I can remember the first moment I felt like a true kiwi like it was yesterday. Whether or not it’s something to be publicly proud of is another matter entirely.
But I digress.
Let me set the scene: I was making the journey between Wanaka and Queenstown over the Crown Range, New Zealand’s highest public access road and one of my regular commutes.
Still getting used to the mountain switchbacks and hairpin turns, having only moved to the South Island less than a year earlier, I was taking it slow and careful. All of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I could see a long and skinny furry creature dart across the road ahead of me into my lane.
And without thinking twice, I didn’t swerve, and promptly ran it over. On purpose. Thunk thunk. Smooshed. Dead as a doornail. Roadkill.
What savagery is this?! When did I become a person that runs over cute fluffy animals ? What has New Zealand done to me?
Well, there is a story behind the madness, let me tell you. I encourage you to read on if you have not already clicked off this story, unfollowed me and decided I’m a monster.
Allow me to explain. So I’ve been living in New Zealand as an American expat for almost five years. Five beautiful, wild and fulfilling years that have taken me on a journey I could have never imagined.
While we can all measure our years in memories and milestones, in experiences and friendships, for me I can also count my time in New Zealand in another way. All those times I said or did something, and though too myself, wow, I’ve gone totally kiwi.
Similar to when you realize you say something that only your mom does, and you think to yourself in an epiphany moment, holy shit, I’m turning into my mother. It’s just like that.
But in this case, my mom is Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud, flat whites and unreasonably priced avocados.
Here are ten of my most memorable moments when you know you’re kiwi when. Now, for all those kiwis screaming at me right now, go for gold. Do your worst. Now are all these the standard by which we should measure kiwi-ness worldwide? No way. But are they my standards? Yeah no. Maybe.
1. Let me explain the roadkill thing
We have a saying in New Zealand, “a good possum is a dead possum.”
How on earth did I go from being the vegetarian hippy girl who cried unconsolably for half a day when she accidentally ran over a squirrel in high school to the classy lady who proudly claimed that she’s run over two stoats and four possums on her new Zealand residency application?
Let me offer a (somewhat) brief explanation.
Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve become a passionate conservationist working to protect the native birds here.
New Zealand was one of the last places on earth settled by humans about 1000 years ago. Before humans arrived (Māori Polynesians and then white Europeans), New Zealand had no mammals except a bat, it was a land of only birds.
And some of the most incredible birds too, like the world’s biggest eagle. A veritable Jurassic Park, there were thousands of unique creatures, many birds who evolved to not be able to fly, since their only predators were only other birds. In fact there were so many birds that when Captain Cook anchored off New Zealand, the dawn chorus of the birds was described as deafening.
Then humans came and brought destruction, as we are so good at doing. Between hunting the birds to extinction, we also brought terrible critters like rats, feral cats, possums (damn Australia), rabbits, and the worst of all, stoats, which are like weasels and kill anything and everything.
Stoats are public enemy number one in New Zealand. Sneaky and hard to catch, they’re opportunistic killers, and they destroy bird populations before you can blink.
And what did these furry creatures do? Immediately devastate the bird populations, which had no defense against mammals. Many species went extinct or came to the brink of extinction quickly before we finally got our act together and have spent the past decades trying to protect them and bring back the New Zealand of yesteryear.
Now there is a massive moment within the government and all conservation trusts to get rid of all these bird-killing mammals in an initiative called Predator Free 2050.
That means in order to save these rare birds, there’s a lot of killing, to put it bluntly. Between pest control, poison drops and trapping, kiwis are passionate about protecting their wildlife and that means a pretty thorough massacre of mammals.
With my work in conservation, I’ve spent time with these hard workers, setting trap lines, cleaning traps of dead stoats and rotting possums (yuck!), and encouraging locals to set up simple pest control to help bring back the birds in their own backyards. And the day I knew I truly belonged here was when I made no effort to avoid hitting a pest.
Who am I?
2. “Gone for a hoon, mate.”
On one of my New Zealand tours last year, I was sitting with the girls in the Abel Tasman National Park after a day of adventure. Most of them had opted to go for a kayak and full day hiking in the national park. Since I had done this countless times, I ended up catching up with my friends Bare Kiwi and Wildboy in the morning, and gone for a mellow kayak where we had the most incredible dolphin encounter.
Over pizzas in the evening we swapped stories of the day, and when asked what I got up to, I replied without thinking, “I just went for a hoon in the park with friends.”
I was met with blank stares. “What the hell’s a ‘hoon’?”
Hoon (definition) verb: to engage in mischief in a vehicle. The performance of other acts such as burnouts, donuts, fishtails, or the deliberate loss of control of a vehicle. Being a hooligan.
Not only had I gone full kiwi, I’d also gone redneck kiwi.
3. Building up my hobbit feet
“You can’t get your residency until you can walk kilometers barefoot,” both Brando and Kyle yelled back to me, as I scampered to keep up with them as we hiked part of the Abel Tasman track on that same kayaking adventure.
If you’ve ever spent time in New Zealand, especially in summer, you know this to be true. Shoes are optional.
It’s not uncommon to see people wander around town and in the shops shoeless, especially on hot days or near the beaches, and I’ve got friends here who I’ve never seen wear shoes.
I’m still working on it. Ouch ouch ouch.
4. Marmite + butter = bliss
I actually owe my love for vegemite to my Australian business partner Lauren Bath, which has since evolved into a love for the (better) kiwi version of vegemite: marmite.
When I first moved here, I made the classic rookie mistake of smearing vegemite on a slice of toast as if it were nutella.
Do not be tricked. This dark brown yeasty spread couldn’t be further from chocolate. After that horrifying mouthful that made me gag for ages, I vowed to never to touch the stuff again until Lauren showed me the light 3 years later.
You only use the tiniest bit of vegemite, about the size of your pinky nail, and you spread it on toast where you’ve already spread a nice layer of butter. Put a very thin layer of vegemite or marmite on top.
Boom, it’s delicious.
5. Be a tidy kiwi
Of all my favorite kiwi characteristics I’ve picked up, I like to think my favorite is looking after the land, in all respects.
I grew up in urban east coast America, land of infinite strip malls and 7-elevens. Pollution is kinda our jam.
It didn’t take long for it really to hit home for me how clean and tidy New Zealand is, something I’ve adopted since moving here. Not that I was a littering person before at all, but I definitely ignored rubbish on the ground. Now I notice that I often pick up other’s people’s rubbish when I see it.
Also, saying the word “rubbish.” Full kiwi over here.
6. Adventure is in the blood, along with being plain old tough
What can I say, New Zealand is the land of being hardcore and of chasing adventure. I mean, would you expect anything less from the country that invented bungy jumping and whose national pastime is jumping off things and “doing some bombs, bro?”
New Zealand is another world, an idyllic pasture of free-range children roaming the land barefoot and in shorts all year round, where the biggest crime at least down south where I live, are mailbox thieves and people stealing money out of the honesty boxes from local eggs.
I haven’t figure it out exactly yet, but they breed them tough here.
Perhaps its the lack of central heating or the spillover from the total frontier attitude of the past, but folks are hardy here and easily make me look like a wuss. I can still remember the first time taking a friend on a moderate hike here which I found easy but I suppose wasn’t in reality, and after an hour of whining I immediately replied with a good old, ” you’ll be right, harden the fuck up.”
7. Hokey Pokey ice-cream is god’s gift to New Zealand
New Zealand has invented the best ice-cream flavor on earth : hokey pokey.
Well, I assume they invented it, as I haven’t seen it anywhere else on my travels.
Hokey Pokey consists of plain old vanilla ice-cream mixed in with bits of honeycomb toffee, and it’s my personal kryptonite. I have, on more than one occasion, sat down with a whole bucket of it and a big spoon on a lonely evening at home, and eaten almost the whole thing before I had the strength to chuck it in the rubbish bin.
See what I did there? Rubbish bin? Go on, America, reject my citizenship now.
8. He’s a good c***, eh?
I honestly have no defense for this. The four letter “c” swear word that begins with a “c” and ends with a “t,” which is incredibly taboo and offensive in America, is actually rather common in Australia and New Zealand, and often used in an endearing, crass kind of way. Shows you what kind of people I hang out with here.
So this one time, I was home in the States for the holidays a few years back watching a movie with my family, and without thinking about it, I said out loud, “wow, what a c***.”
Dead silence for far too long before my little sister finally says “Liz-zie!!!” Rather shocked and offended. Note to self, cultural difference. Best avoid the “c” word.
9. Making an effort to pronounce Māori words correctly and be more respectful
I’m sure this won’t be very popular but there are plenty of kiwis who don’t give a hoot about this one. But for me, I believe this is really important. As a foreigner here, it doesn’t take long to really pick up on the controversial vibes, usually among Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent). This is such a touchy subject that I’ve often avoided in the past, not out of wanting to avoid it, but rather, only wanting to talk about it in the proper and correct way, educated and non-offensive.
It’s been baby steps for me, as outsider who didn’t grow up here and who isn’t nuanced in all aspects of Māori life and culture in modern-day New Zealand, but it’s something I’ve been working on and am planning to share a lot more of down the road here.
Between just turning 30 and also received my New Zealand residency and my best friend here is Māori, and gifted me the most stunning pounamu (jade greenstone) pendant; wearing it as a reminder to myself to find my strength (kia kaha, Liz, stay strong) and to work on being more respectful and inclusive of Māori culture and words in my work. I have a lot planned down the track, but for now I am slowly working on learning more words and meanings and not being afraid to use them here.
I obviously can be doing a lot better, but I’m trying.
And the first steps I’ve found are just making an effort to say Māori words and place names correctly, and build in Te Reo words that can be used in daily life.
10. Kiwi dip is choice as!
New Zealand’s favorite party snack is homemade onion dip, and in true kiwi fashion, it’s one of those wham bam one stop shop meals that anyone can whip up. Made from mixing a can of reduced cream with one from one packet of maggi onion soup mix, it looks and sounds revolting.
When I first saw it being made and promptly devoured by locals at a friend’s bbq, I was torn between wanting to gag in horror and transfixed in awe – how could such a bastardized bbq classic enthrall so many?
Then I tried it, and loved it, and tried not to think about the whole can of cream bit, and probably ate a whole bowl.
LOCAL FOR LIFE!
Hopefully I haven’t painted New Zealand to be a cute animal murdering nation of rogue adventurers…or is it? Honestly, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this wild and tiny nation at the edge of the world, even if my vocabulary and personal dress has decidedly gone downhill since moving here. I’ve embraced it.
And there are plenty of things I can’t do yet: like I can’t throw a gumboot very far, and I don’t understand (or give a crap) about the rugby or cricket. I’m an absolute DIY failure, and I can’t fix anything: I immediately ask for help when something breaks. I also do not love meat pies. SACRILEGE! Though drunk Liz doesn’t seem to mind a good old mince and cheese pie at 3am. I could also be much hardier.
But as this mellow country has taught me, it’s good as gold. Right as rain. She’ll be right. No wakas.
Have you been to New Zealand? Are you a kiwi or an expat here or abroad? How’d I’d do? Mistake me for a local yet? Share!