restaurant in New Zealand and why?
Honestly, your best meal will come from a wee local fish and chip shop. Make sure you remember to buy tomato sauce then drive to the beach and eat at a picnic table. Try to not feed the seagulls because they will swarm you. Lick the salt off your fingers and finish with a hokey-pokey ice cream.
9. What is the best way to get around New Zealand for a traveler on a budget?
New Zealand is ridiculously beautiful. It’s a great place to just rent a vehicle and drive around. The roads aren’t wide or straight, so one person navigating while one person drives is a good idea. There are intercity buses, but it’s better to have your own vehicle. Camper vans are also really popular! Just make sure you stick to the correct side of the road - we do have a lot of accidents caused by tourists.
10. Is there any unique New Zealand slang that a first-time visitor should know or learn?
Kiwi refers to either the person or the bird. Kiwifruit refers to the fruit.
Many place names are Maori. The spelling is very phonetic, apart from the aforementioned –wh- sound.
Rotorua = Roto RUE a
Ruapehe = RUE a pay hoo
Taupo = Taw poh
Kiwi slang is pretty fun!
Jandals = flip flops
Chilly Bin = cooler (pronounced ‘chully bun’)
No worries = you’re welcome
Yeah, nah = no
Nah, yeah = yes
Ta = thank you (casual)
Cheers = thank you (more formal)
Thanks = thank you (most formal)
Chips = fries or potato chips
Dairy = corner store
Heaps = lots (There’s heaps of sheep in NZ!)
Nu Zlid = New Zealand, Aotearoa, God’s Own.
A Little About Caitlin:
Caitlin Rovner has been traveling, teaching, and learning for a decade. Originally from New Zealand, she currently calls Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan home.