Stephanie Brake
Stephanie Brake
New Zealand 2011-2012
Stephanie Brake earned a Bachelor of Arts in Entertainment Industry Studies from Belmont University with a minor in Spiritual Formation. Volunteer work on a farm in Waipahi, New Zealand will provide an opportunity to dig deeper into social justice, Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and a host family in the South Otago region. " Read More About Stephanie →

The Kiwi Puzzle

Most of you are probably wondering what New Zealanders eat, drink, listen to, watch and how they entertain themselves. What do they embrace to claim as their own? Allow me to put some pieces of their culture together. This is me trying to complete the Kiwi puzzle, as brief as possible.

1. The word kiwi; it could mean anything and everything. It’s a type of fruit, their native bird (nocturnal and flightless), nickname for citizens, the dollar of their stock exchange and simply used as an adjective for anything related to the country (i.e. Kiwi dance, Kiwi fashion, Kiwi territory, etc). Once this is understood, all other pieces can fall into place.

Stuffed kiwi in a window seal of a backpackers in Christchurch

2. Most of the population consists of English (white-Caucasian) and Maori (indigenous people) descendants. Thus the popular languages are also English and Maori, and though both communities have had their fair share of blood and hatred, the nation highly encourages the presence of each history and heritage to recognize and be proud of. I was fortunate enough to visit the War Memorial Museum in the Domain of Auckland two days ago where I first went on a private tour with two others, and our guide by the name of Barry clearly appeared to be a part of a British bloodline. Then, two hours later, I watched 7 Maori performers dance their hearts out to instrumentation and chants in native dialect. It was an incredible healthy experience of understanding the beauty of diversity from a Kiwi perspective.

Oh, I’ve also started a new Kiwi-to-American dictionary. Some terms you may already know.

quad bike = four-wheeler
rubbish = trash
pellock/wanker = censored name for someone you don’t particularly like
heaps = lots of
keen = set on something; sarcastic, goofy
“cheers” = slang for “thanks”; “see you later”
bum = buttocks
fine chap = good fellow
torch = flashlight
bathroom = a bathroom without a toilet
kia ora = famous kiwi greeting meaning welcome, hello and be well/healthy in Maori
mate = friend
chooks = chickens
number plate = license plate
fizz = soft drink
ute = pick-up truck
“choice” = slang for “sweet”; a good decision
egg = idiot or moron; mainly spoken by elementary children
bench = countertop
spa pool = hot tub
“ta” = thank you
biscuit = cookie
“sweet as” = slang for “cool”/“very good”
“pass” = I have no idea
“I can’t be bothered” = “I have no motivation” or “I do not want to”
chips = potato chips AND french fries
gutted = disgusted; disappointed
tea = that stuff you brew AND dinner/supper you make at home
“gidday” = “good day”
tyre = tire
brollie = umbrella

Of course there will be many, many more added to the list later.

3. It’s called rugby. Among its enthusiasts and counterparts alike, this high-energy, contact game has been deemed ‘the hooligan sport played by gentlemen’ – and with good reason. Imagine 30 players on a field dressed in skin tight soccer uniforms, without protection of any kind except for the optional headgear or knee pads, continuously tackling each other until their side got a penalty, a turnover, went out of bounds or scored either by a ‘drop kick’ or ‘try’ – as if they were playing gridiron like the non-stop energizer bunnies! After watching one test, my first thought was it made American football look like a civilized activity between friendly neighborhood kids. Just madness!

And boy, New Zealand has certainly been struck with a fever by it. Their team is the All Blacks, and little did I know when I arrived here, it just so happened to be in the middle of the World Rugby Cup 2011 frenzy – and hosted in New Zealand. The flights with Air New Zealand from then on out included fans of many colors, from various parts of the world and, to satisfy everyone’s humor, the safety videos before take-off ended with a blurred image of a streaking granny running down the aisle among cheering passengers. There were All Black flags, gossip, posters, rants, commercials and messages everywhere you went. Video streaming of the “haka”, a famous Maori war-dance the team performs in front of rival opponents prior to each match, had reached an all-time high (and if you haven’t seen it before, please do yourself a favor and watch this one before the semi-final with their arch rival, the Australian Wallabies: One man had even cut down a tree in his front yard to paint it entirely black with white letters of support. I call that commitment.

I struck more luck since I was able to see the conclusion of the tournament with 12 other people at the farm who came for a community dinner. The All Blacks defeated France 9-8 and earned the Webb-Ellis Cup. I celebrated with them! Newspaper headlines the next day printed only two words: “It’s ours.” Had The Cocks won, rumor has it all of New Zealand would still be in mourning. I actually wouldn’t doubt it…

Captain Richie McCaw shaking hands with Prime Minister John Key

4. Food and beverages. Here’s the goooooooooood stuff. For beer, I’d definitely say Speight’s (the Old Dark is my favorite), Steinlager, Tui (for the lighter drinkers) and DB Export are among the finest. Wines are an even bigger A+. Go with reds from Nelson, Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay and whites from Marlborough, Martinborough and Central Otago. Furthermore, the pub atmospheres are one step down from England’s but still a good notch to get out and enjoy. Teas are popular too. I’ve taken a liking to the taste of chamomile, lemon & ginger and red bush.

As for another, today I had an organic smoothie mix with kiwi, strawberry and gooseberry (all fruits that grow extremely well in NZ, of course), and I’d recommend it to anyone.

And goodness, have I been fed well! I’ll greatly miss having Clevedon Valley buffalo yoghurt (oh my, the lemon zest flavor), Jimmy’s pies, fish & chips, Glasseye Creek wild meat sauce, yams, leeks, pumpkin soup, Lisa’s hummus brand, whitebait, organic muesli, Marama lamb & beef sausages, garlic & herb cream cheese, home rolled sushi, oyster curry and hangi, a traditional Maori feast (you should see how this meal is prepared: Oh, and did I mention that since there are plenty of folk from Asia and the Pacific Islands that New Zealand has some fantastic Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Indian cuisine too? YUM.

Now to the really great part… chocolate… the winners, without any doubt, are Whittaker’s (milk, especially the berry & biscuit and kiwifruit ones), Cadbury (milk and white) and Old Gold (dark – LOVE the variety box that includes caramel, mint and espresso truffles). Trust me, dear readers, no other local brands can match these.

Ran into the makers at the La Cigale French Market in Auckland

5. Here’s some good music I’ve come across. Dave Dobbyn*, Margaret Ulrich*, Brooke Fraser, Tim Finn, The Feelers*, Hollie Smith, Bic Runga*, Avalanche City, Midnight Youth* and 2’s a Crowd.
Here’s some good literature I’ve come across. The Book of Fame by Lloyd Jones* and Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera.
Here’s some good art work creators. Theo Schoon*, John Pule, Julia Morison*, Ruth Watson, Para Matchitt, Geoff Thornley, Charles F. Goldie, Kennett Watkins, Walter Wright, Frank Wright and John Perrett*
here are some good films. Boy*, Whale Rider*, Lord of the Rings trilogy*, In a Land of Plenty, The Last Samurai and Eagle vs. Shark.

6. Sheep. 60 million of them and nearly 5 million Kiwis, which would indicate a 12:1 sheep-to-person ratio. There are herds all over the North and South Islands, and Marama Organics alone currently has around 6,000 or so ewes. Heaps of wool! Heaps of meat!

7. There is a great sustainability push. More goooooooood stuff. Kiwis care about the natural environment and actively push themselves and their elected officials in government to ensure wildlife and landforms are preserved and protected. During a day of tailing with Graham’s neighbor Peter, I was thrown off guard when his partner Michelle yelled out, “Hey, who threw this potato chip bag on the ground?!” No one answered. She continued, “No littering in New Zealand!” Or reading about the reaction of the people when the MV Rena, an oil vessel, grounded on a reef off the coast of Tauranga and caused the worst maritime disaster in their history. They were outraged and ready to make a move.

Near the I-Site in Wanaka

8. Which brings me to my final point. I could not conclude without discussing the people’s character. Imagine an Aussie who’s less hyper and equally charming and full of humor and humility. That’s a Kiwi. I’d also say their accent was a cross between an Aussie and a Brit. They have wide, bold and quick eyes, as if they were lingering on your every word and experts at paying attention to their surroundings. They aren’t quiet or particularly reserved like their British ancestry; they’re not afraid to make the walls dance or let you know they are in the room. But perhaps the most important and celebratory bit about them, as I’ve hinted, is their strong sense of community. When the MV Rena caused its stir, volunteers rushed to the beaches, set up tents and waited for bird and sea life to come ashore for them to be rescued as well as for the oil clean-up. Or when the devastating earthquakes shook Christchurch earlier this year. People were on stand-by to clear the rubble to find anyone who could be stranded. People always seem to be on stand-by for each other.

Kiwis want happiness and joy. They want social equality. They want to feel alive and safe and free. The best kind of folk, if you ask me.

 The kid on the left has my vote.


“One man may hit the mark, another blunder; but heed not these distinctions. Only from the alliance of the one, working with and through the other, are great things brought to life.”

~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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