Officially at the time this is being written one US dollar is worth 1.17 New Zealand dollars.  Or to say the same thing, one New Zealand dollar is worth 0.85 US dollars (85 cents). Of course, if you go to the bank to exchange your money, the bank won’t exchange your money at this rate. Instead they will exchange your money at a lesser rate more in their favor, keeping a small percentage for themselves supposedly for giving you the privilege of exchanging one type of colored bills with famous people on them for a different type of colored bills with different famous people on them.

Sir Edmund Hillary on the NZ$ 5 note

Sir Edmund Hillary on the NZ$ 5 note

For example, at the above conversion rate, for each of your US dollars, the bank might only give you 1.09 New Zealand dollars. Then if you immediately changed your money back to US dollars, the bank would only give you 0.79 US dollars. In this way if you wished you could keep converting your money back and forth from one currency to the other, until the teller would finally inform you that you had no money left.

New Zealand like much of the modern world uses the metric system, which can be confounding to us as Americans. Weights are measured in kilograms (2.2 lbs equals 1 kg). At first this can be quite confusing especially when buying fresh produce. For example, tomatoes may be priced at $8.99/kg, which along with seeming quite expensive can be befuddling. Or you might assume that these are quite special and particularly tasty tomatoes. When you convert this to pounds and apply the above conversion rate this is equivalent to paying $3.46/lb in the US. At first you do these type calculations, but eventually (after about a week) you just buy something when it is on sale for $7.99/kg rather than the usual $8.99/kg figuring it must be a good deal.

Calories, those kind you eat too many of, are now measured in kilojoules. Actually in the US when something says one calorie, it is actually one kilocalorie (one thousand calories of the true scientific variety) that is being referred to. That serving size in the US that says 500 calories (more often 1000 calories—we eat a lot in the US), is actually talking about kilocalories. So the 500-calorie serving is actually 500,000, or half a million, calories of the true scientific variety. I suppose this is done because people feel they are eating enough already, and it would be truly shocking to admit that you consumed two million five hundred thousand three hundred and seventeen calories throughout the day. Boy, I was hungry!

canlabelBut again, calories aren’t used here. Energy or calorie consumption is measured in kilojoules. The side of a can of baked beans will inform you that there are two servings in the can with 720 kilojoules/serving. Is that good or bad? As it turns out, this works out to 172 calories/serving of the American variety.

But you aren’t done yet. No, serving sizes are measured in grams. That same can of baked beans continues to confuse by letting you know that each serving size is 205 grams. Again, is that a lot or a little? 205 grams is about 7 1/4 ounces or half the can as you might expect.

In the end, I figure I won’t worry about the kilojoules and just end up eating less because food is more expensive in New Zealand.

Temperature of course is measured in degrees centigrade not Fahrenheit. Rebecca told me it was a Mediterranean climate here. But wait—the weatherman says it will be a low of 13 and a high of 20. Do I need to wear a jacket? Or my Patagonia Marmot North Face double-down fleece parka? But wait, what was that formula, oh yes, multiply the temperature in degrees centigrade by 9/5 and add 32 to get the temperature in Fahrenheit. Easy enough.

Speed limit

Speed limit

When driving, speed is measured in kilometers per hour.

When the speedometer hovers around 100 km/hr, you are travelling 60 miles/hour. And when you first see a sign at a gas station next to the pumps saying $2.21, you might think you have finally found a bargain. But gasoline—petrol—is sold in liters (or litres if you choose to give a more distinctive British feel to the word). This works out to $8.36/gallon in the US, not quite the bargain you first imagined.

Gas prices

Gas prices


There is a bankcard called EFTPOS used by everyone in New Zealand. The EFT in EFTPOS stands for Electronic Funds Transfer but no one seems quite sure what the POS part stands for. The card is basically a debit card that directly deducts money from your bank account to make purchases. And just like with credit and debit cards in the US, it makes it painfully simple to buy stuff, except in this case at even more inflated prices.

Final exam—You drive at 50 km/hr down to the store, stopping to buy eight liters of petrol on the way. Outside the temperature is only 18 degrees. Once inside the store, you buy .68 kg of tomatoes on sale and a can of  Wattie’s Condensed Creamy Pumpkin Soup which costs NZ$1.25 using EFTPOS. The label on the can says that each 100 grams of the soup will provide you with 165 kilojoules of energy. How far are you now away from Antarctica?


3 thoughts on “Conversions

  1. Thoroughly enjoying these posts and I am beginning to see the making of a best-seller. I can relate to all the experiences, but this one brought back memories from long ago. I don’t know about now, but when I traveled the autobahn in Germany there was no speed limit so no need to convert. This was good, because the signs that announced my exit would be, for example, in 1,000 meters threw me into a panic. Was I dealing with a matter of feet or miles?! At least I was driving on the right/correct side of the road and didn’t need to focus on whether the turn signal was on the right or left side of the steering wheel. I could never remember if kilograms or pounds was the larger number. It was unfortunate that the produce was put in a bag for me by a person who neither spoke English nor was familiar with the imperial system. I found out quickly that 4 kilograms of potatoes makes a lot of potato salad.

  2. Let’s see, I drove about 35 MPH, bought 2 gallons of gas, it’s 64 degrees F outside, so no need for a coat, bought a little over a pound of potatoes, Soup was about .90 and in about 1/2 cup of soup there will be about 150 calories. How did I do?
    Loved the part about going broke at the bank exchanging $$ back and forth.

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