Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


OLD GUIDEBOOKS can function as time capsules, especially for places visited well after the book’s publication. I recall using old Baedekers to get around Europe in early-retirement adventures following business trips. And I experienced similar entertainment recently in composing the SimanaitisSays item inspired by Briggs South Sea Guide.

Briggs South Seas Guide, Donald Sea Briggs Productions, Crown Publishers, 1965.

Briggs included New Zealand in his guide. And, unlike Tahiti, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the rest, New Zealand is a country I’ve actually visited, indeed, several times. Today, I recount things about En Zed that I didn’t know before reading Briggs. His 50-year-old accounts are a hoot. I also include his item headings as part of the fun.

More Otherwise. “Although local gentry describe New Zealand as ‘God’s own country with the devil’s own climate,’ or call it ‘the land of milk and honey (bring your own cows and bees),’ its climate is rated by meteorologists as one of the most stimulating on earth…. Rainfall is generally more frequent at night than by day. Frequent earth tremors shake the islands.”

I experienced no earthquakes during my visits, the most extensive and lengthy one in July–August 1999. However, for example, the South Island’s city of Christchurch suffered a 6.3 quake in 2011 and a 5.7 in 2016.

Brief Stats. “Auckland [on the North Island] is about the same distance from the equator as Melbourne, ,,, San Francisco, … Nashville, … Gibraltar,… Athens, … and Seoul. The North Island is about 465 miles long and 170 wide….”

In fact, the lively city of Auckland reminded me of San Diego with cars driving on the wrong side of the street.

“South Island,” Briggs continues, “is about 450 miles long and 174 wide. It is intersected by the Southern Alps (some are 12,000 feet high).”

South Island views are spectacular. This one is along State Route 8 on the way from Christchurch to Wanaka.

Autocyncrasies. “Australians and New Zealanders have adopted the worst features of measurements and money—using the American system of inches, feet, and miles rather than the more sensible European metric measurements—and have chosen the cumbersome English pounds, shilling, and pence over the simple system of dollars and cents.”

Rest easy today. Briggs South Sea Guide was published in 1965. Australia went to decimal currency in 1966; New Zealand, in 1967. Their Brit cousins kept £sd until Decimal Day, February 1, 1971.

Lambie Pie. “Not only does a New Zealander eat 2 1/2 times more beef per year than an American, and twice as much fish and butter, but his lamb and mutton consumption is about 14 times that of his pork-eating Yankee cousins. New Zealand leads the world in the nutritive value of its diet and similarly sets the world standard for national health and vigor.… Lamb is prepared in various ways for the dinner table, including baked lamb, stewed lamb, curried lamb, lamb chops, and lamb pie.”

It is easily confirmed that there are more sheep in New Zealand than there are people.

Harpoons & Winkle Pins. “Some Australians and New Zealanders become physically ill watching Yankee table manners,” Briggs claims, “so perhaps a brief discussion of theirs might be timely. Silverware is arranged to be used ‘outside in’ according to British usage, contrary to our ‘inside out’ procedure….”

“Thus,” Briggs continues, “the British soup spoon will be found at the outside of the silver arrangement, farthest from the dinner plate. If fish is to be served, the fish knife and fork are next, then come the entree knife and fork, the butter knife, and closest to the plate, the dessert knife and fork (or spoon).”

Noted. However, I might have to rummage around a bit to find that much cutlery altogether, not just per setting. By the way, a winkle pin is used when dining on various gastropod mollusks such as periwinkles. I’m not sure where it goes in the table setting.

Savoring a winkle. Image from J.P. Waldron.

Two-Fisted Tea Fight. “As a matter of fact, good British manners make it necessary for a knife to be held in the right hand at all times for pushing food onto the fork or spoon—even when eating dessert! Portions are speared and scraped into a bite-size heap onto the fork, then placed in the mouth tines-down. Exponents of this bizarre style of pitchforkmanship maintain that the American method endangers the roof of the mouth.”

Not By Bread Alone. As for tea, “A day’s feeding schedule might look like this: 6 to 7 a.m. Early Morning tea; 8 a.m. Breakfast; 10 or 11 a.m. Morning tea; 11:30–1:30 Lunch; 3 or 4 p.m. Afternoon tea; 5 or 7 p.m. Dinner. Obviously not a hell of a lot can be done in the interims, which perhaps accounts for the leisurely, stuck-in-the-mud pace extant in the country.”

An idyllic and interesting drive on State Route 75 on the way to South Island’s Akaroa.

Rocks & Shoals. Selected from a list of nine conversation stoppers: “Don’t ask if New Zealand is part of Australia—it’s 1335 miles away. Don’t marvel that EnZedders speak English—their diction’s peerless. Don’t show surprise that everyone is white—even Maoris are.”

The Maori Family Closet. Among less pejorative characteristics cited by Briggs as “Skeletons” are Maori “Belief in psychic forces (mana), Feather cloaks and headdresses,” and “Fish oil as a body ointment.”

His “Survivors” of Maori custom include “Ritual gift giving, Community working bees, Action songs & dances” and “Veneration for ancestors.”

All in all, the Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori) are amiable today. This was not always the case, however.

One of my favorite Maori tales involves Hone Heke, c. 1807–1850. He was the hero of New Zealand’s Flagstaff War, March 11, 1845, to January 11, 1846, begun when he chopped down a flagpole bearing the Union Jack. Brits of the time erected a new one, and he chopped that one down too.

Hone Heke didn’t think much of the Union Jack. Image from

In fact, this happened four successive times, with Hone Heke’s final ambush so neatly planned that it had the HMS Hazard firing on its own town and razing most of the buildings.

The governor posted a £100 reward for Hone Heke’s head. Hone Heke responded with a matching £100 for the governor’s. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. Frank Barrett
    July 19, 2018

    I loved the week I spent on the South Island driving a 1913 Benz and a 540K! The accents could get a little strange, though. One night I took MBNA’s great PR lady Maryalice Ritzmann out for dinner, and the waiter said something to us that sounded so obscene that I blushed. Never did figure out what he was really saying!

    New Zealanders were the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered anywhere. We got lost one day, and a local not only gave us instructions but invited us in for tea. In the 540, I went through a speed trap at a legal speed. I almost turned around and went through it again at 20 mph over. Then I could have had a speeding ticket that listed that amazing car!

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