Impressions of New Zealand

WRAL-TV anchor Bill Leslie recounts his recent journey to New Zealand. Hear from Bill about his trip all this week in both words and music.

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Drinking water straight out of a mountain stream – no filters required. That was one of my favorite things about Fiordland in New Zealand.

Fiordland, on the South Island, is rugged, remote and flowing with scores of pristine rivers and streams. Our guides with Ultimate Hikes gave us the green light to fill our water bottles in the wilds of Fiordland. We did, and we all stayed hydrated and healthy.

New Zealanders are fastidious about environmental protection.

Crews clean your hiking boots at the Auckland Airport upon arrival and require another disinfectant treatment before entering the forest trails of Fiordland.

Not all water supplies are pristine.

Thousands of acres in New Zealand are covered with livestock. Sheep and cattle are widespread. The only traffic jam I encountered was on Highway 80 near Twizel, and it was caused by a roving herd of cattle. (View an audio slideshow of Bill's New Zealand journey.)

Have you ever visited a deer farm?

Well, they have them in New Zealand, and it looks so strange to see deer grazing within boundaries.

New Zealand boasts more than 4,000 deer and elk farms. Deer farming was born in New Zealand, even though the animal is not native to the country. Western Europe and Scandinavia are major export markets for farmed venison.

We spent almost our entire vacation on the South Island, which is part Wyoming, part Wisconsin and part Washington state in appearance. The diversity adds to the country’s appeal. From snow-covered peaks to sun-parched plains to rolling green farmland, New Zealand has a rich variety of landscapes.

Although the water in Fiordland looks pretty normal, it is a different story to the north in Mackenzie Country.

If you have ever seen the glacier-fed lakes of Europe, you will be amazed at several large lakes in New Zealand. The color is a stunning neon turquoise. Some of the many mountains here are ruggedly raw and jagged, while others are a verdant green.

I fell in love with the people of New Zealand for their friendliness, helpfulness and dry sense of humor.

Once, while struggling to make a pay phone call (my cell phone wouldn’t work there), a native handed me his own mobile phone and said: “Dial away, matey!”

A bank teller who converted our American dollars into New Zealand dollars completed the transaction by exclaiming: “Thanks, Love!”

Toilets are an interesting conversation topic in New Zealand. Most devices have two flush settings, depending on the amount of water needed. It makes sense environmentally.

Driving in New Zealand requires the same extra concentration as in Britain. Yes, you drive on the left in Kiwi Country, and you must learn to navigate those tricky roundabouts.

New Zealand food has a distinct British flavor, as well.

It was poached eggs, porridge and peaches for breakfast with lots of cheese and bacon that looked like hunks of ham.

I ordered a hamburger and a local beer at a tavern in Cromwell. The burger was huge, like many American burgers, but there was a sweet taste that surprised me. Upon further inspection, I found a large beet slice embellishing the burger.

The Speights Gold Medal Ale was delicious. Speights is known as “The Pride of the South.”

New Zealand cuisine is a blend of Europe, Asia and Polynesia. Some people call it the Pacific Rim cuisine. Salmon, chicken and lamb are major menu items. There is also a tramping cuisine in New Zealand.

People pack hearty lunches for long hikes – we’ll talk more about that Wednesday.



Bill Leslie, Reporter

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