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My Crash Course in Kiwi

My Crash Course in Kiwi

Our monthly columnist, Dennis Hensley, touches down in New Zealand where he dangles over a canyon, explores Maori culture, and falls for two gay women who happen to be Topps.

My Crash Course in Kiwi

In mid-May, I traveled to fabulous New Zealand to interview the organizers of the upcoming Gay Ski Week NZ (August 29 - September 6) and to get to know the cities of Auckland and Queenstown. More detailed accounts of both destinations will appear on soon but as a sneak peak, here are seven somewhat random Fun Facts, things I learned about New Zealand that I didn't know before.

1) The nickname "kiwi" comes from kiwi birds. Duh.
This seems like a no-brainer, but if you'd asked me a month ago how New Zealanders came to be referred to as kiwis, I might have said the fruit. Maybe ? depending on how hungry I was at the time. I'm not proud of this.

There are five species of kiwi birds in New Zealand, I learned. They're all flightless, all endangered, and all really cool looking. My favorite factoid about kiwis is that once they mate, they stay monogamous, sometimes for up to 20 years, which is more than we can say for the stars of John and Kate Plus 8.

2) There's no U in Qantas
You'd think there would be, but there isn't because Qantas isn't a word or someone's name. It's an acronym for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services, which sounds like one of those hot guy acrobat shows you get at your more fabulous gay dance parties. However you spell it, Qantas, aka the Flying Kangaroo, got me to New Zealand and back on time and in style.

3) The money in New Zealand is idiot proof
New Zealand's paper money isn't actually paper. The bills are made from polymer plastic, which gives them a sheen that's subtle yet glamorous. So if your wallet accidentally goes through the laundry, your bills will come out April fresh and perfectly intact. There's also a little clear, round window on each bill, which you can see through. Perfect for staring at hotties on the bus!

Like Euros, each denomination is a different color, which is handy if you're hammered and trying to pay the cab driver who got you home. Proponents of Girl Power will appreciate to the ten-dollar note, which features the face of women's suffrage pioneer Kate Sheppard. New Zealand, it turns out, was the first country to introduce universal suffrage so Sheppard was a world trailblazer, not just a domestic one.

My Crash Course in Kiwi

4) Maoris in the mix
Before touching down in NZ, all I knew about the country's indigenous Maori people was what I remembered from the movie Whale Rider, which wasn't much. An informative and scenic day tour with Melissa Crockett from the lesbian-owned company Potiki Adventures ( was a great introduction. Though there's no shortage of bloodshed and scandal in the country's history, I was impressed with how Maori and mainstream New Zealand culture seem to interact in way that's more respectful and inclusive than say, the Aborigines in Australia. I see Maori influences everywhere, from galleries like Native Agent to the nightly news, where Maori words and phrases are often mixed in. And then there's the Haka, the high-energy Maori war dance that's performed by New Zealand's national rugby team, the All Blacks, before each match. Can Haka-ing with the Stars be next? I think Lisa Rinna could really rock the Haka.

5) New Zealand is for swingers ? and jumpers
Commercial bungy jumping originated in New Zealand thanks to A.J. Hackett, the father of bungy, who opened the first public jump in Queenstown in 1988. Twenty years later, there are buildings, bridges, cranes, and canyons, on both the North and South Island, where one can get one's dangle on. It's like a land of daredevil marionette people.

A week before leaving, my contact at the NZ tourism office asked if I'd like to go try it. I kindly took a pass, explaining that glass elevators are more my speed. But once I got there, it was impossible to resist the spirit of adventure that's in the air. So I took the plunge, literally, the Nestea plunge at the Shotover Canyon Swing in Queenstown. I was only going to do one jump, the basic "backwards" fall, but when I returned to the platform, the cheeky operators turned me right around, readjusted my harness, and sent me off on a second jump. This time, I executed what was called the "Gimp Boy Goes to Hollywood" jump, where you hang upside down with your arms spread in a swan dive then plunge into the canyon headfirst. I screamed like the female lead in a Saw movie but I survived. You can watch the whole harrowing episode HERE:

The experience left me exhilarated and exhausted from the double dose of adrenaline. I got good pictures, too, so I can look butch on my Facebook page, which is what it's all about, am I right? In the end, I realized that going to New Zealand and not doing some kind of bungy jump would be like going to the Playboy Mansion and not visiting the grotto.

My Crash Course in Kiwi6) NZ had out gay icons long before k.d., Melissa, Elton, and Ellen
If one of the Indigo Girls reproduced with Benny Hill, the offspring might look something like the Topp Twins (, a Kiwi-born sister act who started out as out folk singers in the early 1980s and became national treasures with their self-titled comedy series in the late 1990s. The pair, Jools and Lynda, are so beloved in NZ that a documentary about their lives, Untouchable Girls, broke all domestic box office records when in was released in April.

I caught a screening of Untouchable Girls at Dorothy Brown's, a two-screen boutique movie house in the quaint prospector hamlet of Arrowtown, a short drive from Queenstown. I'm a junkie for quirky film-going experiences and Dorothy Brown's, with its comfy, mismatched chairs and unique concessions -- "Pass the cheeseboard, please" -- was right up my alley. It was the perfect place to discover the Topps, two warm and witty entertainers who, in the course of their 25-year career, have shown that if you bring enough to the party, no one cares who you go home with afterward.

7) The kiwis give good coffee
Like Seattleites and 12-steppers, New Zealanders love their coffee and do it really well. When I first arrived in Queenstown, there was a rainbow over the Starbucks, which felt like God's big, gay welcome just for me. I opted instead, though, to sample the local java joints Joe's Garage (, where residents love to breakfast, and Patagonia, which offers a sinful array of homemade chocolates along with free wireless. My drink of choice was the Flat White, which is steamed milk with a shot of espresso. Finally, I thought, a drink named after my ass.

I had like three a day and they kept me well fueled for the outings that awaited me in Queenstown. I now see why it's referred to as "the adventure capital of the world." And I got the pictures to prove it.

Stay tuned for more from Dennis's trip to NZ. To watch Dennis's interview with Mike and Craig from Gay Ski Week NZ, click HERE.
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