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[travel] New Zealand notes - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
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Jay Lake
Date: 2013-09-14 09:47
Subject: [travel] New Zealand notes
Security: Public
Tags:culture, new zealand, travel
New Zealand is a wonderful place. I highly recommend it as a travel destination to anyone who can scrape together the coin and bank the time for the trip. Oddly, it reminds me somewhat of Oregon, and vice versa.

But a few trip notes are in order.


Forget about it. You won't find much, and what you will find is metered at very high prices with poor performance. Feel free to take out a second mortgage to pay for the international data roaming charges on your cell phone if you prefer. Or just go mostly-to-fully off the grid while you're there.


The country is full of clean, well-kept bathrooms which are available at almost every stop you will ever make. They universally include a toilet brush, which is important when you live a toilet-based lifestyle like me, and wish to be a polite guest. However, every single bathroom in the country is unheated and apparently uninsulated. Most of them are cold enough to hang meat, or serve as an overflow morgue should a pandemic strike the country. I think there must be a law mandating that bathrooms be below a certain temperature, possibly to inhibit bacterial growth. This means that if you spend a lot of time in bathrooms, as I do, your odds of contracting a respiratory infection from lengthy sitting about in the frigid air are quite high, and your odds of fighting it off once the infection sets in are virtually nil.

Customer Service

New Zealanders are almost without exception pleasant, genial and quite happy to see you (and your tourist dollars, I suppose, but I was never once made to feel like a mark). They are however somewhat vague on the concept of customer service or operational efficiency. So while everything happens eventually, and usually with a fair amount of good will and bright demeanor, it doesn't always happen when and how you might wish. This ranges from restaurant ordering to hotel check-ins to purchasing things in shops. Be patient, it will all happen.

Air New Zealand

Just don't. Not if you can possibly avoid them. Air New Zealand is an utter disaster from the traveler's perspective. Their in-flight equipment and service was good-to-excellent, but their on-the-ground customer service would shame a failing hamburger stand in Zimbabwe. Broken Web sites, inconsistent fare quotes, third party contract staffing at airport desks with no ability or authority to help a traveler with a problem, weirdly strict domestic travel rules with no exceptions or workarounds. Basically, they have no capacity to handle exception management. Air travel is made of exception management. But that's not the Air New Zealand way. It's that genially vague customer service ethic gone utterly toxic. (I'll post details about these issues soon.)

Everything else about the country was excellent. The food, the people, the landscape, the cities, the attractions. It was like being assaulted by natural wonder at every turn.

Go, spend lots of time there. You'll never have a bad meal, and never meet a grouchy Kiwi. Just take note of the above to avoid disappointment.

Post A Comment | 9 Comments | | Link

Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2013-09-14 17:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If memory serves, NZ doubles for Oregon in one of Peter Jackson's early movies (The Frighteners) - strange but true.
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asakiyume: nevermore
User: asakiyume
Date: 2013-09-14 18:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I like the idea of the bathrooms inhibiting bacterial growth, and consequently encouraging viral growth in you, the container-within-the-container of the bathroom.
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User: horace_hamster
Date: 2013-09-14 20:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's not just public toilets that are unheated. It's practically everywhere -- including some restaurants and even university classrooms. Kiwis are convinced that it doesn't get cold enough here to need to heat their buildings. They think it's natural to sit on the couch watching TV while wearing a coat, hat and mittens.

A lot of houses have little or no insulation, and many don't have heating systems other than a wood stove and/or space heaters. There's been many a study done finding that often houses, esp student housing, have a lower air temperature in the house than in the fridge. It's crazy.
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User: horace_hamster
Date: 2013-09-14 20:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
(adding: As I sit here typing this, it's 54 degrees F in my office. You just kind of get used to freezing to death half the time, but clearly it's far more than just an annoyance for someone like Jay who has significant health problems.)
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User: msconduct
Date: 2013-09-15 03:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Can't argue with a lot of this. Yep, we have terrible public bandwidth. Yep, the toilets are unheated (and having corresponded with one of your other commenters on this issue and found that her US power bill was about a quarter of mine I understand why). On the other hand, we don't get many tourists here in the winter, so for most people it's not an issue. If you have a choice in the matter, winter is most definitely not the time to come here. The country is far from at its best then.

As for customer service, God yes. Asking for things, when I go to the US, is like slipping into a warm bath in comparison. It always amazes me when I see Americans complaining about what they perceive as customer service failures, as almost always I know it would be about a thousand percent worse here. The excellent US customer service, I'm convinced, is what gives Americans their unfortunate reputation as tourists. I've just got back from Southern Africa, where time and again I heard American tourists referred to as "delicate", "demanding" and, over and over, "difficult". I don't think these people would be perceived as such at home: they're just used to getting what they want more easily than is available anywhere else.

As for Air New Zealand, I'm really surprised. I'm a Gold-level flyer with them, so I've logged a lot of miles, and I've never found them anything but helpful (especially in comparison with all the American airlines, which are to an airline appalling). It's also won global airline of the year awards more than once. What a shame your experience didn't reflect this.

Two things I do disagree with, though: it's definitely possible to get a bad meal (our ingredients are fantastic, best in the world in my opinion. Our restaurant cooking quality is not). And there are definitely grouchy Kiwis:).
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Zoe Sotet
User: Zoe Sotet
Date: 2013-09-15 04:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's interesting to see how other people view us.
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User: scarlettina
Date: 2013-09-15 13:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One of the things I wonder about pretty regularly is why bathrooms in general aren't heated. It surprised me that you noted it as something exceptional in NZ, because I consistently find it to be the case here in the US. Bathrooms are the only "public" places that people get undressed in, and yet they are never heated, or so rarely heated as to make the occasional warm bathroom a remarkable thing. I don't think it's just NZ; it's almost everywhere I've been.
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2013-09-15 15:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't want to start an International Incident from saying the wrong thing -- I was going to compare our December trip to Australia with your August trip to New Zealand. But as an ignorant American, comparing places that are roughly in the same place on the globe is probably not wise.

So let me just say that the Australian people were kind and wonderful, the Australian food was generally good, though prepared somewhat differently than we're used to, and it was HOT HOT HOT when we were there and I would not recommend going at the height of their summer.

Then there was our horrific plane ride to get there, but that's another story.
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User: richdrich
Date: 2013-09-19 23:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My house has gas central heating - this is rather unusual, and gives me away as a wimpy foreigner.

However, Air NZ? Are you sure you're not flying Jetstar (the Aussie airline in bright orange, who regard crap customer service as a selling point).

I regard it as one of the great things about living here that I can walk into the airport half an hour before the plane goes, wave my boarding pass or card at the machine and jump on a flight. It's like getting the train, if we had trains.

Ok, you can't turn up for a different / earlier / later flight and expect them to let you on for free. Does anyone do that nowadays unless you pay $$$? (Yup, it was good in the 90s when I flew for work, they took the best part of $1000 to fly London/Amsterdam and you could turn up at the airport and get the next flight home on any airline. I think that cost the airlines a fortune, which they passed on in the $1000 fares. Maybe we'll go back to that.)
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