Kiwi Cool: Shopping For New Zealand-Made Souvenirs

When you go to the other side of the world, you want to bring back a few things to show for your trouble. Visiting New Zealand with my 1-year-old daughter, and with nephews at home in America, I became obsessed with finding them something actually made in the country. A stuffed kiwi bird or lamb toy, a merino wool baby blanket, or a fun T-shirt would do nicely, and I wouldn’t mind some jewelry or something small for our apartment either. In all of the cities I visited in New Zealand, I was impressed to find stylish, playful and innovative boutiques and vendors creating beautiful and unique home design, fashion and other Kiwiana. There’s enough Kiwi cool shopping that you might end up wishing you had a bigger suitcase.

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Flotsam & Jetsam (Auckland) – A cross between an antique store and a hipster Restoration Hardware, this collection of colorful and covetable home items will make you contemplate a move to Auckland. Visitors from farther away might find interesting vintage, repurposed and retro home wares from New Zealand and all over the world. Check their Facebook page for details on the latest stock.Nelson Saturday market (Nelson, South Island) – New York City has street fairs and markets pretty much every day of the year if you look hard enough, but all too often, you find the same cheap tube socks, fried cheese and dough concoctions, and hodgepodge of junk. My expectations weren’t high for the weekly market in the arty town of Nelson on the top of the South Island, but after a quick walk through, I was glad I didn’t have too much cash to spend, as there was so much to buy. On a given weekend, you might find model airplanes crafted from soda cans, gourmet gluten-free tacos, and more knitwear than you can shake a sheep at. Local band performances, cooking demonstrations, or even a flash mob add to the festive atmosphere.

Pauanesia (Auckland) – This small shop is loaded to the gills with all things antipodean (a Brit term for a place on the other side of the world), with an emphasis on home textiles such as Polynesian-print tablecloths. If you have a little one to shop for (or just enjoy stuffed animals), consider one of the charming Kiwi “chaps” made from vintage and salvaged fabrics and send them a photo of your bird out in the world. You can also find a nice assortment of Paua shell jewelry, key chains, and other odds and ends much more thoughtfully and well-made than your average gift shop.

Iko Iko (Auckland and Wellington) – What drew me into the Wellington store was a window display of Dear Colleen‘s cheeky “Dishes I’d rather be doing” tea towels with “dishes” like Ryan Gosling and Mr. Darcy-era Colin Firth (get it?). I could have easily spent hours inside poring over the whimsical items, like a kiwi bird cookie cutter, Buzzy Bee cufflinks, or a CD from the Wellington Ukulele Orchestra. It’s full of things you don’t really need but really want, plus fun takes on everyday items.

Abstract Designs (Wellington) – You might call these artisanal cardboard cutouts. Abstract Designs makes creative sculptures and jewelry with a very local flavor. Perhaps you’ll pick up a 747 plane kit for the airplane nerd in your life, a pop-up building replica to remind you of your stay in Wellington, or a cruelty-free moose trophy head for your wall. Their designs are sold in many museum gift shops as well, but there’s a full selection at their Wellington studio and online.

Hapa (Christchurch) – Pop-up businesses have become the foundation for the new Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake. The Re:START mall is the best example, built out of shipping containers and housing a mix of “old” Christchurch shops in temporary digs and new shops. There are several stores in the mall selling New Zealand goods, but Hapa stands out for their many beautiful and clever items, like a bear bean bag chair or a knitted “fox stole” scarf. Best of all, many goods are made or designed in Christchurch, so you can feel good about supporting the local economy.

Texan Art Schools (multiple stores in Auckland) – Don’t be confused by the name, it’s a play on the fact that it carries work from graduates of “tech(nical)s” and art schools. Texan Art Schools acts as one-stop shopping for dozens of Kiwi artists and designers, with an eclectic mix of home items, fashion and jewelry. You’re sure to find something unusual and authentic here like a set of Maori nesting dolls or a retro camper wall clock.

Photo from Auckland’s Queen Street shopping arcade. More “Kiwi Cool: New Zealand for the Unadventurous” to come.

Kiwi Cool: Saving Money While Traveling In New Zealand

Saving money in New Zealand - supermarket lamb
Last month, I spent three weeks traveling through New Zealand, focusing mainly on the cities and culture. After living in Istanbul for two years, it wasn’t the culture shock, the jet lag, or the seasonal switch that was hard to adjust to, it was the prices. While I knew New Zealand wasn’t cheap (though their dollar is slightly weaker than ours), I was unprepared for the sticker shock. Dinner and drinks can easily run $50 a head or more, city buses can cost more than a NYC subway ride, and $3.50 for a bottle of water seemed offensive. I did discover a few ways to save money and still enjoy the Kiwi cool.

1. Drink locally, eat globally – New Zealand is known for its excellent wines, and starting to get accolades for their craft beer as well. Whether you’re dining out or picking up a bottle in a supermarket, it’s hard to go wrong with anything made in New Zealand; even the cheapest glass of house “Sav” is likely to be pretty tasty. Also note that many pubs are likely to be “tied” houses (unlike the excellent Free House in Nelson, pictured in my first “Kiwi cool” post) and will carry a limited range of brands, giving you an incentive to stick to the “house” tap. In contrast, for cheap eats, look for foods with origins outside the country; Asian cuisine like sushi, Chinese noodles, and Indian curries are often the most budget-friendly options and given the country’s ethnic mix, just as authentic Kiwi as roast leg of lamb and Pavlova.

2. Rent a car – This is one area where I didn’t follow my own advice, preferring to explore the country on public transportation as my husband is the only driver in the family and my baby is not a fan of car rides (yet she’s perfect on planes). Generally, public transportation in New Zealand is not cheap – a day pass for the Auckland bus system is over $10, taxis from the airport can cost up to $100, and the cost of two bus or train tickets between cities often exceeds the daily rate for a budget rental car. Kiwi companies Jucy and Apex offer older model cars as low as $22 – 34 per day, if you don’t mind a less than sweet ride.

3. Book transportation online – If you do choose to go the public transportation route, it can pay to make your arrangements online rather than in person. By booking tickets for the Waiheke Island ferry online, I saved $7 on each adult fare, even for a same day ticket. As part of the promotion for the new Northern Explorer Auckland-Wellington train, Kiwi Rail was offering two-for-one tickets, check their website for current promotions.

4. Check out motels – In my European travels, I’ve been using AirBnB and other apartment sites to book accommodations, as it pays to have extra space, laundry and a kitchen when you are traveling with a baby. The AirBnB craze hasn’t quite hit New Zealand yet, though you may find luck with BookABach (a bach is a Kiwi word for a vacation home that might be more basic than a typical house). I was more surprised by the quality of motels and motor lodges in New Zealand, they are often modern in style and comfortably outfitted with nice amenities like heated towel racks, electric blankets, and real milk for your coffee standard (a small pleasure compared to the powdered creamer typical in most hotel rooms). Motel rooms range from modest studios to sprawling apartments with jacuzzis. I found a useful directory of accommodations on NewZealand.com, and you can filter for features such as laundry or pool and check for special deals. Golden Chain is a quality collection of independent motels spread over both islands.

5. Create your own Wi-Fi hotspot – Another surprise I found in New Zealand is the lack of free Wi-Fi. Even many coffee shops only offer Internet for a fee, and some accommodations will limit your free connection to 100 mb or so per day. The city of Wellington has set up free hotspots in the city center, but I found the signal hit or miss. A more reliable and affordable option is to make your own hotspot by purchasing a pre-paid SIM card with data. Consult this helpful wiki for rates; I bought a SIM through 2degrees with 1 GB of data for about $20. One other tip is to find the local iSite tourism office for a short period of Wi-Fi access if you need to check email or make travel plans (they can help with booking travel and accommodation too, of course).

6. Shop vintage – After a few days in Kiwi Land, you’ll feel an urge to buy lots of nice merino wool clothing and gifts. For a country with apparently more sheep than people, it is everywhere and you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on new sweaters. Another option is to try vintage and thrift shops. I found a lovely baby sweater probably knitted by a nice Kiwi grandmother for $8 in an antique store, just as quality as the $30 one I bought at a market, and both far cheaper than most retail shops. Auckland’s K Road and Wellington’s Newtown have lots of used and “opportunity” shops, often with proceeds going to charity. Eco-friendly fashion is also becoming more widespread, and “recycled” fashion shops can be found in most cities.

7. Stay in on public holidays – One upside to the high cost of a pint of beer is that tipping is unnecessary in New Zealand; the GST tax on goods includes service. However, you will note on many restaurant menus a surcharge for public holidays of 15%. This covers the owner’s cost of paying their employees more for the holidays. Try to avoid dining out on holidays or look at it as a special holiday gratuity.

A bonus tip that may or may not be relevant in the future: follow the rugby fan trail. Started for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 to ease traffic congestion and crowding on public transport, Auckland’s Fan Trail was revived for a match against Australia last month. The trail stretches two miles from downtown to the stadium and is lined with entertainment, food and drinks, and other activities, most of which are free. Even if you aren’t headed to a game, it’s fun to watch both the performers and the fans dressed up to cheer on their team. If you happen to be in Auckland during a future big rugby match, find out if the city plans to run the fan trail again.

Stay tuned for more “Kiwi Cool: New Zealand for the Un-adventurous.”

Kiwi Cool: New Zealand For The Un-Adventurous

Kiwi cool New Zealand pub
I just spent a month in New Zealand and I don’t ski, snowboard, climb mountains, or bungee jump. I don’t like “extreme” anything and I’m not sure why anyone would participate in something called “zorbing.” In the midst of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s too cold for beaches or swimming but too wet most days for a pleasant hike. Instead, I explored museums and galleries, sipped multi-layered wines and single-origin coffee, and discovered fashion designers and weekend markets as exciting and innovative as New York. There’s no doubt New Zealand has some of the most peaceful yet jaw-dropping nature on the globe, but is there a New Zealand for travelers who aren’t interested in adventure, extreme sports, or rural pursuits? The country may not be known for its cities, but there’s more to Kiwi culture than “Lord of the Rings” tours and “Flight of the Conchords” songs.

Stay tuned for features on finding “Kiwi cool” here, such as why Auckland is worth more than a stopover, how Wellington may be more hipster than Portland, and who is helping Christchurch get its groove back. The South Pacific nation has plenty to offer the urban explorer year round, even if you want to travel without a car (as I did), a tour guide, or special gear. You may go to New Zealand for the great outdoors, but find lots to enjoy indoors as well.

Photo from the awesome Free House pub in Nelson on the South Island.

Orthodox Jew causes bomb alert by praying

bomb, bomb scare, tefillinDo these look like bombs to you? They did to the crew of a New Zealand ferry. So much so that they radioed the police, who were waiting for the man wearing them when the ferry docked. Then the armed cops forced him and a companion to the floor.

All in a day’s work fighting terror. Or not.

In fact they’re tefillin, known in English as phylacteries , and they’re an essential part of Orthodox Jewish prayer. When the man strapped these to his arm and head in order to pray, the crew thought the little boxes looked like bombs and the straps like wires. The fact that these leather boxes are only a little more than an inch to a side wasn’t enough to reassure them.

This is a perfect example of how travel leads to a more understanding world. Before I visited Israel at age 20, I’d never seen tefillin and didn’t know what they were. Call me soft on terror, but I didn’t have a panic attack the first time I saw them, either. Travel teaches you that not everything different is weird, scary, and dangerous. Perhaps the crew of the ferry should stop shuttling back and forth between Wellington and Picton and see a bit more of the world.

[Photo courtesy user Chesdovi via Wikimedia Commons]

Top ten cities to visit in 2011, according to Lonely Planet

Another decade is about to bite the dust, but the savvy travelers at Lonely Planet have given us a jump start on the hot list for 2011. They’ve just announced their picks for the world’s best cities to visit next year, and while you’ll find some of the usual suspects (New York, which will debut the National September 11 Memorial on the 10th anniversary of the attacks), there are also some surprises. The great news? About half of these places are easy on the budget once you get there. Some list-makers, below:

Tangier, Morocco
Once derided as dirty and dangerous, this port city at the crossroads of Europe and Africa has undergone a major renovation and clean-up. A thriving arts, food, and shopping scene are drawing visitors.

Iquitos
, Peru
A major Amazonian trading port formerly known for its raucous nightlife, general mayhem, riverside shanties, and rubber-boom barons, Iquitos has gotten a major upgrade. Accessible only by air or boat, the city still has a rocking after-hours scene, but it’s also a “cultural hub” providing a “sultry slice of Amazon life.”

Delhi, India
The 2010 Commonwealth Games got the city into shape, there’s a “futuristic” Metro (who knew?) and 2011 marks the city’s 100th anniversary. Be prepared for lots of celebrations.

Not as wallet-friendly, but absolutely stunning:

Wellington, New Zealand
Nicknamed the “coolest little capital in the world,” this laidback, far southern North Island city has it all: a hopping food and wine scene, boutiques and galleries featuring NZ’s hottest designers and artists, a serious arts and culture scene that includes the world-famous Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and accommodations ranging from high-end hotel and styley boutique sleeps, to funky hostels and guesthouses. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy miles of hiking trails, city parks, hilly streets, and golden beaches.

What cities are on your personal 2011 must-visit list?

[Photo credits:Tangier, Flickr user Lumumo; Wellington, Flickr user 111 Emergency]