New Zealand – A Great Place to be Marooned…
Last month I wrote when I was part way through a round the world trip that was scheduled to take me through Singapore, New Zealand, into San Diego for PIE, and off for bit of tourism before heading back to the Mother country. Well, that went well!
America got cancelled twice. First when PIE was aborted, we transferred to the beach at Santa Monica. Then “The Donald” decided to exclude all Brits, leaving me with no option except to head home back the way I came with my tail between my legs. Still, in the great scheme of things my troubles are small, and at least I got home. It is sobering to think that before the present unpleasantness, on any given day, something like 6 million people fly in airplanes. So it’s hardly surprising that when governments simply close the doors, chaos follows. Right now, there are something like 750 thousand Brits stuck overseas with no way home.
So instead of talking about PIE, let’s look a bit more closely at what’s going on in New Zealand, which I first visited in 2016. New Zealand is called Aotearoa or Land of the Long White Cloud by the Maoris, who first emigrated from the Pacific Islands about 800 years ago, and it is just a stunningly beautiful place to be. The land mass of New Zealand is about the same as Britain, but has a total population of about 5 million, with about one third of them living in the main city, Auckland.
This means that most of the time it’s pretty quiet; think driving along for 20 minutes and not seeing another car! Notwithstanding the shortage of people, roads are pretty good and mostly well maintained. Unfortunately, just now, a combination of bad weather and volcanic activity does mean an inordinate number of road repairs are taking place, meaning that every few miles traffic slows to 30kph (18 mph, in your money) and even has alternate working.
When you finally do get to a town an amazing thing happens, as you walk past someone in the street they say “Hi, how are you?”, and when they hear your accent they spend the next ten minutes getting your life story and telling you about their town. When did that last happen to you?
With such a sparsely populated country parking management isn’t a highly developed art. Outside a few city centers where to count the population you need both hands, most places you simply pull to the side of the road and stop. In 2016, where controls were needed, they were mostly time limits, so ten minutes outside the toilet (New Zealand seems to have a lot of public toilets); 60 minutes outside the shop on main street; no controls round the corner in the side street.
That was then, but boy, what a difference a few years make! Someone in New Zealand seems to have discovered paid parking and now it seems that even quiet modest towns have brand new shiny meters. I believe that most of the hardware is provided by Global Parking Solutions, a domestic company which produces pay and display, pay by plate and pay by space meters with both coin and card only options. The card only pay by plate meters are particularly slick, being little bigger than a traditional single space meter. Many of the machines are cash free, although every street seemed to have at least one cash operated machine for luddites like me. If you want a receipt, you have to note down a receipt number from the meter display and then go online to the city’s website and download it. I thought that this was a step too far. An out-of-towner like me presses the receipt button and instead of getting a bit of paper, got a message, which, by the time I had read it, was gone and the number lost. Who goes to a parking meter ready to write stuff down off the screen?
Reading the local press, I am not the only person who thought that this was a technological step too far. Local workers who need the receipt to recover the money through expenses, but didn’t have easy access to a printer also found the system problematical. Not sure what could be done though, given that the meters are virtually brand new, no one is going to say “Whoops, we got that wrong, perhaps we should have asked the users”.
Something else that I noticed was that quite a lot of parking spaces now have bay sensors. I saw these at pay by space meters, where a payment can be linked to a specific vehicle, at time-limited free (sorry Donald, uncharged) spaces and also at coach parking in busy tourist areas. A car covers one sensor, a coach two or more. So, one sensor activated, send in the ticket writer.
Oh yes, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, I saw a guy in the middle of Gisborne chalking tires. Gisborne is a pleasant town and the most easterly place in New Zealand, and therefore, pretty much in the world. It’s main claim to fame is that it is the first place to see the sun rise. Pleasant though it is, I decided that it’s probably not the most sophisticated place in the world when I noticed that the unmarked police cars were parked in the “Police Vehicles Only” bay outside the cop station, while the marked cars were parked inside.
I think that I mentioned last time that the New Zealand government is having a bit of a problem deciding just what its stance should be on Electric Vehicles. First, they were, then they weren’t. Great idea for the urban elite in Auckland, not quite so good for the people who are an hour’s drive from the nearest town. Whatever they decide, someone seems to have pressed the go button on EV charging points. Every town has got EV charging points up and ready to use. We went through one place where there were only about half a dozen buildings, and yet there right on main street were two brand new shiny EV charging stations. In a month never saw one being used, but they looked pretty impressive.
Another change that hit home was that just about every place that we went was now taking electronic payment. Cash is still useable, but my impression was that cards are now the main payment medium. It’s not quite that simple, of course. There seems to be a hierarchy: level one, all cards from anywhere swipe/wave and pay/chip and pin. One down, they don’t have wave and pay; two down, they don’t accept non-native cards, which is really strange in a touristy area. Some retailers also charge a transaction fee, which seems to be the pricier places, not the coffee shops. Unlike the Netherlands, I did not find any “card only” retailers.
Hopefully, by the time you read this we will be telling our war stories and saying, “Do you remember Covid 19?” Until then, Be Safe.