If this trip is a massive banquet, we have arrived at the dessert.

China, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were each fascinating it their own right, but they were also somewhat tricky.  We dealt with unfamiliar tongues, tricky traditions, foreign foods, and pulsing populaces.  Do not get me wrong, we loved every place that we went, but they could be draining.

New Zealand is different.

Of course, when we came here 3 years ago, it felt foreign.  I drove a campervan (for the first time ever) with a standard transmission on the wrong side of the road.  We learned how to live out of a camper.  We went to unfamiliar places.  It seemed exotic.

After watching cremations in Kathmandu, avoiding cycles in Saigon, eating kangaroo in Cambodia and hiking high in the Himalayas, New Zealand seems tame.  Add the fact that we are familiar with much of the country, we know how to camp and the van is an automatic and this seems more like coming home than traveling.

If it is so familiar, why did we return?

Simply put, we adore this place.  The people are friendly to a fault, the scenery is spectacular and the weather mild.

It is perhaps the least crowded place I have been.  There are 4 millions people in the entire country, three million of which live on the North Island (Auckland and Wellington).

Let’s put this into perspective.

There are more people in Houston than New Zealand.

Shanghai has 5 times (!) more people.

Saigon has enough scooters so that every Kiwi (affectionate term for New Zealander) could have one and a half.

The most major highways are generally one lane each direction with an occasional passing lane.

I suspect the lack of population density is one of the reasons people are so delightful here.  They have not yet tired of tourists and they appreciate the variety of company.

Susie and I first decided to visit here after seeing the “Fellowship of the Ring” movie and being struck by the beauty of the scenery, all of which is in New Zealand.     I like to say that this country has all the beauty of Europe crammed into a space the size of Florida.  The South Island itself has the following within 200 miles of each other:

  • Glaciers
  • Mountains like the alps
  • Rain forests
  • Fjords like Norway
  • Deserts
  • Forests
  • Beaches
  • Majestic cliffs
  • Deep ravines
  • Geothermal pools
  • Spring fed mountain lakes

The wildlife is also intriguing.  They have a wide assortment of flightless birds, the kiwi being the most famous.

We have seen hawks, black swans and albatrosses.  [Note: Albatross mate every other year and mate for life.  They, however, do not hunt or travel together during the 700+ days they fly literally around the world.  Yet mated couples will arrive within 48 hours of each other when they return.  That is almost incomprehensible to me, but still very cool.]   We have swan with seals and dolphins.  We stood within 2 feet of seals and penguins – they, like all the other kiwis, are just glad for the company.

If I sound like a paid spokesman for the NZ Chamber of Commerce, I apologize.  I struggle to find much wrong with this location.

Among the family, we have been talking about what locations we like the most.  To my delight, the basic view is that every country that we visit is our favorite.

  • China’s history is unequalled with the Great Wall, Forbidden City and terracotta warriors.
  • The mountains of Nepal literally made us speechless on occasion.  [Note: if you spend any time with this family, you will know that speechless simply does not happen.]
  • Thailand won us with its beaches and exotic animal encounters with tigers and elephants.
  • The temples and people of Luang Prabang (along with spending time with friends of Susie) made Laos magic.
  • Cambodia’s ruins have no equal in the world and ignited our inner Indiana Jones.
  • Staying with families in Vietnam suggested to us that people are basically friendly and hospitable.  It also provided great teaching opportunities for our children.
  • Now New Zealand is , well, New Zealand.

Every place is our favorite for different reasons.  I guess that perhaps New Zealand is the favoritest.

BTW, New Zealand has one additional bonus for the kids: dogs.  Throughout Asia, we forbid the kids from touching any dogs because of a real and scary threat of rabies.  We read a report that said that one in 10 dogs in Thailand had rabies.  Since rabies is fatal if fully contracted, the upside of “doggy wagging its tail” does not outweigh “not seeing the next birthday”.

New Zealand has no rabies.  This has set dog-crazy (and Fenway-missing) children into a bout of blissful pet-petting.

Steve Sir


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