Jim and Mindy Phypers
The following account is based on excerpts from a journal kept by Jim and Mindy Phypers during an extraordinary journey to New Zealand in the early 1980's. Beginning as a two week honeymoon, their trip stretched into a 13 month adventure in which they rarely met another American or other tourists, never stayed in a hotel or rode a tour bus, and discovered a remarkable and unexpected land.
- 1980 Durango, Colorado (18 months) -
"Falling in love..."
This journey really begins when I moved to Durango in 1980. There I took a job as a psychologist at a local community mental health center and I met a very special lady. The job is pure hell. The lady is pure heaven. Mindy becomes the best friend I have ever had and after 18 months my wife. I quit my high paying psych job to devote full energies to music and the recorder I have loved all my life. "Oh please, Lord, no more psychology jobs even if I don't have enough to eat." A successful 4 month run playing my recorder in the evenings for a fancy Italian restaurant in Durango kicks things off .
A pet raccoon, George, makes life a bit complicated. Stealing food from the refrigerator was a favorite pastime -- until a padlock was installed on thedoor. Regrettably, his preferred toilet wasthe silverware drawer. Always enthusiastic when we arrived home, George came flying into Mindy's lap, immediately emptying the contents of her purse or rucksack, and then climbing up onto her head. People make great trees for climbing. But he he is such a lovable little bandit.
- 1981 Bayfield, Colorado (3 months) -
"Paradise lost and a new beginning..."
A cozy knottypine cabin in the mountains is our first home about 20 miles from Durango, Colorado. A beautiful, roaring river passes right behind the house. It is paradise... There is a major highway close by with lots of traffic but it's noise is completely masked by the river. UNTIL we awake one morning to find NO water in our river. A flood control dam upstream had been completely shut off.
Wanderlust tendencies growing the past year explode. Since we had not taken a honeymoon... well why not now? We yearn for a less developed, pristine land -- nothing more or less than paradise, of course. We sell much of what we own and head for the South Pacific, and the tip of the South Island of New Zealand. This is the last stop except for a few tiny islands before Antarctica. We take just a few clothes but much music and camping gear. We are very excited but also a little apprehensive. We don't really know what it will be like aside from the tour books and our fantasies... Fantasies can be dangerous.
- 1982 Dunedin, New Zealand (36 hours) -
"Could THIS be paradise?!"
New Zealand is almost half way around the globe from the U.S -- most of the way is water. After 17 hours being confined inside the cabin of an airplane, I am so sore and stiff and irritable that I bolt for the door when we arrive at our final destination in the South Island. "We have not come to a complete stop, SIR" barks the stewardess. "Please sit DOWN". We rent a car and are immediately immersed in a mouse-maze of narrow, poorly maintained streets. Little cars with bad mufflers whizz everywhere. Driven by speed-freak maniacs. Could this be the paradise we came so far to find?
I turn on the radio in the car for some distraction. There are only two stations on the entire dial, but one is playing fine classical music and we love classical music. It is only an AM station, but it has better sound than our FM stations back home. That same station plays only classical music all year and can be heard everywhere in New Zealand! Well, things are looking up.
We decide to worry about lodging later and head for the country. All of a sudden the town ABRUPTLY ends. There are NO more buildings, and stretching before us is the most beautiful, green countryside our eyes have ever seen. Picturesque rail fences neatly divide this pasture land which is manicured as well as any golf course. We can not believe it. Everywhere we look there are white bushes moving about on the greens. Not even in the movies or travel-logs and only seldom in paintings has the country looked so beautiful as this.
We can not resist. We pull over, climb a fence, and sit down on the grassy carpet and just stare in awe and disbelief. Those white bushes turn out to be very friendly and wander over to say hello. We sit for hours. We can not get enough of this breathtakingly beautiful place.
Cars keep slowing down as they pass with heads hanging out of windows. Staring. And staring again. It seems they are trying to figure out what two people are doing sitting in the middle of a field in such a state of obvious contentment. "Just a couple of crazy Americans, eh Prudence?"
It begins to get cold. Do we really have to go back to that horrible town? We find a cute little room for the night, but the din of traffic noise keeps us up. What a place of dramatic contrast we find ourselves in. The proprietor and his wife are pure Scottish and totally delightful, and we spend a long time in the evening and the next morning chatting with them. The natives certainly are friendly!
We immediately buy a tincan car, a red Hillman Minx. Used cars are expensive, $2000 for a bucket of bolts. We head straight to the farthest tip of the South Island, Invercargil, and step right back into the 1950's. The girls are wearing long wool skirts, bobby socks, and loafers with pennies in them. Fuzzy dice hang from the rear view mirrors of cars. There are no tourists. And no places to stay...
Very soon we begin to understand the term "culture shock". Everything is BACKWARDS. We have arrived in December, but it is the beginning of summer and all the kids are on vacation. It's a little cooler down here in the southland of New Zealand..
Our first night we eat out and find the food quite bland and requiring a lot of salt. I cover my dinner with pepper! The little bottle with one hole is the salt, dummy. The pepper is the bottle with lots of holes - you should have known.
At our room we flip up the light switch and all the lights go off. Up is down and down is up. (And I'm still confused to this day about which way to flip the light switch.) We already know not to plug our AC gadgets into the wall socket (which is 240 VOLTS), but it's a bit of a worry you're going to forget. Everybody is driving on the wrong side of the road. Of course, we knew that one too, but we still made right turns into on-coming traffic. Several times. It feels pretty strange sitting in the passenger seat with a steering wheel in your hand.
- Invercargil, New Zealand (2 weeks) -
"Is this the way to treat a new bride?"
Our first home in the South Pacific is a backpack tent in a sheep pasture (paddock) on a bluff overlooking the sea. Is this the way to treat a new wife? YES! Mindy and I both agree. Our tent on the bluff was one of the most idyllic and fondly remembered of our many homes.
One small hitch was the spot we choose to put up the tent the first night. It poured, but we stayed cozy and dry. However, it seemed as if our tent was more like a big water bed the next morning. Upon exiting, we found our new home floating in a foot of water. After extolling the virtues of our "Sierra Designs Starflight" tent and laughing for ten minutes and wading and splashing around in our large lake which hadn't been there the night before, we relocated to slightly higher ground. We will never forget the views out across the ocean or the wide expanse of immaculate green fields surrounding us or the many curious sheep who came by to check us out.
The sheep rancher who had given his permission for us to camp invites us to a grand and delicious dinner at his place. And "just what are a couple of rich Americans doing getting all excited about sleeping in a paddock in a tent?" our hosts asked repeatedly! All Americans, it seems, must be rich -- New Zealanders watch "Dallas" all the time on the telly. We tried to explain, but Ross and his wife just couldn't understand. I wasn't dressed in a suit and didn't look at all like JR. In fact, I explained, I didn't even own a suit anymore... Poor Ross.
"True fish story"
On an early trip to explore the area, we discover the best fish and chips place in the cosmos. It's just a small wooden, clapboard shack, but it is located right on the water. The back porch was a small dock with a fishing boat tied up to it. And YES the fish was FRESH, wrapped up in classic, British fashion in lots of newspaper and covered with enough French fries for a small army. Since we could not exactly cook gourmet meals on our backpack stove at our tent... well, that's how we rationalized our almost daily pig-outs at the fish and chips place.
- Portabello, New Zealand (5 months) -
"Turning back the clock again"
Our next home was a farm house built in the 1880's. It came complete with 12 foot ceilings, period wall paper (falling off), and a straw mattress. This mattress was not overly comfortable nor appreciated by one's sinuses. It belonged in the NZ equivalent of the Smithsonian (which is where I proposed sending it every night). The rent was only $12 a week, however.
With a breathtaking view, this old house was located on a high bluff overlooking the sea and surrounded by miles of open paddock. Sheep are everywhere.
George, our land lord, rode up on his horse soon after we moved in and asked us straight out: "Well, how do you like living with 2000 bleached blondes?" We told him we liked it fine. There was always 20 to 30 of the beauties in the yard next to house at any one time. There was always plenty of sheep poop on the walkway, too -- but much better than banana peels.
There is still much culture shock. New Zealand is supposed to be an English speaking country. Well it's a British speaking country actually which turns out to be another language... Mindy goes in to a beauty shop and asked to have her bangs trimmed (who forgot to pack the scissors?) The guys in the shop fold up laughing. What is this lady talking about? "Oh, you mean fringe!!!" And there are more peals of laughter. Mindy has made their day and they give her the trim free of charge. Mindy hopes when she gets home to America, she will not forget and ask to have her "fringe" trimmed.
It took a long time to figure out how to ask for hot dogs and sausages. "Oh, I see, you mean bangers." We asked about places to rent on the ocean."Oh, you mean a batch." But places on the ocean were called a "crib" up in the North Island. When we told people we would be moving, they were quite amused. "Oh, you mean shift".
What would your reaction be as you drive along to being cautioned by a road sign which says:
- "Weave With Care" (get out the Jack Daniels and drive a little slower?)
- "Slow to 65" (huh?)
- "No Overtaking" (well...O.K.)
- "Deceptive Bends" (O.K.)
- "Setting Down Lane" (now what?)
- A sign in a vacant lot reads "No Tipping" (we give up).
Kiwis have some remarkable, if sometimes crude expressions. Americans say "don't get upset" (how dull). The Kiwi says "don't get your knickers in a twist." If one is drinking alcoholic beverages, he is "on the piss". A promiscuous young lady is the "town bike"! Now isn't "rattle your dags" a little more colorful than hurry up? We never did get used to having someone who was to call for us at, let's say, 7 PM tell us that they would "knock us up at seven".
- Potato chips are "chippies"
- A car crash is a "prang"
- Baby buggies are "prams"
- One does not go to the drug store, he goes to the "chemist"
- The TV is a "goggle box"
The list was endless. We must acquire a sizable, new vocabulary. We have picked up a few sayings which we use to this day. Now we "puddle about" the house and things drive us "crackers". For a most entertaining web site devoted
entirely to such terms, click on:
It is impossible to describe the rich wild life we observed in New Zealand. In less than a volume of two. We had landed in a birder's paradise, and since we are birders... Armed with a "Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand" and binoculars, we were forever stopping to meet a new friend.
Perhaps our favorite critter was the common possum, a nocturnal beast with considerable charm. He didn't look anything like what Americans call possums!
"No lamb today."
Now that we have a proper kitchen to cook in, we get a hankerin' for some lamb chops The first butcher shop we enter has a case full of magnificent looking lamb chops, and we ask for four chops. "I'm sorry, folks, we don't have any lamb chops today" we are told. He's joking, surely, and we ask again. This time he gets a bit annoyed and offers us some hogget chops. I explain we are not in the mood for pork, and now he is really starting to get perturbed.
It is obviously time to educate the silly (stupid) foreigners. A sheep is called a "lamb" only until he is six months old, then he is called a "hogget" until he is one year old. From one to two years old, he is a "one tooth", from two to three years old, a "two tooth", then various grades of "ewe meat" after that. In fact, the butcher did not have any lamb but plenty of hogget that day. We bought the hogget ($1.45 for four chops!). It was the best "lamb" we have EVER eaten.
With our spectacular sheep ranch (station) as a base, we take short side trips away to explore and meet the natives. We find them without a doubt among the most friendly people on the planet. It was impossible to go to the store for a pint of milk (no quarts) without our "funny" American accents being overhead. Then there was always a marathon conversation in the isle. Then we just had to come over for a cup of tea (cupper). Then we just had to stay and have some supper and, yes, why didn't we spend the night. We could have stayed many days with most people and did so more than once. Nothing taught us what New Zealand was like more than these joyous experiences.
We had deliberately landed ourselves in a part of New Zealand well off the beaten path and rarely visited by tourists. In some places, our new friends had never met an American before. They had countless questions, but it was always hard to convince them America wasn't all like Dallas.
"We are getting fat"
Between all the goodies served to us at tea
(several times a week)
and the rich meat
(and it is soooo inexpensive)
and the rich milk (whole milk with the cream still on the top!)
("Excuse me, do you carry skim milk or 2%?" - "Ahh.. never heard of that.")
and the rich, enormous deserts ("pudd"),
(served in monster sized dishes -- declining offers of seconds and thirds is rude)
we're getting fat in a hurry,
as is the New Zealand custom.
(Kiwis are plump...)
Milk was only 17 cents a pint.
(That's $1.36 a gallon plus eight heavy, glass pint bottles to return).
We also discover the wonderful good cheer
and good drink of the local pub,
the center of NZ life.
The beer was delicious and very dark and rich.
(low in alcohol content and easy to guzzle)
It is usually brewed fresh in the town where it is sold.
And don't miss the English Stout with raspberry cordial.
"But tough times are ahead..."
We work when we can, but there are few opportunities. I play a few school concerts on my recorder and there is one engagement playing for a gourmet restaurant. Mindy does some maid work. Americans are very welcome in New Zealand but primrily as tourists not as competitors in the local work force. Attempts to get a job by foreigners are typically resented and resisted. Tourist visas are issued for 12 months (obtaining a work permit was next to impossible).
Our funds are beginning to run low, and it is time to go home. Our first car fell apart, and we invested in a lovely 1964 Rover Sedan which, however, was very fond of gasoline. Which went up to $4.80 a gallon while we were there.
We had arrived at the beginning of Summer, but it is Winter now with high winds blowing straight from Antarctica, more penetrating and bone-chilling than we have ever known. The tip of the South Island is in fact "far north" down under, and it gets very cold.
- Auckland, New Zealand (4 months) -
It is much warmer up here in the North Island (and blessedly closer to the equator), but things continue to slide. In order to leave we need to sell the car we purchased, but since we arrived in New Zealand the economy has slipped into a recession. No one is buying much of anything, particularly cars. With hindsight we would have been better off to abandon our Rover on the street and go home. As it turns out, we spend more to house and feed ourselves than we eventually end up getting for the car. We must obtain a "repatriation loan" from the United States Embassy to leave.
At first, we can not find a place in Auckland to stay at all and sleep in our car for five days. They say your home is your castle... We finally rent a pea-box studio apartment surrounded by awful city blight and noise.
"A wonderful bright spot."
We discover that Auckland has a world class zoo not far away. We join the Auckland Zoological Society for a nominal fee and are admitted to the zoo seven days a week without charge. We go to the zoo seven days a week and LOVE IT. The attendants get to know us. The critters get to know us. And the elephant keeper has us over to dinner! He also treats us with private times after hours introducing us to his elephant, Kachin.
We find special, secluded places to rest and read and write letters and reflect. We are surrounded by lush green, running water, and Tuisand Bell Birds singing. I finally succeed in notating the amazing call of the Tui (it is in B minor). I play it on my soprano recorder and... A TUI ANSWERS BACK. The keeper at the hippo enclosure close by thinks I am clearly cracked, but he is fascinated.
"The great Pizza Hut adventure"
One evening we are feeling particularly homesick and decide to go out to dinner at a Pizza Hut recently built in Auckland. I know, we are getting pretty hard-up. Will the culture shock never end? Of the long list of toppings available, we can recognize only three: cheese, corn, and spaghetti. Spaghetti?! Help, let us out of here. We decide to go for the cheese. The pizza was terrible and did nothing toward assuaging our homesickness. Well... the decor was first class, lack-of-taste American, so I guess we felt a little better.
"If you can't fight 'em, join 'em!"
At night in our apartment we hold our fingers in our ears at times to screen out the roar of traffic. The man in the apartment above has feet bigger than Kachin's. After listening to a very loud party across the way till late one night, we get on our clothes, knock on the door, and attempt to invite ourselves in. "If you can't fight 'em, join 'em". It is 1:30 A.M.
A 325 pound Maori with bushman hair stands in the doorway, stares and listens. Listens and stares. He is awesome. In fact, we are scared -- terrible images of cannibals and such flashing through our tired brains..
Then he breaks out in a huge smile and welcomes us to his party. The Maoris are as fascinated to learn about us as we are to learn about them. We find the Maoris to be wonderful, kind, good-hearted people. We have a grand old time. We make up our two hour night napping on a bench at the zoo.
-Waiheke Island, New Zealand (2 weeks) -
Our car is finally sold, but we have gotten precious little rest in our noisy apartment and are tired and rundown. We search for a spot where we can rest up before traveling and facing the unknown back home. We learn about a tiny island called Waiheke which we can reach by ferry (about two hours out from the mainland).
We begin to relax almost immediately as the city shore line recedes into the distance and disappears and the crisp sea air blows in our faces. We see our Shangri-La appear as a speck on the horizon, and we are getting excited. The ferry quickly docks in a small, pristine bay and leaves us and our gear alone to find our way. A silence which is almost deafening descends on us. The cry of a few sea gulls and the lapping of water on the dock is all we hear as we fall fast asleep on some wooden benches.
A voice with a funny American accent is calling us in our dreams: "Are you all right?" We awake with a tall man standing in front of us. He has seen us lying motionless at the dock for many hours and has grown concerned. We explain our experience in Auckland and why we are so tired, and he invites us to stay at his house for a couple of days if we want to. We want to.
Our friend is one of the only Americans on the island and one of the very few we have met in the entire past year. It is good to be with him and his wife and their adorable three year old daughter, Julia.
"Little Palm Beach"
Our hosts tell us about a very special place on their island, Little Palm Beach. Little Palm Beach is special because it is one of the few nude beaches in all of New Zealand at that time and perhaps the only nude beach officially approved by the local city council! Our friends can not take time off work during the week to go with us, but they leave Julia with us for the day. She knows the way to Little Palm Beach like the back of her hand.
Kids being the curious critters that they are, Julia has to check us out thoroughly once we have reached the beach and taken off our clothes. Everything appeared to be where it should be and as expected. However, when Julia's survey reached Mindy's breasts, she stopped and stared and stared. "My Mom has marbles on hers," Julia declares! Julia has a big voice. Stifled laughter, a few giggles, and one snicker ripples through the groups of sun bathers on the beach.
We spend most of our two weeks on Waiheke Island at Little Palm Beach. When you have found paradise, is there any reason to look further? We ARE on a South Pacific island and enjoying it the way it has been enjoyed for thousands of years until Captain Cook arrived. The beach is picture-postcard beautiful. Our experience is sensual but not sexual and relaxing beyond anything we can remember. We will never forget Little Palm Beach.
Our American friends have given us the keys to a friend's house who is off-island for a few months. The house is cozy and peaceful. We sleep good at night. I spend many hours documenting our experiences and writing letters. We feel rested and ready to take the next step in our odyssey. We're not ready to hit the mainland quite yet and plan to stop on Kauai and visit Mindy's Uncle Johnny. The truth is we have no idea where we want to settle back in the Continental 48 (California, Oregon, Washington, South Carolina?) We are very curious to see what it is like on Kauai.
When we arrive on Kauai, Mindy's uncle is too ill to see us. Hurricane Ewa has hit the Island just a few days before and everything is in chaos... But that's another story!
1983 The United States of America
We feel like we are in another foreign country. It's culture shock all over again. Our money look's STRANGE and the wrong shape and doesn't have the Queen of England on it. She is a lovely lady and I am already missing seeing her everyday.
People are driving on the WRONG side of the road just like they did in New Zealand. Dammit, WHICH one is the pepper? All the cars look HUGE. People talk FUNNY. The roads are so WIDE and all the houses look so BIG. Nobody seems to like to smile and chat and relax much. What's the big HURRY around here? And what is this COFFEE stuff everybody is drinking?
Where are all the beautiful bleached blonds?
"WHO ARE WE ANYWAY?!"
Write us at:
Solar Haven Main Page / Articles by Jim Phypers
© 2013 by Jim Phypers