Whether you’re looking at the landscape, the climate, or the people, it’s safe to say that New Zealand and Canada have a lot in common. Yet, while spending two weeks in New Zealand on a Kiwi Panorama tour with Contiki, I felt very far from my Canadian home.
Canada and New Zealand share a lot of qualities when it comes to their outdoor environment. Both countries take pride in their beautiful coastal beaches, dramatic mountains, massive lakes, rolling hills and breathtaking countryside. The main notable difference would be the degree of separation between these different landscapes within each country. Canada is a huge country. You could fit an entire New Zealand in each of Canada’s individual provinces or territories.
In the land of the Kiwis, you can drive from one coast to another in three hours (and we did)! In Canada, that same drive, East to West, would clock you a whopping 77 hours, and that’s not including stops!
The sheer vastness of Canada allows for many different climates and landscapes to be present in one single country. Somehow, New Zealand is able to capture many of these same outdoor features within a much closer vicinity.
During our exploration of New Zealand, Dallas (my partner) and I were surprised and excited by how quickly the landscape and climate changed there. We experienced the geothermal intensity of the North Island, with its volcanic activity, natural hot springs, sulphuric lakes and geysers. Then, we fell in love with the dramatic landscapes of the South Island, including its Southern Alps mountain range, turquoise glacier lakes and warm ocean beaches. It was amazing to see all of this natural diversity in such close proximity to one another; diversity that in many ways made me think of home.
Whether it was the mountains and forest of Franz Josef reminding us of the Canadian West Coast, the cliffs and canyons of Queenstown reminiscent of the beauty of Ontario, or the rolling hills and agricultural towns reminding us of the prairies of Saskatchewan, there was no denying the many similarities between Kiwi and Canadian landscapes. However, with all its shared likeness, there was one thing missing. New Zealand has nothing quite like the Canadian Prairies. The flattest part NZ has to offer is Christchurch, and even then you can see mountains in the distance!
On the Canadian prairies we joke that you could watch your dog run away for days, and we have some of the most beautiful sunsets you can imagine.
Regardless, it was continually amazing to see how all of New Zealand’s outdoor diversity fit so closely together.
It wasn’t only incredible to see so many differing landscapes packed together, but the diversity in climates as well. To go from the windy, dry heat of Wellington to the chilly, lush rainforest of Franz Josef in less than two days of travel was startling. Never mind then crossing the Southern Alps for a second time and finding ourselves back in the sun of Queenstown! In Canada, the climate remains relatively stagnant all the way from Ontario to Alberta (a driving distance of over 3000 km, or 37 hours).
With hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters, the seasons for the middle Canadian provinces are fairly predictable. It’s only once you get to the coasts that things begin to change. Once you cross the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast, similar to crossing the Southern Alps in New Zealand, you come into a much wetter, milder climate than you find in the rest of the country. It’s only on our far apart coasts that you find maritime and temperate climates.
It is true that New Zealand weather can change on a dime. We experienced this firsthand while on a tour of the famous Hobbiton set from Lord of the Rings, when we were instructed to bring umbrellas along on what appeared to be a perfectly sunny day. Sure enough, without warning clouds covered the sky and rain began falling on our readied umbrellas. While this may lead some to believe New Zealand weather to be more extreme than its Canadian counterpart, I strongly disagree. Canadian weather is like Kiwi weather on steroids. New Zealanders may experience snow (last year The Remarkable mountain range took 124 cms of snow), but they don’t experience Canadian snow (Mt Fidelity of Glacier National Park averages 1388 cm per year). The Kiwis may experience cold (they cite some of the coldest places as reaching -10°C), but they don’t experience Canadian cold (I have personally lived through a couple -52°C days. Yes, I said -52°C days).
We learnt a lot about environmental and animal conservation during our time in the land of the Kiwis. Did you know that before humans started introducing other species into the country, New Zealand was natively home to only birds?! The kiwi is one such species, a flightless bird found only in New Zealand, and widely considered to be a national treasure. However, these strange native birds are now paying the price for evolving with no mammals (read: no predators) around. Since the human introduction of dogs, possums and rodents, the kiwi bird has become an endangered species. With none of the self-defence mechanisms found in birds who evolved while evading predators in the rest of the world, the Kiwi needs a lot of help to stay afloat as a species. The New Zealand government spends millions through their multitude of conservation efforts, in order to offer these unique creatures the support they need.
Canada paints a very different picture when it comes to animal life. Predatory mammals are abundant here. From grizzly to polar bears, from mountain lions to bobcats, from coyotes to wolves, this country is home to killer animals of all types. It was a relief to walk the forest at night in Rotorua, with no worry of running into a black bear, cougar, or really anything else with large teeth and claws. Here in British Columbia, you don’t want to be caught in the woods without your air horn and bear spray!
Overall, New Zealand and Canada share a lot in common, and if my experience taught me anything, it’s that we get along great! New Zealand, I can’t wait to return and explore you further. And Kiwis, you are welcome to come explore my side of the world anytime; bring your bear spray and I’d love to show you around.