Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Oz ain't got nothing on ol' Godzone

Tairua. Photo / Supplied
Tairua. Photo / Supplied

There's a common misconception that Australia's summer is better than ours. It's peddled by backpackers who spend 50 weeks of their year-long holiday across the Ditch, before cramming our many delights into a fortnight.

You could also blame marketing campaigns, which champion Oz with glitzy commercials featuring wondrous golden beaches and beautiful people supping champagne enjoying vistas of red deserts and curious kangaroos.

What they fail to cram into these flashing 30-second teasers is that death waits at every turn and just a short hop to the east is an island paradise waiting to be (safely) explored.

Record numbers are emigrating to Australia - more than 50,000 made the transtasman leap last year alone. It's time to remind them what they're leaving behind.


Australia is known as the Lucky Country. Perhaps because you have to be just that to make it out alive.

Celebrated travel writer Bill Bryson, who knows a thing or two about the world, wrote that Australia has more things that can kill you in a very nasty way than anywhere else.

Oz is also home to nine of the world's 10 most poisonous snakes and the cassowary bird. In 1958, ornithologist Thomas E. Gilliard wrote that the second of the giant bird's three toes is fitted with a "long, straight, murderous nail which can sever an arm or eviscerate an abdomen with ease".

Then there are the killer spiders.

Yes, there is the odd shark sighting in New Zealand, but what else have we got to worry about? The mildly poisonous katipo?

Comedian Ewen Gilmour, a self-appointed "Cultural Ambassador", questions whether they even exist: "No one has ever seen a katipo. They don't even have one at the Auckland Zoo, and I wonder if we just made it up because we've got spider envy."

Gilmour says Australia is "probably" a fine holiday destination but is keenly aware of the dangers within its borders.

"New Zealand is such a nice proposition. We don't have any Australians for a start," he says. "We don't have any poisonous spiders or snakes, crocodiles, or white pointers. It means our beaches, rivers and forests are nicer places to be. You can go for a bush walk, get lost in the middle of the night, and nothing is going to eat you.

"Although, say you do get lost, you have to be very careful of the carnivorous bush snail, which is native to New Zealand. Those things, they creep up on you. They hide behind a tree, wait for you to walk past, and bam!"


Even if you do survive the 74 million species (approximately) of killer creepy-crawlies, you still have to contend with Australia's mind-numbing heat.

As Melbourne melted in 43C this week, New Zealand enjoyed mellow warmth and enough precipitation to delight farmers and gardeners. No tree-free deserts here, thank you very much.

TV chef Jo Seagar says summer rain is vital: "It's good for the lawn, and keeps the dust down."


Watch analyst Philip Duncan says there is nowhere to escape the "stifling" heat of an Australian summer.

"From the people I know over there, it is unbearable. It's a little too much on the good side," he says. "But then you've got the wet season in Australia and Northern Territory where they get the tropical downpours. It's hot, humid and sticky. For them summer is probably the worst time of year."

Gilmour says the tropical storms that regularly lash the Australian coast are a positive for New Zealand: "For them it might be devastating, a natural disaster, but for us it's a nice wee 2m swell with an offshore breeze, which is nice."


Summer in New Zealand means fresh kai from the garden, farm and sea.

And Seagar knows where she'd rather cook.

"I know the Aussies get prawns, but give me a lovely Kaikoura crayfish anytime," she says. "And our oysters are much better than theirs. I've tried all of theirs, which they think are fabulous, but I think they're rubbish compared to ours.

"Then, we've got paua for the barbecue, gorgeous scallops, deep-sea cod in the South Island. Up north you get the snapper - it's abundant.

"It's not a major thing to grow a garden here, we don't need to worry about the kangaroos jumping all over your garden. Yesterday, I just picked big bowls of raspberries, and sat outside in the nice temperature and tucked in, it was lovely. Some of the heat you get in Australia, I could cook a Christmas cake in. I love our climate."

And if you want a sweet treat, look no further than our very own hokey pokey icecream, Kiwiana to the core.

If that's not your thing, what about a Jelly Tip or Rocky Road, perhaps a classic Trumpet, an icecream so good that Rachel Hunter was catapulted to international stardom on the back of her TV ad campaign for the brand in the 80s.

And here we beat Australia once again, with surfing star Paige Hareb wryly remarking: "Our icecreams don't melt as quick."


Beer and wine could perhaps also come under the category of pastimes, activities or sport because most of us enjoy a glass or two, and our providers are especially good at it.

From a boutique industry in the 1990s, New Zealand wine is world-renowned, commanding some of the highest prices worldwide. There are now more than 700 wineries across the country.

Our sauvignon blanc is considered the best by all except the French, who would rather lose a Rugby World Cup final than make that concession. Our pinot noir is right up there, and beats the mass-produced shiraz and cab sav served up next door.

Our beers, like our rugby supporters, are regional, parochial and proud. Speights in the south, Canterbury Draught, Tui and Waikato Draught. Then there are regional boutique brewers, McCashin's in Nelson, Baroona on Waiheke Island and many, many more.

Beer commentator Neil Miller says: "We have a lot more breweries per person than Australia and, in fact, we have one of the highest concentrations of breweries in the world.

"We also don't have to drink out of tiny little glasses so our beer doesn't get too warm. We drink out of a proper glass which is a great advantage when it comes to drinking a good beer."

Jacob Briars, globetrotting cocktails expert and formerly a purveyor of drinks to visiting hobbits at the Matterhorn bar in Wellington, adds that we can't be beat for our natural ingredients and know-how.

"Using Lighthouse Gin from Wairarapa, locally produced Quina Fina tonic water, and lemons from Kerikeri, and you've got a G&T the equal of anywhere in the world. It really is the ultimate summer drink, sitting at the bach or in front of your tent.

"It's a lot classier and nicer than a Bundaberg and Coke."


Okay, though Oz may traditionally dominate our shared national summer sport of cricket, it's probably because they suppressed our tours and development for most of the last century.

And when they did eventually "grant" us games, we threatened to beat them so they just bowled underarm. But we won the last test, so bragging rights reside here.

Domestically, our Twenty20 competition attracted such superstars as Muttiah Muralitharan; and the ASB Classic and Heineken Open tennis tournaments in Auckland allow some of the world's top players to prepare for the Australian Open later in the month. We're good like that.

Then there's Super Rugby, which starts so early these days it can be counted as a summer sport. We might not hold that title, but we have the World Cup, which is much better.

We do hold the Australian National Basketball League title, and the Breakers are in action all summer.

Our summer games have progressed in recent years. Kids, big kids, and "kidults" now participate in a wide range of summer sports, especially social ones that cater for whole families, like twilight touch rugby, mountain biking, water skiing, and Greco-Roman wrestling for the last KFC Mega Bucket Feast drumstick.

Mark Richardson, former Black Caps star and co-host of The Crowd Goes Wild, predictably plumped for cricket as the star sport of the season.

"Summer has always been cricket for me," he says. "We'd play backyard cricket test matches all summer holidays, and the great thing was, and is still is, that you can play all day, go to the beach, or play golf, and then go home and watch the Aussie cricket coverage ... The Aussies can't do that."


Summer is music. And Kiwi music is made for summer, especially with the host of top acts touring the country, playing everywhere from massive stadiums to country pubs.

Kiwi rocker Jordan Luck says our tunes "fit in" with our landscape.

"A New Zealand summer is beautifully unique and the music is a massive part of it," he explains. "It's the Maori vibe, which picked up on reggae and made it distinctly Aotearoa. It's a different fashion, a great groove that suits the nation. Summer in New Zealand is reggae, and for me, it's Katchafire, one of the greatest things of our summer."

Dragon and Hello Sailor have allowed Aussie Jimmy Barnes to join them for a summer tour that reaches the Mangawhai Tavern tonight, and The Feelers will rock the Waihi Beach Hotel next Saturday.

Singer Nathan King, former frontman of Zed, says summer is "epitomised" by Fat Freddy's Drop.

"See them live, or stick them on the stereo, and it automatically feels like summer."

One of the biggest events in the music calendar is the Big Day Out, this year on Friday, January 20, at Mt Smart Stadium. Headlining are some of the world's top acts, including Soundgarden, Kasabian and former Oasis mainman Noel Gallagher.

To prove the depth of local talent, the bill will also feature homegrown acts such as Gin Wigmore and Kimbra - the same Kimbra that Australia is trying to pilfer by showering her with national music awards. Just like they did with Crowded House.


Let's be fair. The Aussie summer isn't just about blokes with hairy XXXX beer bellies wobbling along the beach. There are budgie-smugglers, blue-singleted larrikins, bronze-chested boofheads and squawk-ing sheilas to contend with, too.

It's a far cry from the airbrushed world portrayed in Home and Away.

Kiwi blokes know they're not fashion gurus - and that's the point. They're comfortable with their look.

There's nothing wrong with wearing a pair of stubby shorts while you spiral the footy into the surf.

The girls are a class apart though. Bikinis, boardies, sarongs, scrunched-up t-shirts. Whatever their look they pull it off with minimal effort. And nobody likes a try-hard, especially an Aussie one.

Fashion guru and NZ's Next Top Model judge Colin Mathura-Jeffree offered his tips, of which Australians should take special notice: "Beachwear should be colourful, should be comfortable and most importantly should fit in all the right places."


Back to wildlife, and every one of those wondrous golden beaches featured in the Oz marketing campaigns has the potential to be a sandy death trap.

Sharks wait to tear apart the unwary and swimmers in certain regions also have saltwater crocs and deadly jellyfish to contend with.

The great Kiwi tradition of baches also separates us from our close cousins of questionable heritage. You're unlikely to be able to lay claim to a historic holiday home built by your great-grandfather on the prime spot of some secluded bay on the other side of the Ditch.

Over there the Government would have bulldozed it on behalf of condominium developers a la Surfers' Paradise - another misnomer - and the Formica tables and kitchen dartboard would be replaced with Ikea tubular chairs and shiny chrome espresso machines.

And, unlike at Bondi, you don't have to fight your way past drunken Danes and inebriated English to reach the water. There's space for everyone.

Pro surfer Paige Hareb agrees: "We've got some of the best beaches in the world, and we hardly have to share."


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