glossary of colloquial kiwi lingo

The meaning of some New Zealand words may not be immediately apparent to foreign readers. Kiwis have evolved a few local terms which have a specific meaning.

Here’s a translation of some of the unique New Zealand vocabulary that has been used in this book.

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A bach is a modest holiday accommodation, more cabin-like, that usually has bedrooms opening directly off the living room/kitchen, and at least one bed with saggy springs out on the sunporch. No hallway separation.

The term evolved from the “bachelor pad”.

Sadly baches are seldom constructed these days and are often being replaced by standard suburban houses which do not have the same optimisation for socialising, or lack of privacy that the archetypal “bach” offers.

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Backcountry Hut Pass

For the cost of a single night in decent motel accommodation you can buy a Backcountry Hut Pass which allows you to sleep at many of the DOC provided huts during the course of the following year, you can just turn up and grab a mattress. There’s around 900 huts to choose from.

Oh, there are some exceptions: the Great Walk huts and campsites, some high alpine huts, and a few extremely popular huts such as Angelus Hut in Nelson Lakes National Park, and Welcome Flat Hut in Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

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beech tree

The predominant large tree species for the greater part of the South Island. They do not occur naturally on Stewart Island/Rakiura.

There are five species in the Nothofagus genus found in New Zealand: red beech the largest and most impressive, although the trees are usually found with black sooty mould growth, making them look more black in the trunk. Generally prefers warmer and more fertile conditions. Mountain beech is at the opposite end of the altitude scale, often verging on bonsai formation at the treeline. Silver beech is found in wetter areas but usually mixed with the other varieties. The other species are more localised.

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If the DOC provided backcountry accommodation is tiny, ie, has two or three bunks and insufficient space to swing a possum it is often referred to as a bivvy, short for bivouac.

Can have a dirt floor, lack of heating, certainly no insulation, and a general lack of amenity.

Bivvies are declining in number, many require considerable maintenance and DOC often removes them, particularly if they are in run down condition and little used.

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A male New Zealander, usually a good guy, and commonly exhibiting manly qualities, ie, able to kill a pig, catch a fish, or use a 36 inch blade chainsaw to cut up a tree, then chop it up with an axe and neatly stack it, all without breaking into too much of a sweat.

A real bloke never complains, no matter how tough it gets, taking whatever happens in his stride, complete with grin.

Enjoys a beer at the end of the day.

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An important fuel intake meal for your average energetic tramper intent on a big day. Commonly a bucket of muesli with a cup of tea, or porridge with coffee.

A single muesli bar doesn’t count.

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Any of seven species of deer released into the New Zealand forest around 100 years ago, which then did what animals do when left to their own devices in a predator-free environment with plenty of food: bred prolifically.

The most commonly seen type in the South Island, if you are up early and observant, is the large red deer, Cervus elaphus scoticus. On Stewart Island it is the smaller white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus.

Due to hunting, they tend not to stick around to allow you to examine them closely. More likely to be seen in the open at dawn or dusk, and then only briefly.

Deer can affect the regrowth of forests and are therefore culled, by both helicopter based commercial operators, and private hunters, generally on foot.

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The Department of Conservation/Te Papa Atawhai is the New Zealand government department that is responsible for much of the land with the walking tracks and huts in the backcountry. The total area administered, including the national parks and various government owned land, is more than 40% of the total South Island land mass, and 85% of Stewart Island/Rakiura.

It is common for New Zealand trampers to blame DOC for anything that goes wrong with their trip, like forgetting the toilet paper, getting lost, or finding the axe is blunt. Being a government department bureaucratic rules in the office often overrule common sense in the bush, eg, exit signs on telephone box sized huts.

Despite the generally excellent job that is done by the committed and energetic staff there is a common cry heard in the mountains, “Bloody DOC!!”

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Protective clothing for your ankles and below your knee, generally to keep stones and mud from getting inside your boots.

The layer of Velcro at the front helps to protect your shins from damage by vegetation.

Highly recommended when tramping in New Zealand, except wearing them on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, a highway, might be overdoing it.

Essential wear on Stewart Island/Rakiura.

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New Zealand has around 950 government-built huts in the backcountry areas, available for the public and administered by DOC. Two thirds of them are in the South Island.

These are typically a small wooden framed cabin, many built in the 30 years after 1955, capable of housing four, six or eight people. Each tramper gets their own plastic encased mattress which are comfortable enough, but you can find yourself in close proximity to strangers. It’s entirely egalitarian, everyone gets a similar space, except those arriving first get the prime spots, ie, the lower level, away from the door.

A hut is usually a single room where apart from the bunks there is usually a communal table with bench seating, and a kitchen area with a stainless steel bench top. Heating is often via a steel enclosed wood burner/firebox. You find or replace the wood supply, leaving some for the next occupants. You entertain strangers with tales from other places. Water is usually from a rainwater tank or a nearby stream. The toilet is generally a long drop.

On the less travelled routes it may be weeks or months since the last occupants.

On the more popular trails, including the Great Walks, the huts are larger, accommodating up to 50 or so people. Newer and grander, they can have separate bedrooms, although you may still share with others.

No need for an alarm clock, earplugs are recommended if you wish to distance yourself from late night card players or the early morning plastic bag rustlers.

There is no electrical power, and no showers, hot or cold, are provided.

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An endemic New Zealand bird species, Strigops habroptilus, the world’s largest parrot, flightless and mostly nocturnal, with some other curious habits, ie, male mating rituals, etc.

Was down to 24 female birds, 41 males, but through breeding by DOC are now up around 126 individuals, all of which are named.

Although common when European settlers arrived, they came close to being wiped out by introduced predators, most now live on predator free islands.

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The common sea urchin or sea egg, Evechinus chloroticus, is a spiky New Zealand shellfish, of the entirely flavour some kind, enjoyable eating by some. An acquired taste by others.

Remember, don’t eat the spiky shell.

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A long beaked endemic New Zealand bird species, flightless and usually nocturnal, that for some reason is New Zealand’s national symbol. There are five different species.

The one most usually seen, found on Stewart Island/Rakiura, is the Stewart Island southern brown kiwi, Apteryx Australis lawryi, a sub-species of Tokoeka. They can sometimes be seen in daylight hours on Stewart Island, well, by the observant. If you hear crashing around in the fernery, stand still and a kiwi will often wander out oblivious to your presence.

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The capitalised version is a citizen of the country, human not avian. A New Zealander.

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Thongs or flip-flops. Often carried by trampers for a lightweight alternative set of footwear for wearing inside huts, other than boots.

Also very useful as foot protection in dodgy communal showers at camping grounds or backpackers.

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New Zealand colloquial language, more spoken than written. Like all countries we have developed some unique words of our own that might require translation.

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Usually a fibreglass Portaloo style structure, complete with integrated toilet bowl, seat and lid, and placed over a deep hole, that in time will become less deep, fill with water and therefore sometimes have splashback.

Usually doesn’t smell too bad. Remember to leave the lid down to keep out flies.

And bring your own toilet paper, that could be awkward.

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Two of the most widespread plant species in New Zealand are mānuka or kāhikatoa, Leptospermum scoparium, and kānuka, Kunzea ericoides.

Both species look similar but are genetically quite different. The easiest way to tell them apart for those untrained in botanical classification of plant characteristics is this: mānuka has prickly leaves, kānuka has soft leaves.

Mānuka can form a dense scrub that is entirely twiggy and hard work to smash through when burdened with a pack. The harshness of the small but sharply pointed leaves can results in a thorough dermabrasion of any exposed flesh.

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Mozzies are less of an issue in the South Island and Stewart Island/Rakiura than in many other parts of the world. Perhaps it is too cold or the nymphs have predators.

Usually mozzies tag team with sandflies, which prefer the day shift. Mozzies take over at night and cause the usual annoyance via their high pitched flight buzzing around your ears and disturbing hard earned sleep, and with the standard itchy bites. Fortunately by the time the sun has set you will generally be snug in your insect proof tent.

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New Zealand is famous for the large green lipped mussel, Perna canaliculus, but there is another species to be found which is equally edible, the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, the common mussel found around the world. Can be plucked off the rocks at low tide in places around Stewart Island.

One of the great treats is boiling up a few in sea water in your billy and adding fresh protein to the diet. They have considerable taste, and some people may not enjoy that full flavour.

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Trampers heading northbound on Te Araroa, generally in the minority by a long way.

The benefit, you get to meet the more numerous Sobos, sharing a night together at the most, and you don’t have to walk with them at all.

Often limiting themselves to the South Island.

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The New Zealand Forest Service was a government department, an earlier version of DOC, responsible for most non-National Park areas of government lands prior to 1987.

The NZFS built many of the backcountry huts from the 1950s to 1980s as accommodation for government-paid deer cullers, before commercial helicopter shooting proved more effective.

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Olearia species are technically daisies, and there are about 37 New Zealand species, all endemic.

One of the most fascinating to those who venture to the remote and trackless regions of Stewart Island/Rakiura is Olearia colensoi. This species can be known as tūpare, leatherwood, or monkey scrub when in polite company, or, something shorter and more pithy when immersed. Characterised by general impenetrability, a dense scrubbiness, and a serrated edged leaf, not dissimilar to a ninja throwing shuriken.

Confront this species and prepare to be lacerated.

Not what you might expect from a daisy.

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Overtrou, or more descriptively over trousers, are waterproof walking pants that might not actually keep you dry due to sweating.

But they keep the mud out and cut down on any wind chill factor. Can be useful in avoiding severe laceration to the lower limbs when getting off trail and needing to “go bush”. May save your life in an emergency.

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One of three large edible shellfish species, the most common Haliotis iris, about the size of a large fist, found immediately below the low tide mark, particularly around the Stewart Island coastline.

Once you know what to look for and find the right habitat there are plenty to be seen. You are required to get wet when gathering. The technique is to quickly slide a knife under them and lever them off, once they grip they are not possible to remove.

Requires pulverisation and minimal cooking to avoid turning to a leathery texture.

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Back in the old NZFS, New Zealand Forest Service days, before DOC was established in 1986, there were a variety of ways to mark the route of backcountry tracks.

The early version utilised simple blazes, ie, a chunk of bark hacked out of a tree at eye height. These did not heal well in New Zealand vegetation and provided a point for insect, etc, attack to the growing tree.

This early technique was superseded by nailing various metal disks, jam jar lids proved to be useful, usually painted red or orange. But these steel disks tended to rust.

In the 1970s, permolat, basically short lengths of aluminium Venetian blind strips proved considerably more long lasting. The usual white and/or red colour stood out against tree trunks. There are still a few tracks where these markers remain, usually in more remote areas.

In the way inexplicable things happen for no particularly good reason these have been replaced during the DOC era by the numerous orange plastic triangles seen on most tracks these days.

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The brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, a cat-sized marsupial, was introduced to New Zealand from Australia in the 19th Century to create a local fur trade.

Highly successful in breeding they have caused immense damage to some plant species in the forests and are considered a serious pest. One of the main targets of a poisoning campaign using 1080 by DOC, which for some reason is controversial. They have no natural predators in New Zealand.

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One of several varieties of tree fern, Cyathea or Dicksonia, found in damp areas in New Zealand forest or scrub. Can grow to a height of 6 m or so.

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Rimu, Dacrydium cupressinum, is the most common and most widely distributed conifer in New Zealand. Can grow more than 50 m tall and are known to live for more than 1000 years. The predominant large tree on Stewart Island/Rakiura.

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New Zealand does not have bears, wolves, coyotes, dingos, snakes, crocodiles, poisonous spiders, creepy insects, or leeches.

Just sandflies.

You will be greeted and accompanied by them on your travels.

The best thing that you can say about sandflies is they are afraid of the dark and head home as the sun goes down. Covering exposed body parts during daylight hours is the most effective defence.

They say that after 10,000 bites the annoyance lessens somewhat.

I’m not sure whether that is per lifetime, per summer, or per hour.

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This one is readily translatable: trailmix.

Any particular brew of peanuts, raisons, other nuts, coconut shavings, banana chips, chocolate, other dried fruit, etc, thrown together in a bag to afford a tasty and nourishing snack when energy levels are low. Some live off it, and muesli bars.

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This is not a unique feature of walking in the hills but the word might be a particular New Zealandism.

Rather than marching directly up or down a mountain, sidling is an activity of more or less following a contour, say, keeping a fairly constant height above the river, or horizontally across a hill.

Yeah, so walking at the same altitude across a steepish slope.

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Trampers heading southbound on Te Araroa, the considerable majority. Often they have walked from Cape Reinga.

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One of a number of species of the genus Aciphylla, identified by your average tramper by the needle sharp points to the leaves. Often disguised in the tussock so for the unwary the first realisation it is around is usually searing pain and dripping blood.

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The stoat, Mustela erminea, is larger than a rat, smaller than a cat, but with the worst bird killing attributes of both.

Originally introduced from Europe in 1887 to kill rabbits, they are now a major factor in potential bird exterminations. Being an excellent tree climber they are particularly hard on nesting birds.

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1080 — ten eighty

1080 is a deadly poison used to kill off introduced pests, rats, stoats and possums predominantly, to protect against predation of vulnerable bird and bat species.

Usually dropped at a rate of 2 kg per hectare by a GPS directed helicopter, and distributed in a cereal pellet that is unattractive to birds. Is particularly effective in killing mammals, dogs are highly susceptible to 1080. In areas where hunters are common a deer repellant is often incorporated into the bait.

A controversial topic for some, usually hunters.

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