who are the watsons?
We are a 30-something married couple who decided to leave behind our home, careers and comfortable Silicon Valley lifestyle to try a new course. Join us as we travel the world to learn about other cultures, lifestyles and ways to generate income beyond the traditional 9-5.

New Zealand: Land of Opposites

Westmoreland is the name of the county in Pennsylvania where I grew up. This street sign is an oddly familiar sight in a land more than 8500 miles from there.

Last Friday (or Thursday for those of you on the other side of the international date line), we arrived in New Zealand, home of the Kiwis (simultaneously referring to the fruits, birds, and human residents of this island nation) and a land of opposites for those of us from the States.

Let’s start with the fact that it is located in the Southern Hemisphere. More than just a scientific curiosity, we could literally feel our antipodean orientation sink its chilly teeth into our skin as we stepped out of the airport. Yes, folks, it’s wintertime in August. Although Auckland winters are not quite as bad as what I experienced growing up in western Pennsylvania, they are definitely colder than what we’ve become accustomed to in California. The temperature is perpetually in the low 50s during the day, low to mid 40s at night, and it rains about every other day. I imagine that it’s something like February in Seattle, but I can’t be sure since I’ve never been there at that time of year.

Which leads to another interesting opposition: it gets colder the further south we go. Auckland is in the northern part of the country and is relatively balmy. By comparison, the South Island is currently experiencing snow, sub-freezing temperatures, and icy Antarctic winds. We’ll likely wait a couple of months before heading down there, and we’ll probably let someone else do the driving.

As with most former British colonies, Kiwis drive on the left hand side of the road. This is a critical piece of information to keep in mind, even if you never sit behind the wheel. For the first few days here, we’ve had to consciously remind ourselves every time we walk across the road that we should first look to the right, then look across the street to the left. Good thing, too! Auckland drivers act as if they have the right of way over pedestrians, unless we are in a proper crosswalk.

Even in the safety of our lodge, there are a few contradictions we need to keep in mind. If a water faucet has two handles, the one on the right controls the hot water, and the one on the left manages the cold water. However, just to keep us on our toes, the type of faucet with a single lever still works the same as back home: to the right for cold water, and to the left for hot water. This distinction is important to keep straight lest you freeze or burn your hands when you least expect it! Electrical switches are contrarian as well. You have to flip a switch down to turn on a light (or an electrical socket); we have also observed this behavior in Europe. Nevertheless, all of these opposites end at the toilet bowl. Despite popular opinion, water does not spin in the opposite direction in New Zealand, Australia, or anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere. The Coriolis Effect is only significant for really big things like hurricanes; the precise geometry of a toilet bowl has a lot more influence on the direction that its water spins.

Although New Zealand has quite a few dissimilarities from the States, we have not discovered anything as extreme as Lisa Simpson’s observation that in the mythical nation of Rand McNally (located somewhere in the South Pacific where there’s lots of empty space for a globe manufacturer to place their logo) “they wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people.” On second thought, we have noticed that there is a Murder Burger just down the street. And so it seems that our real adventure has begun…


  • http://nottoolatetochangethename.blogspot.com Jen Muehlbauer

    I remember being sad when I found out water didn't really go the wrong way down the sink in other parts of the world like They Might Be Giants told me it would.

    We'll be on the north island in mid-September. With any luck it'll warm up a tad by then? Maybe we can meet up at some point!

  • Amanda

    Very interesting! Who knew about the toilets????!!!! LOL. Keep it coming! :)