Rolling green hills, strange accents and unpronounceable place names; yes, we were in New Zealand. After a three-hour flight from Sydney to Auckland, we gathered up our luggage for the final time and made our way out to the visitors lounge. Having not been back to New Zealand for almost seven years it was an emotional and heartwarming experience to be welcomed with hugs by my mother and her husband who were waiting to pick us up.
It is impossible for me to describe the odd feeling of being back. Familiarity and foreign-ness fought with each other as I observed my surroundings, and took in the accent that seemed so strange and yet I had been accused of having for all my years in Canada. Martin, on the other hand, was battling a myriad of other emotions. The journey/vacation we had been dreaming and planning, and dreaming some more about, was over. Here we were in New Zealand, home for the next who-knows-how-long! A jolt back to earth; we had jobs, and houses, and lives to find. But then…there was also a wave of relief that washed over him. After an unnerving experience of trying to understand a fellow Kiwi poker player while on the cruise, he had become a bit concerned that I had lied about New Zealand being an English-speaking country. His fears, however, fell away as he adapted fast to the Kiwi colloquialisms and Kiwi-isms, with only a little bit of translation from me.
To find our feet a little we stayed with my mother and her husband, using their place as a base so we could explore, play tourist, and get a feel for where we wanted to live. They lived in Otorohanga; a small rural town located in the central North Island area, 2 hours from Auckland, in the Waikato district. Otorohanga is celebrated as the Kiwiana town of New Zealand; ‘Kiwiana’ meaning anything distinctly New Zealand. As New Zealander’s we like to refer to ourselves as Kiwi’s, affectionately named for a native flightless bird roughly the size and shape of a rugby ball. And so this little Kiwiana town was the perfect place for me to reunite with my Kiwi roots, and for Martin to discover a little of our Kiwi culture.
A cute little town nestled against fertile farmland, and rolling green hills, there did, however, seem to be something very ‘Kiwi’ absent from the scenery; Sheep! It was amazing how few sheep we saw. Cows, however, were abundant. The center street of the town boasted Kiwi souvenir and gift shops. Quaint baskets of brightly coloured flowers hung outside the shops where periodic signs greeted you from above as you walked down the street, illustrated with symbols of true New Zealand culture; the kiwi bird, the children’s buzzy bee toy we all remember from our childhoods, Pavlova cake – our christmas specialty, and of course a hokey pokey ice-cream cone – a favourite summer treat. Beautiful murals celebrating the Kiwi way of life covered exposed shop walls, while sculptures of giant Kiwi birds stood proud outside the library. A small walkway dedicated to the iconic Kiwi Sir Edmund Hillary boasted displays in showcases of true Kiwiana; the history of the All Blacks – our world-famous Rugby Team, Marmite – a black, tar-looking delight usually smothered on toast, a dictionary of common Kiwi lingo, and our native Maori culture, amongst many other things.
But as much as we would have loved to have lost ourselves in just ‘being’ in a new place, there was some mundane details we needed to take care of. And so we set up bank accounts, and cell phones, familiarised ourselves with the unfamiliar shops so we would know where to go when it came to buying furniture and supplies, and what was a good deal and what was the equivalent of being ripped off. I reacquainted myself with the Kiwi lingo, all-in-all amazed that Martin was getting a better grasp of it than myself; while I got blank steers when I offered to pay with Debit, Martin quickly caught on to always calling it Eftpos.
And then of course, was the driving. Getting use to driving on the left side of the road instead of the right, getting into the right side of the car instead of the left, and reversing a good deal of Canadian road rules – and before we knew it we were driving. Fortunately finding a vehicle was almost effortless – a cute little blue Honda CRV complete with 3 years warranty with plenty of room for the boogie boards, and wetsuits, and tent, and chairs, and a roof rack for all the things we imagined we would buy one day to complete our true Kiwi summer experience.
And with wheels we were set! Set now to explore a little. Get a feel for New Zealand. So much had changed since I had been here last. I couldn’t wait to immerse myself back into the culture, and share it with Martin, and I was anxious for us to find the place that we would know as being “home”. And so began an entirely new type of adventure…