Marc Quattrini, 45, is originally from Geneva, Switzerland. He spent 10 years in Tahiti before relocating to New Zealand, where he lived for a decade. He moved this spring to the Charlotte area, where he is IT manager for Monroe-based Caledonian Alloys.
Q. Where in New Zealand did you live?
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First in the deep south, in Queenstown, on the South Island. About 18 months ago, my wife and I moved to the Auckland area, which is in the top third of the North Island.
Q. So you lived at the extreme ends of New Zealand, right? Are they very different?
They are very different. The South Island is very beautiful, attracts lots of tourists, and is much colder in winter. I mean real cold – minus-5 Celsius (23 Fahrenheit) in the south – and there's snow. Summers can be warm – about 35 (95 Fahrenheit) – and with very little rain.
The north is milder, more humid, and warmer in winter: It never reaches 0 (32 Fahrenheit); it gets down to 10 (50 Fahrenheit).
The mountain ranges are mainly in the south, and there are glaciers there, too.
There are lots of sheep and cows on both islands. In fact, over 50 million sheep!
Q. Geneva, where you originally lived, is on the edge of the Alps. The main mountain range in New Zealand is called the Southern Alps. How different are the two ranges?
The New Zealand ranges are not as high, and most don't have as many trees on them. There are trees at the base, but none at higher levels. Some areas in the South Island are very rocky and barren; large areas are covered in brush and tussocks – a typical New Zealand grass.
Q. What's New Zealand food like?
Typical New Zealand food is like typical English food – not very tasty, lots of potatoes and roasts. The best food there for me has been brought by incoming groups, such as the French, Italian and Chinese. Apparently it wasn't possible to buy garlic there 20 years ago. Now, there are wonderful restaurants and take-aways (carry-out places). Food is quite a big industry in New Zealand.
The meat is excellent, but the best cuts are exported. When I was living in French Polynesia, all the meat in the supermarkets came from New Zealand, and it was the best quality.
Q. Is kiwi fruit really grown and eaten in New Zealand?
Yes, of course. There's a great deal of fruit grown in New Zealand, and there are a lot of stone fruit orchards, especially in the south. Fruit there costs, dollar per dollar, about what it does in the United States.
Wine's a growing industry, and cheese is very big. Everywhere you go in New Zealand, there are wine tours and cheese-tasting venues. The white wines in particular are good, but if you like full-bodied reds, then New Zealand wines pale next to those from France or Australia. Most of the vineyards are boutique – very small in size compared with the U.S. wine industry.
Q. What are the best attractions tourists might not be aware of?
Besides all the adrenalin activities – bungee jumping, jet boating and other “adventure” activities – there are many opportunities for craft activities. Remember that there's so much wool from all those sheep. So there's a huge craft/textile community, and you can learn spinning, weaving and felting. In fact, my wife, Stephanie, is a textile artist and teacher and wants to teach here in the States.
These crafts are pretty much available anywhere, but particularly in the South Island, especially around Queenstown. In Clyde, there's an excellent yarn store full of New Zealand merino and possum yarn.
Another activity that's popular is walking – trekking and camping. There are lots of national parks for trekking. Some trekking tours are top-end, but there are also huts for people to stay in overnight for a low cost. New Zealand is also a country for people who love to fish: There are companies that organize ocean and river fishing. Anywhere there's a river, you'll find a fisherman.
Q. Best beach?
The beaches are nice, though I'm not much of a beach person. I'd go to the North Island, where the weather is warmer. You'll find hundreds of beautiful small beaches, like our local beach Whangaparaoa. By the way, the “Wh” in that is pronounced like an “F.”
Q. Where would you go for sheer beauty?
If you like mountains, I'd definitely say the Queenstown/Arrowtown area. It's gorgeous. Plus, the west coast, which is spectacular but often wet. There are also glaciers on the west coast. Amazing. I would also recommend Fiordland – it's spectacular. If you like the sea, go to the North Island, to the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty. Northland is definitely worth a visit. It is right at the top of the island and is semi-tropical.