In my thirty years of global meanderings it would appear I have been one of the lucky ones. Sure, I have been robbed and ripped off but overall I have been treated with kindness and generosity and been constantly at the receiving end of exceptional hospitality. However, nowhere is this truer than in the land of the Kiwis – New Zealand, the kiwi hospitality we received was awesome!
Before I travelled to New Zealand I had been informed about the legendary Kiwi hospitality but nothing could have prepared me for the lengths this went to and which I received over and over again in over 2 years of road tripping around this wonderful country.
Travelling in a van you get to meet all sorts of colourful characters in all sorts of out of the way places. Scenes vary, camp site fees vary but one thing remains constant – the New Zealander’s capacity to make you feel wanted and welcome.
My favourite story, and one which I recount again and again to emphasise this truism, is this…….
Arriving in an area little known to us just before dark we were struggling to find somewhere to wild camp. It was looking like we were left with only one option which meant breaking one of our golden respect rules of wild camping and that was parking up near some rather opulent looking bachs (Kiwi beach houses). We hesitated but finally decided to risk it – it was now dark already and we could be packed up and gone before anyone stirred in the morning.
We were a sorry looking couple. We had been on the road for several months at this point and to say we looked a bit unkempt would be an understatement. In most other countries of the world we could well have been taken for a dodgy couple.
Within minutes there came a tap on the window. ‘This is it’, we thought, ‘we are being asked to move on, fair enough’. It was indeed the owner of the closest bach but after a few seconds of chit-chat he announced that his wife had sent him over to ask us if we would like to use their showers for a bit of on-the-road comfort. We were speechless at this gesture of not just kindness and consideration but the refreshing total judgement-free attitude towards us through our appearance. Of course we jumped at the opportunity to wash away some of the road-tripping dust and grime.
An hour later, after the luxury of a warm shower and after profuse thanks, we settled down for the night in our little Toyota Hi-Ace van. Not long after we heard a car draw up and another tap. There was a police car outside. Ah – this is definitely it this time. Wrong again. The policeman just wanted to tell us that stashing our surf boards under our van might not be the most sensible idea. ‘Are we okay to park here?’ we asked. He looked about him – ‘it’s a parking area and you are parked. Where’s the problem with that…….’ he answered with a shy grin and a wink. How can you not love this country!
The next day, after last night’s policeman had called back and shared a cuppa with us, also bringing his friend to meet us, we bought a pack of beers for our bach friends to say thank you. They were truly and genuinely bemused by the gesture. To them they had not done anything unusual – wasn’t this what you would do? Well actually, no, not where I come from.
In two years of touring Kiwi land we have stayed in more private houses than I can remember. In fact, my partner Chris and I would joke that if you talked to a Kiwi for longer than 10 minutes and they didn’t invite you to come and stay in their home, then you must have done something inadvertently to offend them. And when Kiwis invite you to stay this usually include a ‘tiki tour’ which means showing you their part of New Zealand on a personal and super-special level. On one occasion this involved going traditional eel fishing with new found Maori friends.
Driving round in beat up old vans usually means more than a few unplanned visits to local garages as something falls off, breaks or wears out. Up we would rock at yet another garage and more often than not the following scenario would unfold. The mechanic or owner would greet us and have a look immediately at our current problem. He would have a tinker, often fixing a problem instantly. Sometimes a little more work would be involved and he would tell us to leave it with him for an hour. On returning and ready to hit the road again, we would ask what we owed. More than two thirds of the time it was nothing no matter how much we insisted. One garage owner even allowed us the use of his workshop and tools to work on the van ourselves – offering his expertise but not charging us a penny for any of it.
I have a thousand and one stories of this kind; from the tiniest of kind gestures to the biggest of favours for which we will be forever indebted. We have returned from a sunset surf to find two cold beers waiting for us in the arms of our camp chairs. We never did find out who that good fairy was. We have stayed at camp sites where the owners have decided they didn’t want to take our money after the first two nights because ‘anyone who loves this place like you guys do are friends, not paying guests’.
How on earth do you ever say thank you for things such as this? As far as I am concerned the Kiwis are THE most beautiful, generous race on earth and to me the land of these people is paradise. Kiwi friends have accused me of wearing rose-tinted glasses – suggesting I have just got lucky. I don’t think so. It happens far, far too much to be isolated incidents and if my glasses are rose-tinted it is because the Kiwis have painted them that colour.
I suppose it matters little that they have NO idea how different and wonderful they are – I just feel honoured and blessed to have known it.
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