Saturday, July 17, 2010

Population. . .2?

One of the things that makes traveling in NZ different from anywhere else I've traveled so far is the population size. There are just over four million people living here (and about 36 million sheep!). Don't quote me on those numbers because I'm pulling them from memory based on what I've been told or have read, and I'm too lazy to go look it up. You may be wondering why this affects travel and I'm about to tell you.

With so few people spread out over a comparatively large space, it means that cities and towns tend towards the small side. Let me give some examples. Approximately one-quarter of the population lives in the capital of Auckland. Greymouth, where I just spent one night, is the largest city on the west coast of the southern island with 8,500 inhabitants. And on the drive from Franz Josef Glacier (pop. 321) to Greymouth, our bus stopped in a place called Pukekara. Population: 2. (Yes, only 2! A husband and wife.)

Did you catch that? Our bus stopped in a place that only has two people living there. And this is what makes travel different. I think New Zealanders figure that if busloads of people are making their way from one end of the country to the other, they might as well capitalize on it. Because although these stops are called "comfort stops," they should really be called what they are: encouragements for you to spend your money on snacks, hot food, coffee, souvenirs, pellets to feed goats, pellets to feed salmon, and whatever else is on offer. After all, with a toilet on the bus there's really no reason to stop once (and in a few instances twice!) an hour. The amount of time the bus is stopped ranges from just a few minutes for a photo opp up to about 45 minutes for a meal break. As you can probably imagine, all of this stopping lengthens a trip quite a bit, usually making it about twice as long as it would be if driven by car. The buses I'm referring to, by the way, aren't even tour buses per se; they are public transport buses similar to Greyhound.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not exactly saying that I prefer the crowded-with-people-and-livestock buses of India or the treacherous road conditions of Indonesia. The buses are comfortable and the roads are in great shape. It's just that every now and then I'd like to shake the driver and tell him "We JUST stopped! Do NOT stop again! KEEP driving!" Oh, and there was that one driver who took a breath, started talking (over the P.A.), and didn't stop for almost four hours. Yeah, I wanted to shake him, too.


  1. Oh boy, that does sound painful. Hang in there, you'll be back in America soon. Love ya!

  2. i am screaming for you, friend