8 Things that are “Backwards” in New Zealand

During our three-month stay in New Zealand, we visited most of the North Island and South Island. Since New Zealand is pretty isolated from the rest of the world (their closest neighbor is Australia which is over 2,500 miles away), it’s no surprise they do some things a little differently from the rest of the world. And since the United States is on the other side of the world we’re just about as opposite as can be!

Whether it is a physical opposite, or a cultural opposite, here are 8 Things that are “Backwards” in New Zealand.

#1: The Sky is Upside-Down!

Since the entirety of New Zealand lays deep into the southern hemisphere everything you see in the night sky is quite literally up-side down. This includes views of the different stars and constellations, like the famous Southern Cross which adorns New Zealand and Australia’s country flags. It also means the moon looks like it is upside down—I kid you not! I’ve never really thought about the markings on the moon until I looked up and felt that something just wasn’t right.

#2: North is Hot….South is Cold??

Again, since New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere that means the further south you go the closer you get to the Antarctic, and the further north you go the closer you are to the equator. In the United States we are used to traveling closer to the equator the further south we go, and closer to the Arctic the further north we go.

This means we typically associate southern places with subtropical climates like Florida, and northern places with colder climates like Alaska. But in New Zealand the further north you travel the more hot summer beach breezes you’ll find, whereas in the south snow-covered mountains ready for skiing are the draw during the winter.

#3: All the Seasons are Switched

Speaking of winter; the coldest and shortest part of the year is actually in the middle of what would be summer in the northern hemisphere. Fall starts March 20th, winter starts on June 21st, spring starts September 23rd, and summer starts on December 22nd. During the merriest time of the year, Kiwis will have a nice hot white-sand Christmas.

#4: Toilets Flush the Wrong Way (or do they?)

This is one random thing we were told to look for before we left the U.S. “Look and see if the toilets really flush the other way!” Short answer: yes they do, because while in the southern hemisphere the centripetal force of the earth’s spin pulls the water in the opposite direction.

It took SO long to prove this point because most New Zealand toilets flush in a way so differently than American toilets. The design of the toilet folds the water over the bowl causing the contents to be forced down instead of swirling down. Long story short: you can’t see much so it was difficult to know for sure.

#5: Cars Drive on the Opposite Side of the Road

This is similar to most countries overseas, so it may not surprise some. Cars, trucks, busses, and motorcycles drive on the left side of the road and pass on the right. That means left turns are quicker, and roundabouts get complicated quick! The driver’s seat is also on the right side of the car, which takes some getting used to as a passenger, especially climbing into an Uber or getting on the bus. You don’t want to accidentally offer to drive!

#6: Kiwis Walk Wherever they Want

In the U.S. it’s well-known that we prefer to keep to the right when walking in crowds or along sidewalks. I had some anxiety going to a new country and wanting to learn the “correct side” immediately so I wouldn’t stick out as an annoying American. But after trying to observe the natives in their natural habitat for a few days, even experimenting with keeping to the left, we finally asked our Auckland Walking Tour guide. Her answer was simply you just kind of walk wherever! This leads to some bobbing and weaving, but since New Zealand is a hosh-posh of different cultures it makes sense that there’s no right or wrong way to walk.

#7: Instant Coffee is King

If you’re a fan of an all-American pot of coffee, I’m sorry to say you won’t find it in New Zealand. When going out for coffee Kiwis prefer machine-made espresso options. If you’re staying in and your host is brewing some coffee at home, prepare for it to be instant coffee.

This freeze-dried coffee powder works similarly to tea. You heat up your water then dissolve a small spoonful of the coffee and drink up! It’s a lot faster than drip or brewed coffee, and honestly tastes just as good, if not better. Paired with the hyper-efficient electric kettles (why America has not gotten on the electric kettle train I will never know) you can have yourself a cup of hot coffee in 2-3 minutes.

#8: Cars Have the Right of Way

Finally, the item that feels the most opposite: if you are a pedestrian, you must always yield to those driving cars. This item baffles me the most because it seems to almost promote reckless and distracted driving. I’m not saying pedestrians shouldn’t be aware of their surroundings and cautious of crossing the street, but it feels weird to have to come to a dead stop when walking along a path because a car is pulling in or turning onto a street that cuts through a sidewalk. These cars don’t stop, yield, or even slightly hesitate when at an intersection when someone walks up on foot. They will straight-up run you over.

BONUS ROUND #9: Bus Drivers Wave at Each Other

Bus drivers will do a single hand wave to other large passing vehicles. It’s not that backwards, but just something interesting I hadn’t noticed, and I don’t believe the U.S. does the same. Be it busses, semi-trucks, or pretty much anything with more than 4 wheels, they will stick their hand up for just a moment before continuing. During our time with the Kiwi Experience, we had several different bus drivers, and all partook in this strange New Zealand ritual.

Any other opposite New Zealand oddities that you’ve come across in your travels? Share them with us! And check out our other posts for more on our time in New Zealand.


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