A few days ago Travel MSN UK published a list of the Most Boring Places on Earth.
It was based on feedback from users of the site's message board, readers were asked which places they thought were the dullest on the planet. "Home" came first in the first 4 locations, understandable because afterall this is a travel site, Brits aren't shy of saying what they think about their own backyards under such circumstances.
The readers' first placed foreign destination, New Zealand, may come as a surprise to a few but not to others. The country has long aspired to be the premier destination for cashed-up adrenaline junkies, how can it be boring? Interestingly it's not just travellers that responded to the survey but migrants living in New Zealand too.
"...And so to perhaps one of the most surprising entries on the world's most boring places list. The filming of the Lord of the Rings in New Zealand must have roughly quadrupled the number of British people who fantasise about the country as a place of mystery and beauty to which they long to escape.But this is nothing new. Travel journalists have been taking their professional lives in their hands and saying New Zealand is boring for some years.
Should they do so, however, they may find they have underestimated the (large) extent to which sheep outnumber humans in the country.
"We moved to New Zealand for a change of lifestyle," says Richard Fromage, one of several users disillusioned with the twin Antipodean islands. "We certainly got it: we felt like we'd moved into semi-retirement."
Another user calls the country "dull", with a "pompous" population who enjoy a "boring lifestyle". Yet another observes: "All you ever get from the Kiwis is how beautiful it is." So why are they all in the UK, he asks.
Yet Lalua is probably speaking for many when she says: "I lived in New Zealand for a year and thought it was very beautiful and the locals warm and friendly."
In 2002 Round the World Netjetter "Ellie" caused an absolute uproar when she described New Zealand in the Guardian newspaper as "One of the dullest places on earth." It quickly earned her the title of "public enemy number one" within New Zealand and even prompted a rebuttal from the tourism minister of the day. This is what she said that caused so much offence to so many:
"Describing travelling in New Zealand, I feel like the woman who swallowed a thesaurus in an incident described as tragic, awful, calamitous, disastrous and lamentable. There are lots of ways to describe the country, but it all boils down to the same thing: it's pretty. The Marlborough Sounds? Well, yes, they're beautiful. Fjordland? Dramatic. The glaciers? Remarkable. The mountains? Impressive. Waterfalls? Sensational.Here are some fairly typical responses from the NZ public to her critique of "God Zone"
What about the landscape, surroundings, terrain and views? Oh yes, they're all charming, dazzling, lovely, spectacular and striking. And they are. But nice hills and rivers don't hide the fact that New Zealand is essentially one of the dullest places on earth.
Take the Tranzscenic railway which runs from Greymouth to Christchurch. It is touted as one of the world's best train journeys. And while New Zealand remains as far away from most other countries as it is, Kiwis can probably convince themselves that this is true. But really, it's no nicer than that scenic bit in Staffordshire that British trains go through when they head north.
While Helen Clark, the country's prime minister, was in the UK trying to convince Britons that New Zealand is dynamic and ready for the 21st century, I was touring some of the cities here. Wellington, the capital city, has a population half the size of that of Luxembourg. Auckland, with over a million people, is supposed to be a cosmopolitan city. Nearly a third of the people in New Zealand live there. But a bustling city it certainly isn't.
One of the most frequently heard compliments about the country is that the people are friendly. They are, actually, but alas, friendly doesn't equal interesting. No wonder so many Kiwis spend years working for minimal wages in bars and pubs across the UK. I would too, if it was the only way to get away. The national bird is flightless and even the national fruit was brought here from somewhere else - China, in fact. Even New Zealand-born Russell Crowe has just applied for an Australian passport.
It's not that New Zealand isn't pleasant. As I've said, parts of it are very nice to look at indeed. It just lacks something. Personality, perhaps? The prettiest part of the country is the west coast of the South Island, which plays host to the Franz Josef and the Fox glaciers. I took a helicopter ride to a point on the Fox glacier where, kitted out with hobnailed boots, crampons and a walking stick, I hiked on the ice for a couple of hours. Because the glacier moves new paths and footholds have to be cut every day but, as this was the luxury helicopter hike, someone else did that for me.
The glacier can actually move up to 4m a day, surprisingly quick for New Zealand where "no worries" and "chill out" are regular refrains. "This hole is several hundred metres deep," said Ricky, the guide, pointing to a crack in the ice. I promptly dropped my sunglasses down it. This was the second pair to go, the first having committed suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Apart from the scenery, there are two things New Zealanders are proud of: Lord of the Rings, and being reigning champions of the America's Cup. Actually, make that three. New Zealand is also proud of being a nuclear-free zone. But this is one of the things the London Borough of Hackney boasts about, and you wouldn't want to spend three weeks touring Dalston, would you?
"I was in Lord of The Rings," said Dave, my bus driver. "I was one of the army fighting the Orcs in part two." We were driving through Twizel, a village on the South Island. "This here," said Dave, "was part of Middle Earth."
Ask a New Zealander to tell you something interesting about their country and after hesitating for several minutes, they'll probably come up with the America's Cup. For the uninitiated, this is a yacht race. As Team New Zealand are the reigning champions, a whole harbourside development in Auckland has been built on the America's Cup theme. "Look, there are our boys out on the water, practising," said the guide on my dolphin-spotting expedition. "Now all turn round and bow to them. They are our heroes."
The country has been living off this piece of sporting success for years, and probably will continue to do so for years to come. Which would be rather like the Brits still basking in the glory of their 1966 World Cup victory. Something we'd never do, surely?"
- "NZ lacks personality? You wouldn't know "personality" if it bit you on the arse, I'm afraid. All I can say is that it's high-and-mighty, jealous attitudes like yours which lost Britain its Empire!"
- "For sure, New Zealand is a very small country, but for such a small and dull country we still manage to beat you in the recent cricket test and we often beat you by large and memorable scores in the rugby. Sure, our native bird may be flightless but you are wrong about the kiwifruit. See - we New Zealanders are interesting people."
We are wondering what will happen when the news of the Travel MSN UK survey gets out!
- "It's a pity that you felt so bored in "Godzone". We certainly must be dull: we have no terrorists attacking us, no children being attacked by mobs and killed in front of housing estates and we enjoy a pretty fair amount of racial harmony for a country with such a diverse ethnic population. We also do not have to step over young men with dogs selling the Big Issue on the streets because they don't have a home to go to, most of us don't have to commute for ages just to get to work, and we don't get frozen in our moderate winters. We may indeed be dull for loving a lifestyle that can be found nowhere else on earth. If so, good on us!"
The History of the Kiwi Fruit - Wikipedia
See also blog posts New Zealand's problems with:
That's cold - exposing the myth about a sub tropical New Zealand
Migrants' Tales - First hand accounts of migrant life in New Zealand.
Today's posts - click here