Fact: New Zealand is an amazing place filled with generous people and unique plants and animals. Here are a few #KiwiFacts we've picked up from our alpine and kayak guides, as well as a few general observations about how things work in New Zealand.
1. Kea dig kidneys. According to our alpine guide, Anna, the Kea -- a ginormous, wicked-smart parrot found on mountains and in forests -- adapted to the arrival of sheep in New Zealand in a rather monstrous way. Being omnivorous and opportunistic, the Kea would perch on top of a sheep's back, peck at its sides and then PLUCK OUT THE KIDNEYS. Bird's gotta eat, I guess.
Of course, this practice didn't go over well with farmers, who killed Kea in order to protect their herds. Fortunately for everyone, Kea gained protection in 1986 and somewhere along the way, forgot how delicious sheep kidneys are.
2. Sandflies are from hell. Captain James Cook described sandflies as "mischievous creatures." This is most definitely accurate, but I prefer the Maori origin story, which Milford Sound kayak guide Amanda tipped us off to, for these little blood suckers:
"... the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa had just finished creating the landscape of Fiordland, it was absolutely stunning... so stunning that it stopped people from working. They just stood around gazing at the beauty instead. The goddess Hine-nui-te-pō became angry at these unproductive people, so she created the sandfly to bite them and get them moving."
Hine-nui-te-po was actually the goddess of the underworld, which makes sandflies her minions. Having collected countless sandfly bites at this point in our trip (they don't just fade away like a mosquito bite -- they flare up repeatedly), this checks out.
3. The tutu berry is poisonous af. New Zealand has a lot of berry bushes and trees. We sampled a couple of benign varieties while hiking to the Red Tarn near Mt. Cook Village with Anna. When I pointed out a berry on the trail that looked like a dark purple, shriveled currant, she told me it was very poisonous. So poisonous, in fact, that it can kill an elephant. One snacky circus elephant died in 1956 and two more visiting elephants died in 1968. Still, the berry is everywhere on the South Island.
New Zealand: Not for elephants.
Okay. Not all #KiwiFacts involve death. Here's some less terrifying trivia.
4. There are more than 3,000 glaciers in New Zealand and at 18 miles long and as much as 2,000 feet thick, the Tasman glacier accounts for 1/3 of all glaciated terrain in NZ. Our alpine guide Anna said that 1,000 of the country's smallest glaciers could fit inside the Tasman. Neat!
As the glaciers continue to recede (#wompwomp), that number will get less neat, however. The Tasman has retreated 590 ft a year since the 1990s and there's now a 4-mile-long lake where its foot used to be.
5. People don't just drive on the wrong side here. On trails and sidewalks, you're also expected to keep left. New Zealand hosts many tourists from all over the world, so this doesn't always go smoothly.
6. The toilets don't swirl the opposite way. At least, it's impossible to tell because everyone has those toilets with the buttons for #1 or #2 that release a burst of gushing water when you flush. I've tried to see if I can tell which direction the rest of the water swirls, but I'd rather not hang out in the toilet long enough to get to the bottom of this mystery, tbh.