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Easygoing yet determined, New Zealanders take a unique approach to life. Writer Helen Cordery explains.
Text by: Helen Cordery
Country: New Zealand

he first thing I want to do when I see the beach is to slide out of my shoes. There is nothing better than the feel of sand beneath the toes, or the icy hit of the ocean. While the sea might seem the perfect environment for barefoot enjoyment, it doesn’t end there. For New Zealanders, it’s acceptable to be sans foot protection everywhere. We hop across scorching tarmac that leaves black stains on our soles, we inwardly cringe as we carefully make our way over gravel, and we make a mad dash over grass—what should be safe territory—only to find it a breeding ground for prickles and bees. We harden up pretty quickly.

This is perhaps a wonderful metaphor for New Zealanders themselves, for just as a trip to the supermarket or restaurant can be manoeuvred barefoot, so too can our approach to life. The most difficult of situations we approach head on, anticipating the sting but doing it anyway. We live life to the fullest, always outside beneath sun, rain, hail or snow, with a casual nonchalance that can only be found in Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand. This is the land that gave birth to the bungee jump—where else would you find someone who thought jumping off a bridge with a rope around his ankle would be a fun idea?

What makes a New Zealander a New Zealander? For a start we refer to ourselves as “kiwis”, named after our iconic bird with nostrils at the end of its beak that is almost at the edge of extinction due to its inability to defend itself against predators—it can’t fly. Like the kiwi, New Zealand has struggled, but our battle has been in keeping our uniqueness intact against a globalised world.

With only 5 million people in an area roughly the same size as the United Kingdom (population 63.5 million) or Japan (population 127 million), New Zealand has successfully made a name for itself. Peter Jackson placed us on the cinematic map with “The Lord of the Rings”, which was then strengthened by entries such as “Whale Rider” and “Flight of the Conchords”, while Hayley Westenra and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa lit up the world of opera. We have produced literary greats such as Maurice Gee, Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley, Katherine Mansfield, and Witi Ihimaera. We’ve found international acclaim musically with Neil and Tim Finn, Dave Dobbyn, Lorde, Kimbra, The Feelers, Brooke Fraser, and Bic Runga.

We have had sporting successes in the fields of sailing, cricket (the Black Caps), netball (Silver Ferns) and, of course, with rugby. The All Blacks have taken New Zealand into the stratosphere with their rendition of the traditional Maori war dance, the Haka, so famous that it was recently re- choreographed by the English with the ‘Hakarena’. We bred champion racehorse Phar Lap. We invented the Pavlova, a dessert. We were the first country to give women the vote and to elect a woman as prime minister, and New Zealand is the homeland of Sir Edmund Hilary of Mount Everest fame. This is truly a land that breeds people with a tenacity to strive against the odds and make something remarkable.

In addition to outstanding people, we have our fair share of stunning vistas. The Milford Sound, Abel Tasman National Park, Fox Glacier, Tongariro National Park, and Fiordland are just some of the many beautiful sights that await the visitor.

However, the nation has its heart on the farm, which dominates any countryside drive, and perhaps this is where our love for the outdoors springs from. We truly love being outside, milking cows, riding a lawnmower, picking mandarins, walking the dog, playing netball or swimming in the freezing sea in springtime without a wetsuit.

The Far North is home to Cape Reinga, the departure point of souls according to Maori myth, and also looks out to the stark merging of the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. This is the same area where you can spread out on the beach during the height of summer and be the only person there, or visit New Zealand’s oldest buildings in Kerikeri. The Coromandel Peninsula is like a rollercoaster of winding, hilly roads that swoop from charming towns to beautiful beaches, while the South Island, with the Punakaiki Coast, is the home of high country farms and scenery so raw it’s like a violent assault upon the senses.

We have residential areas, too; the largest is Auckland, which lies across an attractive harbour. Wellington, the capital, is a humble city famed for its burgeoning art and food scene. Rotorua usually takes the top spot on the tourist’s list thanks to its bubbling geothermal pools, which also infuse the whole city with the delicious smell of egg. This is also an easy place to acquaint yourself with Maori culture, mastering the hongi (pressing of the forehead in a traditional greeting) and eating hangi (food cooked underground). Backpackers wind up in Tauranga, while wine lovers immerse themselves amongst the groves of Hawkes Bay. On the South Island the beautiful city of Nelson beckons from its northern tip, while Kaikoura serves up whale-watching. Farther south is the student city of Dunedin, rich in history and Scottish ancestry (they pronounce their ‘r’ differently from the rest of the country, too).

On that note, we turn to language. Our language is a type of British English, with a hint of slang from the United States and Australia. We raise the end of our sentences as if each statement is a question, and we often disappear mid-sentence and say things such as “that movie was cool as!” We are often too lazy to pluralize the word “woman” but often add extra vowels when we say “off.” We’re difficult to understand thanks to our habit of shortening words, and Australians think we are hilarious because of the way we say “fish and chips.” Our accent has always been a sore point for us on the international stage, but the Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand points out that in a recent British survey, we came in at number 6 out of 37 as the most socially attractive non-British accent.

Linguist Mae Lewis explains that the New Zealand accent is unique because “New Zealanders don’t open their mouths very wide when they speak. And because vowel sounds rely on one being able to open their mouth and articulate, this limits the range of vowels available. So for example, while everyone says ‘t’ the same way, not everyone says ‘bed’ the same way (because of the vowel sound from the e).” Typical words include “aye”, “sweet as”, “she’ll be right, mate”, “bro”, “crack up”, and “cheers.” It also must be said that New Zealanders have taken the art of swearing to a whole new level, usually peppering each sentence with a smattering of vulgarities that appears to resemble poetry.

Our weekends are spent drinking cold beers, possibly while watching sports. Our breakfasts consist of toast with Vegemite, we enjoy hokey pokey ice cream and Pineapple Lumps, and we honour our troops with the Anzac biscuit. In summer we cook every meal on the barbecue and eat cold picnics at the beach, perhaps with a serving of freshly scavenged pipis, scallops, or other shellfish. We dive for crayfish, fish from rock, boat, and dinghy, and move ourselves to the beach for the holidays. The humble camping tent is transformed into either a decadent abode or teenage paradise along all of New Zealand’s coastline, while others stay in the family bach, a type of beachfront accommodation usually used during summer. During winter we gaze longingly at the sea, which is ever -present, and count down the days until we can put our (still unused) umbrella back into the cupboard and go back to wearing our jandals, known elsewhere as flip-flops or thongs (which we never really stopped wearing).

The uniqueness of New Zealand has bred a people that are stereotypically strong but know their flaws, and that are casual but who also work hard. We respect the finer things in life but we are also just as comfortable in a pair of gumboots sloshing about on the farm, and we always remember to laugh at ourselves. You will recognize us at the expat party thanks to this ability to forget our airs and graces and giggle as we trip over our shoes… we aren’t used to wearing them!


Barefoot in life

When I go to the anywhere. beach, the first thing I want to do is feel the sand beneath my toes. And although the beach is the perfect place to be barefoot, New Zealanders actually enjoy going everywhere without shoes. Perhaps this explains New Zealanders themselves, they are easygoing people who approach difficult situations head on.

New Zealanders refer to themselves as 'kiwis'. The kiwi is their iconic bird that has nostrils at the edge of its beak and is almost at the edge of extinction because it can’t fly, so it cannot defend itself from predators

New Zealand only has 5 million inhabitants in an area roughly the same size as the United Kingdom or Japan. But although it is a small country it has made a name for itself in the world. It is the home of the famous opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa and of explorer Sir Edmund Hilary. Its beautiful landscapes were made famous in the movie The Lord of the Rings. And its rugby team, the All Blacks, have made the Haka famous throughout the world.

New Zealand is a gorgeous country with stunning vistas. Some of the beautiful sights you can find there are the Milford Sound, Tongariro National Park, and Fiordland. There are beautiful beaches on the Coromandel Peninsula, whale-watching in Kaikoura, and wine-tasting in Hawkes Bay.

The uniqueness of New Zealand has bredflawsfiner things in life but they are also just as comfortable in a pair of gumboots sloshing about on the farm, and they always remember to laugh at themselves.



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Barefoot Living



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Barefoot living

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