I’ve seen more of New Zealand these last weeks than I have for a decade. All my travel money and energy has been put into International trips and aside from a regular route between Taranaki and Wellington, I’ve seen very little of my home country.
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Growing up I was lucky to take family road trips around the North Island, visiting spots like Rotorua, Napier and Wellington, but in that fifteen year break New Zealand has changed. Small towns that were once industrial and farming communities have become quaint old-timey tourism towns abound with buzzy bee souvenirs. Gone is the single hot pie shop the locals converged upon at lunchtime and instead three trendy cafes have popped up in its place.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, not at all. It means that International visitors are finally listening to what we’ve been saying for years; New Zealand is stunningly gorgeous and the best way to experience it is by vehicle. We’ve even begun to take an awkward pride in our kiwiana (New Zealand icons) with oddities like giant statues of kiwis, gumboots and L&P (soda) transforming from cringe worthy to kind of cute and quirky.
It helps that travel in New Zealand has become a little bit in style in recent years. We owe all this attention to Lord of the Rings, to travel bloggers, and to current western ideals of getting back to nature and living an active outdoor lifestyle. Our far-flung location rewards the travellers who make the effort to head over, New Zealand is safe and we speak English making travel painless, we have a strong cultural identity, some handsome landscapes and camping is more popular than ever.
So I get it, now even New Zealanders love New Zealand. We’re not as minor-league and dinky as we used to be.
Of course, the cost of travel reflects the tourism boom. New Zealand was once a great value destination to travel in, now we’re one of the most expensive countries to even backpack around. So if you want to travel New Zealand cheaply you’re going to have to get creative, with many backpackers seeing the country with a working holiday visa.
Despite this influx, New Zealand still retains its charms and tourism is still in its infancy with the biggest tourist crowd deterrent being our remoteness from everywhere else – although for some people that can be a massive draw.
We aren’t going to turn New Zealand into One Big Hungry Tourism Machine, changing until we echo only the iconic and shouting quintessential Aotearoa at tourists in the form of pre-packaged takeaway hangis, when the reward of travel is finding these treasures on our own steam.
I wouldn’t want us to lose our cultural identity by trying too hard to accentuate it.
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