Whether you’re an expat Kiwi on your big overseas experience, or you’ve spent some extended time delving into the Land of the Long White Cloud, you’re bound to have your own list of things about New Zealand that you miss. We’ve picked 13 local characteristics guaranteed to leave a mark on anyone who visits.
From the courteous customs officer who welcomed you into the country, to the friendly barista who served your first flat white, New Zealand exudes friendliness all around. If you’re visiting a smaller town or city, it’s not unusual for strangers on the street to smile and say “Hello,” and if you’re ever lost or in need of help, you can be sure the locals are happy to assist.
It’s quite common to see people in some cities walking around barefoot in public places. New Zealand is a lot safer than many countries in the world, too—you can walk around downtown Auckland at night without too many worries, and hitchhiking isn’t uncommon. Of course, general precautions still apply, but, for the most part, New Zealand’s chilled-out nature is a breath of fresh air for those living in the hustle-and-bustle of larger locations.
In New Zealand, even the major cities, such as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, are surrounded by parks, gardens and natural reserves. The country takes a lot of pride in preserving its flora and fauna. In fact, community-driven conservation projects are a strong component of everyday life for many New Zealanders.
In New Zealand, you’re almost always within close range of the beach. Even the rare exceptions, such as landlocked Hamilton, are dotted with rivers and lakes that drain into the ocean. From the rugged South Island coastlines, to the picturesque Bay of Plenty beaches, there’s a stretch of crystal blue Pacific waters for all kinds of beach-goers to enjoy in the summer season.
Dolphins in Kaikoura; penguins around Dunedin; and bird sanctuaries in Kapiti, Great Barrier Island, and Mokoia Island … if you want to experience native wildlife at its finest, New Zealand is the place to go. Locals, eco-tourists and animal-loving visitors of all kinds can easily view these creatures without disturbing their habitats thanks to the country’s ongoing efforts to preserve all facets of its natural environment.
New Zealand’s clear dark skies are a stargazer’s dream. A trip to the South Island, most notably Lake Tekapo and Aoraki/Mt Cook, offers a twinkling showcase of the Southern Hemisphere’s constellations. Some areas in Dunedin are also ideal for catching a glimpse of the phenomenal Aurora Australis, and the Wairarapa and Coromandel regions are the best places in the North Island.
From the nine Great Walks, to the lesser known pathways dotted around New Zealand’s 13 national parks, a hike is never too far away. Each scenic reserve offers something for all kinds of outdoorsy types, including those who have yet to experience a bush walk for themselves.
Think of all the blockbusters filmed in New Zealand: The Lord of the Rings  trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia , Bridge to Terabithia  and Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai , are just a few. The country’s fairy-tale like backdrops, including Tongariro National Park and the Coromandel’s Cathedral Cove, are known to enchant and amaze all those who pass through, be it locals, tourists, filmmakers or landscape photographers.
There isn’t anywhere else where you can find meat pies quite like those in New Zealand. The same applies to local specialities, such as fresh fish and chips; confectionery, including Pineapple Lumps and Whittaker’s chocolate; café favourites, such as custard slices and sausage rolls; and the Australasian tradition that is a sausage sizzle.
Because it’s not just food that drives the Kiwi identity—iconic landmarks, such as the the Ohakune Carrot; Kiwiana emblems that showcase local culture; and only-in-New-Zealand customs, such as sheep-shearing competitions, are bound to leave anyone familiar with Aotearoa with a hint of nostalgia and homesickness.
Those who grew up with white Christmases might not understand the appeal of a summer celebration, but for those who spent the holiday with family and friends and a summer barbecue, or even with a fresh helping of seafood by the beach, will know the appeal of a sunny Christmas—and will miss it greatly.
New Zealand is an extreme sports paradise, where even the risk-adverse are bitten by the adventure bug! It might be a bungee jump, a caving expedition or a multi-day hike, but, in the end, you’ll miss the encouragement to and the ease with which you can get active and out of your comfort zone.
Compared to many places in the world, New Zealand is generally quite empty. Secluded beaches are easy to come by, and the less-populous South Island has plenty of quiet sanctuaries to escape to, so if you’re in need of a quiet breather, it won’t take long to find a special place to call your own.