If you’ve never been, what’s the impression that photographs, films, and stories have left you with?
Lush countryside filled with grazing sheep? Dramatic landscapes of mountains and sparkling waters under a blue, cloudless sky? Extreme sports and outdoor adventure? Vineyards? The All Blacks performing the Haka?
I’ll bet that you might imagine that New Zealanders consider the environment a priority.
But is that the reality?
We’ve been in New Zealand for five months now and we’re loving it. We’re definitely feeling settled and although Christchurch might not be our home forever, we are very happy here for now and I suspect New Zealand will be our base from which we continue to explore for the foreseeable future.
The countryside is beautiful, the people are welcoming, and the lifestyle for families is fantastic. There are a few things that have surprised us though, particularly the lack of environmental awareness and practice.
The media does a wonderful job of marketing New Zealand as this super eco-friendly country that is leading the way in environmental policy. We had thought everyone would be very conscientious of the environment and protecting, not just New Zealand’s wildlife and landscapes, but the well-being of the whole planet.
Unfortunately, we have found that eco living isn’t high on people’s priority list. Of course there are individuals for whom this is important, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be part of the ingrained culture as we were expecting.
Here are 5 ways that we have been surprised by the lack of environmental awareness in New Zealand. Do these things surprise you too?
I was expecting to be able to buy fresh local produce at markets, butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers in every suburb of the big cities and in smaller towns. Don’t get me wrong, Christchurch has all of these, but only a handful and they are dispersed right across the city (for great quality fresh produce head to Riccarton House and Bush for the farmers’ market on Saturdays, Tram Road Fruit Farm for delicious ‘pick your own’ fruits, Vegeland on Marshland Road, Cashmere Cuisine butcher on Colombo Street, and Theo’s Fisheries on Riccarton Road. You can read more about visiting Christchurch here).
Most people shop at the supermarket since fresh produce is not easily accessible for all, particularly without a car. Sadly there isn’t anything near us so we have to either rent a car or get the bus into town, lugging heavy bags and a toddler (we don’t have a car – see point 4!). In smaller towns buying fresh produce is near impossible without a considerable drive.
At supermarkets, checkout staff usually pack bags (unless, like me you bring your own bags, but I am yet to witness anyone else do this). They have obviously been trained to under-pack the bags to avoid any potential complaints, and to double-bag each meat item separately. A shop that really should fit in one bag all of a sudden requires five! Reducing plastic bag use was just one of my suggestions for new year’s resolutions; check out other tips here.
Irrigation is a huge problem in the drier regions of New Zealand. We see this a lot in Canterbury, where the average annual rainfall is 600-700mm compared to the West Coast’s 2000-3000mm on the other side of the Southern Alps.
During the hot, dry summer, everyone’s gardens remain sparkling green and cows graze on the lush dairy farms that fill the Canterbury Plains. There’s more land here so despite cattle being more suited to the temperate rainforest climate of the West Coast, farmers continue to irrigate the Plains.
Cars are horrible, smelly, polluting old things! The car market is nuts! They’re stupidly expensive as everything has to be shipped here, so old cars hold their value really well, unlike in the U.K. They also last longer since roads aren’t gritted during the Winter, so people end up driving cars that you won’t have seen on the road for at least a decade in the U.K.
Supermarket meat is fairly shocking. Chicken breasts are twice the size they should be, it is surprisingly difficult to get uncooked ham (even in the run up to Christmas, despite ham being the meat dish of choice), deli meat is horribly watery and no longer tastes like meat, and there is no variety. Your options are chicken, pork, lamb, beef and a limited range of fish. Essentially, although there are regulations around the use of hormones, meat is pumped full of water, and getting your hands on unprocessed meat is tough.
Despite these surprises, there are of course a number of things that New Zealand gets absolutely spot on!
The Resource Management Act ensures that Iwi are consulted about natural resource matters. This consultation with Maori tribes provides an extra layer of environmental protection, as well as ensuring that areas of cultural significance are preserved. More people working to protect land can surely only be a good thing.
We love that people eat seasonally and there is significantly less reliance on imports compared to in the U.K.. Before we moved, we were a little concerned that we’d miss having year-round access to seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as produce not locally grown at all. In fact, we are enjoying knowing that all the produce we buy in store has been sourced locally, and I now also grow most of our vegetables myself (along with raspberries and blackberries, as these are expensive to buy).
The healthy populations of birds, bees and butterflies are noticeable, even in the big cities. When we’ve been camping, it has been a pleasure to wake to the loudest dawn chorus I have ever witnessed – so loud that in Hanmer Forest, it took me a while to work out whether the white-noise hum that had roused me was the sound of a storm echoing in the branches above, or the simultaneous song of hundreds of birds!
Environmental awareness may not be part of the ingrained culture, but an outdoor lifestyle is certainly typical for New Zealanders. Even in the cities, there are fantastic opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and people certainly make the most of it. We live a few minutes from forest mountain biking, 10 minutes walk from the beach and great surfing spots, 30 minutes drive to beautiful hiking and I can’t wait for winter as we’re only an hour from the ski fields!
So what do you think? Are you surprised? Is this different to the picture you had of New Zealand?