In the plain and nondescript part of the New Zealand town where I live it is very noticeable just how few people actually ‘walk’ anywhere – whether it be to work or the shops or for general fitness.
Travelling on foot gives you a very different perspective on the overall health of a town – the state of the housing, how many derelict old cars there are round the place, who actually cares about the appearance of their property, how many domestic arguments there are in the neighbourhood, and who regularly smokes dope out on their front porch of a morning. These are ‘real things’ which your average bourgeois kiwi simply does not see as he or she powers through town in their flashy new SUV – on their way to meet their next client. It must be so great to be part of that ‘growing economy’ which we have heard so much about recently.
As a walker you also begin to realise what it must have been like to be a leper in the days of old – simply because pedestrian traffic in any shape or form seems to be viewed as a great annoyance or inconvenience to a good many kiwi drivers. I am convinced it’s a power thing. Neo-liberal New Zealand is very much about individuals getting their own way (people constantly being in competition with one another) and this is clearly reflected in kiwi driving attitudes.
Despite New Zealand’s 100 Percent Pure image (i.e. green and environmentally-friendly) the one-in-a-car scenario still very much predominates and many vehicles on the road are well over 20 years old (and are clearly not serviced regularly). Also many of those who pull up to the ‘STOP’ sign at the crossroads have large jowls and cigarettes in their mouths – or they are sucking on cans of sugary energy drink. This is very much in line with the current obesity epidemic. 4WDs, fast food, and fags – a deadly combination in anyone’s books.
As a walker you also become very aware of how New Zealand’s towns and cities are not at all pedestrian friendly (I have spoken to walkers from throughout the length of the country about this). Again this runs somewhat contrary to the propaganda image of New Zealand – the healthy outdoors sports-orientated society. To add further insult to injury it would therefore perhaps not be surprising to learn a recent Stanford University study found New Zealanders to be amongst the laziest people in the world (the number of steps they take of a day). https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/motivate-me/94695382/Why-New-Zealanders-are-still-among-the-fattest-people-in-the-world
In all honesty there are few smiles out there for a walker. I often get dirty looks when I step out into traffic (to cross a road) or angry toots if a driver thinks I am challenging their vehicular right-of-way (even if they haven’t indicated they wish to turn and subsequently shoot straight across my path). Perhaps if I walked irregularly I could put all this down to being one-off incidents but over time I have come to realise these are very common behaviours.
I am sure many of the kiwi drivers who I see on a daily basis could not even begin to comprehend the courtesy and patience required to drive in an overseas environment. It also never ceases to amaze me when I see middle-aged men doing burn-outs on the streets as if they are teenagers. If these drivers were to be challenged – like so many in this mythical paradise they would surely attempt to justify their actions by saying “it’s the kiwi way.” The sad thing however is – it is under the flagship of this ‘kiwi way’ that the country finds itself in such a sorry state as it does today.