I leave New Zealand, the stunning landscapes and wilderness, far away from the rest of the world; the movie set that brought Tolkien’s world to life. … Wait a moment. … I remember a time when I thought that this country was one big sheep farm somewhere at the end of the world. Now it is the Shire? It seems to me that the “Kiwis”, as they call themselves after birds that cannot fly, are searching for an identity; one that helps them to survive or even prosper on their remote outpost, while the world changes. What did I see beyond all this natural beauty?
How does a country work that is basically an archipelago in a remote corner of the pacific, with a population that all together would be about the 50th biggest ‘city proper’ in the world? As a Kiwi I met put it: We live of the land. Farms and Agriculture seem to be the most visible pillar of the local economy: Sheep, cows, fruits and wine.
Another pillar is Tourism: A wide range of accommodations, transports, tours and restaurants, that keeps the stream of visitors running smoothly through the islands and provides the necessary excitement where and when it is needed.
To support this two sectors I saw banks, real estate agencies, supermarkets and support to keep the cars running.
They just love their cars around here. There are few trains. The one between the capital and the biggest city runs thrice a week in each direction. But even busses run only once or a few times a day. The further South I went, the less options I had. At the end there was just one road and one bus.
I looked for other industries. With little success. Well, I saw an aluminum smelter, but what looked like a chemical plant turned out to be a winery. Heavy industry seems absent, as do most other industrial sectors. It seems that a critical mass is needed that simply does not exist around here. But who needs it, if so much money can be made by shuttling tourists or growing grapes. The local economies seem to be based on small businesses that nimbly fill every demand there is.
They just make things work, seem to grasp every opportunity there is and the system gives them the freedom to do so. Entrepreneurship around here seems less a virtue and more of a necessity, born out of circumstance. When I awake from my ‘scenic trance’ and ‘scenic fatigue’ sets in, I realize that there is not much to do around here.
That might be the reason for an abundance of pubs …
… and all kinds of extreme sport activities. Why would anyone attach a rubber rope to their ankles and jump off a bridge? Genius? Stupidity? Boredom? …
Kiwis seem to enjoy their lives in comfort. In my experience the most popular outdoor activity around here is a barbecue. There are few bikes on the streets. I cannot remember having seen a single ‘normal’ bike. Apparently only the sporty variety seems to be acceptable.
It seems that you walk your dog this way …
… or that.
Most people seem to own their home, …
… and seem to take their time to relax.
Somehow it seems to work, and there are plenty more where they come from …
… especially when you look to Asia, it seems.
One incident quiet nicely sums up my experiences with New Zealand:
On the day before I leave, I have to write a lot of post cards, and need stamps. So I go to one of the most trusted institutions the world has to offer, with an integrity so unquestionable that some countries have written it into their constitutions: The Post. In this case the New Zealand Post. When it is my turn I walk to the counter. The transaction goes pretty much exactly like this:
“I have to send post cards overseas. Do you have some nice ones?”
“Sorry, we only have the normal ones. But we have a special offer ‘Ten for the price of Nine’ .”
“OK. I take ten.”
He hands me one of this small paper folders such blocks of stamps normally come in. I take it without further inspection, and pay. You can trust the post. Well, not exactly. When I later use them, I get a closer look at the stamps: “Merry Christmas 2013”. Seriously. In May 2014? If you received a postcard I sent from New Zealand, have a look. Ten of you can corroborate my story. The design says a lot about New Zealand too, but I will not go into that.
Well, interestingly it works for both sides. For the New Zealand Post, obviously, and for me, because I have something to write about. I suspect the logic behind all this describes quiet nicely how this country works.
I board my Grey Ship, and leave Middle Earth.