This summer I was lucky enough to be able to join my family on a very impromptu trip to New Zealand's North Island for a two week road trip. Since it was so last minute, and I was distracted with a different adventure, we flew to New Zealand with basically no idea of what to expect (aside from cool accents). That being said, here are 5 things I've learned about New Zealand, most of which came as a complete surprise.
1. They have AMAZING coffee and a lot of it.
Seriously. This place is the new coffee capital in my books. Keep in mind that I'm saying this after visiting South and Central America 5 times (admittedly, I haven't made it to Brazil yet, so this opinion is subject to change).
We spent two weeks in country, and only spotted one Starbucks. Otherwise there are individually owned cafés on every corner, each with its own unique hipster vibes.
Now I'm forever spoiled by the magnificence of the Flat White. Think of a latte...but with a greater concentration of coffee and slightly less frothy milk (and usually served in an aesthetic mug).
2. They have a whole lot of tree ferns.
I can't say that I've every really associated New Zealand with ferns in my mind, but it's hard not to when they use it as an unofficial national emblem on just about everything from their army insignia to sports team uniforms.
The most common Silver Tree Fern (Cyathea dealbata) can grow more than 10 meters tall, which is a dramatically different experience compared to the ferns I've studied in New York. New Zealand has an unusually high number of fern species for a temperate region, and about 40% of them are endemic the country (which means that is the only place in the world they are known to grow).
Interested in learning more about these tree ferns? Check out some more Fern Facts by the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
3. You know the Orcs in Lord of the Rings? Many of them were actually part of the New Zealand Army.
The army also helped during the construction of access roads to get to the film sight, which is kind of obscurely awesome. This was one of the many awesome things we learned during our tour of Hobbiton (don't worry, there are plenty more where that came from, so it's definitely still worth going).
Image credit: http://tinyurl.com/y8jjr63d
4. They have a forest California Redwood Trees that are over a century old.
Located in the Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua, the trees were originally planted in 1901 to be used for timber. Now, over a century later, many of the original Redwood trees still stand, and they are glorious. The trails weave together the Redwoods with native New Zealand tree ferns, and they can be explored by foot, bike, or horse. There is no entrance fee for the forest, so be sure to check it out!
5. Hedgehogs are abundant...but also not native.
The first time I saw a hedgehog I was so excited because those little guys are damn cute. Then I found out that they were actually not native, and they were initially introduced by settlers to remind them of their homeland. They were later introduced in larger numbers in an effort to control garden pests including slugs, snails, and grass grubs. Today, they pose a threat a to native Weta, skinks, and the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds. You can read more about these little invaders here.
Do you have something you would add to this list? Feel free to comment below!
If you learned something new, why not share with your friends?