A Kiwi Christmas

Christmas in New Zealand is so different than back home. For one, it’s hot–really hot, so people tend not to stay indoors around a fake pine tree. Instead, families head to the beach where they camp in droves, eat ham, play cricket, drink a bit of this and that and swim, swim, swim. Also, the endemic Pohutukawa tree is in bloom, painting bursts of bright red stamens all over the place–it’s absolutely beautiful and the quintessential sign that it’s Christmastime in New Zealand.

For a wee taste of Christmas down under, Kiwi-style, I wandered around this campsite on a beach in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty with a video camera. It’s candid and random, but oh so real.

Prudes take umbrage with Air New Zealand videos

Last month, we told you about Air New Zealand’s new in-flight safety video that features the flight crew in nothing but body paint. That, of course, came on the heels of their new ad campaign featuring their staff in – you guessed it – nothing but body paint. We thought the in-flight video and television commercial were innovative and quirky examples of an airline showing some actual personality. Sadly, not everyone has what we here at Gadling call “a sense of humor.” Some people are offended by the videos and they’re starting to speak up.
According to news.com.au, many Kiwis who have flown national airline recently think that the risque videos are inappropriate. “Enough is enough, this is our national airline, not a strip joint! I for one won’t bother booking with you again,” one perturbed passenger said. Another Kiwi lodged a complaint with New Zealand’s advertising watchdog. The complaint stated, “All genital areas were hidden but they left nothing to the imagination and (it) conjured pictures that none of us needed.”

Air New Zealand is defending their campaign, which they say “highlights the transparency of the airline’s all-inclusive domestic airfares.”

I, for one, agree with the airline. Lighten up, people. It’s kitschy. It’s creative. It’s devoid of any “genital areas.” The television commercial is better than what most companies throw out there. And the in-flight video beats listening to a bored flight attendant phoning in the delivery of the safety spiel because she’s done it a million times before and just can’t muster up the energy to care anymore.

Just to stick it to the prudes who can’t seem to accept that life is too short to complain about everything, I’m slapping the in-flight safety video in this post. Watch it again for the first time.

In the Corner of the World – It ain’t easy being a kiwi

Over the next few weeks here at Gadling, we’ll be bringing you updates from our recent travels across New Zealand – in the process, we hope to offer a range of perspectives about what visiting this truly unique and fascinating country is all about. You can read previous entries HERE.

What is it about a place that truly makes it unique? Is it one of a kind outdoor spaces? Quirky cities? Perhaps friendly locals that make you feel welcome? In New Zealand, all of these one-of-kind traits are evident. But one particularly defining feature is the country’s truly bizarre wildlife. Thanks to its geographic isolation, over a thousand miles from the nearest large landmass, mother nature has allowed some truly strange and one-of-a-kind animals to flourish, particularly flightless birds like the kiwi.

Given the bird can be found only in New Zealand, the country has long claimed it as a point of national identity. The country first began adopting the bird as its official symbol in the late 19th Century, when it appeared on products like Kiwi Shoe Polish as well as on military uniforms. Signs dot the highways all across New Zealand, warning you to look out for the creatures and gift shops are filled with eyeroll-inducing mounds of kiwi souvenirs.

With all the attention showered on this weird little bird, you’d think they would be all over the place, right? Wrong. Thanks to the threat of predators like dogs and weasels that were introduced to New Zealand and feed on the birds and their eggs, kiwis are now considered an endangered species. In fact, in an intensive effort is currently underway to locate and raise kiwi eggs in labs so they have a better chance of survival.

But, I have a confession. After touring a facility where they raise the young kiwis, I was struck by the futility of the whole process. Why try and protect a flightless bird that can’t fend for itself in the wild? And what does the plight of the kiwi say about New Zealand’s prospects to remain a wild, unspoiled place? Click below to find out…
Saving a kiwi isn’t as easy as declaring them protected. It involves arduous, painstaking work. Once field staff has located kiwi eggs in the wild, they are brought to a facility for protection. The eggs are then weighed, measured and inspected, before being placed in incubators where they must be closely monitored by the staff for around 60-90 days. After which time the birds hatch, the young chicks are kept in protective pens until they are deemed strong enough to be returned to the wild.

The entire operation has a great purpose – I can certainly understand the need to protect a creature that has come to represent a totally unique place in New Zealand’s culture. But let’s be honest here – evolution does not want this animal alive. A variety of factors, including the introduction of invasive species to the New Zealand ecosystem, the encroachment of man on the creature’s traditional habitats and sloppy parental instincts (kiwis are known to desert their eggs) have all conspired to reduce their numbers to the point of near extinction.

Yet there is something so hopelessly noble in the urge to protect the kiwi. This animal is no longer just a cute fluffy thing with a beak. Instead it’s come to represent New Zealand’s attempts to come to grips with the country’s national identity. An urge to recognize the unique things that make their country special but realizing they are partly responsible for their continued decline. It was a relationship doomed from the start – the moment settlers began to colonize New Zealand, they began to inextricably change the landscape and the native Maori people, introducing plants and animals previously unknown to the island’s native wildlife and precipitating their current demise. It’s a process that cannot be stopped – only slowed down.

Yet this totally one-of-a-kind animal persists to survive, nudged along by its hopeful guardians. It’s the most delicate of balancing acts – can the New Zealand of now co-exist with the wild New Zealand that once was? Let’s hope, for the kiwi’s sake, the answer is yes.

New Zealand – Welcome to the corner of the world

Starting this week, Gadling will be bringing you updates from our recent travels across New Zealand, the “corner of the world.” Make sure to check out all the entries in our ongoing series HERE.

Upon stepping off the plane in New Zealand, I found myself staring intently at a large map of the world in the airport lobby. Everything looked about normal: there was Central America, snaking its way north and south to meet the two other Americas; India, pointy as ever, stuck its nose gently out into the surrounding ocean; meanwhile, Antarctica unraveled its bulk along the edge of the imaginary map border like giant piece of thawing fish.

As I continued to stare at the map, my eyes locked upon my current location, New Zealand – what exactly was it doing way out there? On most maps, New Zealand is waaaay down in the bottom right, just about the spot on ancient explorer maps inhabited by mermaids and sea monsters. It looked so isolated…tucked away in the corner like a misbehaving child at the International School of Countries, sitting on timeout for hurling a spitball at Great Britain.

As I came to discover New Zealand in more detail over the coming days, I found myself returning to this idea of “the corner” of the map frequently. Sure, there’s plenty of places worldwide like Hawaii or Ireland that, by virtue of their geography, have a culture and landscape like nowhere else on earth – New Zealand has that too. But there’s something about that strange sense of being forgotten – hidden down in the corner of the world map, that gives New Zealand its peculiar charm, feisty attitude and particular appeal.

Whether it’s your halting attempts to describe the country’s jaw-dropping scenery, the conflicted history of its indigenous Maori culture or the laid-back, friendly and pragmatic attitudes of its citizens, New Zealand seems to be a place that has something to prove. This urge to please is certainly evident among those tried-and-true traits that made New Zealand famous: its status as “an extreme sports” paradise, a virtual eden of fresh food and great wine and its unique wildlife. It makes it easy to enjoy the wealth of riches the country has to offer. But it also comes through just as strongly when you look at some of the unexpected aspects of this exceptional place, and come to realize like any other eden it’s not without its flaws.

Over the next few weeks here at Gadling, we’ll be bringing you updates from our recent travels across New Zealand – in the process, we hope to offer a range of perspectives about what visiting this truly unique and fascinating country is all about. Welcome to the corner of the world.

Ten reasons why you should visit New Zealand NOW

With more and more people losing jobs and the economy shrinking, many people think that now is a terrible time to travel overseas. Fearing tremors in their jobs or their 401Ks, workers may often choose to stay at home this year, or maybe even work right through their time off.

But in one place, the timing is perfect for holiday travel. The combination of a favorable exchange rate, excellent plane tickets and lower demand has created the perfect storm of a budget traveler’s paradise, guarantying endless thrills, beautiful landscapes and wonderful food at a fraction of the cost.

That place? New Zealand. So why should you go in these troubled times? Here are ten great reasons:1. The Dollar: The thin silver lining around the recession is that the dollar is gaining ground against many foreign currencies. New Zealand is an excellent example, with the exchange rate at about 1.8:1 (at writing). That means that everything is half off. Skydiving, whitewater rafting, sailing, bungee jumping, tours of Hobbiton and even dinner is half off.

2. Delicious, cheap wine: Both New Zealand islands have recently been enjoying a boom in wine production. Helped partially by the drop in output from Australia (due to the recent brush fires,) Kiwi wine is widespread, inexpensive and quite delicious to boot.

You can take wine tours from Auckland (try the Mudbrick) or venture south into the Marlborough region to mix in some beautiful landscape as well.

3. Fare Wars: Ever since V Australia entered the transpacific market, fares between the United States and Australia/New Zealand have been outstanding. Several Gadling bloggers reached Sydney from Los Angeles for under $500 earlier this year, and even now, tickets are hovering around the $800 range. At about this time last year, these prices were around $2,000.

4. It’s an outdoor activity playground: New Zealand’s varied landscape includes lush, bucolic plains, rolling hills, sweeping glaciers and magnificent mountains, all within a span smaller than the state of Texas. You can bungee jump, swim through glowworm caves and white water raft all in the same day, and if that’s not enough, mountain biking, skydiving and sailing are a hop, skip and a jump away.

5. Because the economy needs us: With all of this belt tightening going around, the global economy is starting to stutter and contract. The only solution? Take some of that money out from under your bed and enjoy a healthy holiday. Just don’t put it on your credit card.

6. You’re going to sleep magnificently: At 5-8 hours behind the United States, You’re going to be struggling pretty hard to stay up until 10PM every day. And irrespective of whether you’re sleeping on a five star pillow top mattress or under the bar pool table, you’re going to collapse exhausted, sleep like a baby and wake up refreshed at 7AM the next day, with a full night’s sleep and ready to take on the Kiwi.

Furthermore, you don’t have to deal with any truncated redeye flights like those to the EU. With some fifteen hours to kill on your outbound journey, you’re bound to get your first night’s sleep in.

7. Because you’re leaving your job anyway: If you haven’t already been laid off, you’re terrified that you might get the ax any day now. Why not take a fraction of your savings and ride out the recession overseas?

8. They already speak English: No need to worry about asking for directions, negotiating prices or buying produce in another language, Kiwis are the friendliest people on the planet and are always willing to chat. As a bonus, some youngsters even find the American accent attractive.

9. Excellent Food: Its fertile soil and supple fishing waters make New Zealand a prime location for fresh produce, seafood, cattle and lamb. These strengths are reflected both in the grocery store, with plentiful, healthy selections and at restaurants, where chefs create exotic, delicious plates at very reasonable prices.

Coffee culture is outstanding as well, with a cafe on nearly every corner of the country, each with extremely high quality beans, standards and practices.

10. Because you may never get the same opportunity: This crazy combination of cheap tickets and a strong dollar may not come back for a while — perhaps in your lifetime. Don’t regret saving a few dollars now when the missed opportunity of a lifetime could haunt you for years.