The Bottom of the World

Reminiscence’s of my first trip to New Zealand Thirty-Three years ago


The view from Mt. Victoria from Devonport,
across the bay from Auckland New Zealand

Throw away the girdles and let your seams out. The fresh bread shops, green grocer and butcher are alive and well at the bottom of the world, in New Zealand.

Take a deep breath, turn your mind back twenty years and forget the worries of our ever increasing plastic society and the long gas lines. Enter a world where wringer washers are the common place and big fancy cars are almost nonexistent.

Tea time in New Zealand is a treat for travelers. You not only get a pot of tea, or coffee, but fresh (un-sugared) whipped cream, and a sweet. This is where the dieters fall away. Sweets come in many shapes, sticky buns with cream and jam, hot rolls with cinnamon and raisins, dainty cakes of assorted varieties, and sweet cream butter. (My quick step finally has become a cream, and milk sloshing plod, “I’ll never see size ten again).

In keeping with my customary timing, I visited the land of milk and honey in their winter. Fully equipped for a south seas holiday, sandals, swim suit, cotton skirts, etc. I immediately froze to the landing ramp at Auckland International. Rain was pelting down, and small puffs of steam were visible from everyones mouth. No matter, I thought, everything will warm up as soon as my friend gets me to her house.

Lesson One…Kiwi’s (as the New Zealander calls himself) don’t feel the need to heat their homes.
“It’s not cold,” Ann said, as her pale blue hands started the water for tea. “Yes, I suppose your right,” I lied, ” just getting in from Hawaii has made me unused to the climate.”

As we sat at the kitchen table, our breath could be seen. “Look,” I said, like a small child, puffing steam from my mouth. “Well, it is a bit cold, I suppose,” she said, with no move to turn on the heater.

“Would you like a hot bath after your trip?” I visualized getting wet and standing in the cold trying to dry the ice off my body. “That’s all right, I had one in Hawaii,” I lied again.

What I did want was a nap, after thirty-three hours with no sleep I was beginning to feel like a giant blue zombie. The thought of climbing between two clammy cold sheets snapped me to alertness. “The electric blanket should be hot by now ” said Ann with a knowing smile.

Lesson Two…Kiwi’s are not as cold blooded as first imagined.
But, my first cultural shock came when I lay down. The warmth from the blanket was coming from beneath me, not from over me. Well, I said to myself, at the bottom of the world where else would you put an electric blanket? Sleep overcame my amusement. I awoke shortly before dinner to aromas of roast lamb. After donning all the warm clothing I could find, I joined the family for a typical New Zealand Sunday dinner. Roast lamb, Kumeras’ (sweet potato) roasted potatoes, veggies (vegetables), fresh bread and milk.

Nine-year old Shawn sat beside me, in his short-panted school uniform asking questions about America. “Does everyone really carry guns? Is Disneyland the capitol,” (and other provocative statements that left us all in tears of laughter).

As Shawn watched me eat, I noticed a funny smile creep across his face. “Do you all eat like that?” he said. “Like what?” I answered. “You do so much with your fork and knife before you put food in your mouth.”

I glanced around at the rest of the family, forks in the left hand, knives in the right, busily pushing food onto their forks with their knives. I thought for a moment, then cut a piece of meat, placed the knife on the plate, changed fork into right hand and poked my meat. “Yes, I guess we do. Your way does seem more practical.” I said.

Lesson Three…When in Rome, or some such thing.
The next day I was to embark on a bigger battle than the knife and fork episode. Renting a car to drive around the country. The Hertz rental agents first question, “Have you ever driven on the left side of the road?” was answered with a nervous giggle. “No, actually not, but I’m a quick learner,” I reassured him. “Have you ever driven a stick shift?” he slowly asked. Indignantly I told him, “Of course.”

Knowing I was about to do alien things with my mind and body, still didn’t prepare me for the adventure ahead. Steering wheel on right, shift on left, turn signals on right. Your mind doesn’t immediately accept the left hand doing the work and going through the shifting pattern made me very uneasy. “Now,” said the man, “Your ready for traffic,” (that’s what he thinks).

“Always remember to look to your right, not left, mind the roundabouts and stay to your left.” “Oh,” I said, lighting a cigarette with shaky hands, “I shouldn’t have too many problems.”

Switch on, left hand push into first gear, remove hand break, look to right, proceed into street, drop cigarette on floor, PANIC. Look left, no one coming, dart across street (Honk-Honk) “what did I do?” I yelled. Pull into nearest open space, throw open door to find burning cigarette has put hole in mat, discard cigarette. Take off coat, roll up sleeves, check moisture dripping down various places on body. “Self control is the answer,” I said to no one in particular.

Glancing to the left, I proceeded forward, right in the path of a bus. Inaudible words came at me through the window, as the drivers passengers picked themselves up from the floor of the bus. You learn, or you die, is my motto for anyone learning the left hand system. Now, I constantly was looking to the right. Being a heavy smoker, through the years I’ve gotten my procedure down to a smooth maneuver when driving. Cigarette in left hand, shift in right, window to left for flicking ashes.

Lesson Four…When driving in left handed nations, smoke only on non-driving time.
My passenger seat was strewn with cigarette residue, and the knuckles on my right hand were red from hitting the door when trying to shift.

Onto Queen Street, main business district in Auckland. Keeping a car ahead of me at all times proved to keep me on the proper side of the road, but my first roundabout was almost my demise. Give Way! the sign said, but which direction were they coming from, I thought. I didn’t get a chance to figure it out because of the pile up behind me. I lurched to the left, went round the circle, emerged on the opposite side and thought I’d done quite well. Only the car coming straight towards me told me I was wrong. Honking and with an obscene gesture, the man and auto swerved past me. I jumped back to the left, bringing three cars behind me to a screeching halt. “Keep the white and yellow lines to your right,” I said aloud, to reinforce the fact to my numbed brain. Unfortunately, Kiwis drive side by side on one lane roads, and the lane next to the lines is used for passing. Their cars, for the most part are so small, they can get away with it.

Lesson Five…Keep to the curb.
The only problem with lesson five is that Kiwis double park wherever they need to stop., They just stop, get out, and there sits their car.

Lesson Six….Drive like a Kiwi.
Put it in gear and God forbid anyone that gets in your way.


How to see New Zealand in the winter and live to tell about it, would make interesting reading. How to see it on $10 to $15 a day was what I read.

Lesson Seven…Those books are written for summer visitors.
Most motels that come in the $10 range don’t have a heating system, save for one space heater in the ceiling, as I found with my first motel.

Being the pampered American that I am, warmth is a necessity. Mornings would find me beating my chest like Tarzan to kick start my frozen heart valve. And, if you’ve never put on solidified liquid makeup, you have not lived. The only warm part of the motel was the bathroom after a shower. All steamy and warm, you reach for your towel and find it hasn’t dried from the previous morning, and smells like under the sink after 6 months with a leaky faucet.

My first flat (apartment) was over the allotted $10 a day, but it commanded a view of the city and harbor that was unequaled. And it had one rare commodity, a giant electric portable heater that warmed the entire unit. Fresh milk and the morning paper were delivered (free) to the door every morning, and I decided I’d finally found a little paradise inside paradise.

There is a sense of “coming home” after only a short time in Kiwi land. You enter a world where people have learned to relax, and live with life not against the flow of time. The marvelous people and the time tunnel feeling of 20 years reversed is enough to make a person want to give it all up and stay here forever.

Ask me if I’ll come back. Yes, in Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall. For all the strange and different things, it’s a fantastic land, and if they can run around in the middle of winter in short pants and sandals, so can I.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s