New Zealand Stories and Tips

Sandflies

The Giant Sandfly Photo, West Coast, New Zealand

Even New Zealand isn't perfect. Sure, the landscape is stunning and the crazy Kiwis offer you pretty much every adventure sport you could ever want to do in the aforementioned remarkable scenery, but there is one large problem. This problem is the evil creature known as the sandfly. This little creature and his swarms of buddies will find you anywhere (especially on the West Coast and in Fiordland--they live anywhere where there is a decent source of water) and will leave you looking like a pincushion.

Maori legend even explains the existence of the sandflies. It says that when the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa finished creating the landscape of Fiordland, it was absolutely stunning...so stunning that it stopped people from working. They just stood around gazing at the beauty instead. The goddess Hinenuitepo became angry at these unproductive people, so she created the sandfly to bite them and get them moving.

Protection from sandflies is absolutely essential if you want to enjoy many parts of New Zealand…otherwise, you'll just have memories of jumping around, slapping yourself, and swearing about "the little sons of b****es." This is one of many names I heard (and I myself called) the annoying little creatures, even though this name isn't quite correct, since the only sandflies that bite are the females. The females do this because they need the blood to incubate the eggs they are about to lay; the men just lounge about all day getting drunk off of tree sap. So, this provides yet another reason to protect yourself from sandflies, because if you don't, you're essentially helping to create up to five more to drive future tourists up the wall!

All outdoor shops and supermarkets stock varying levels of bug repellant. Often, you'll have a choice between herbal bug sprays (with citronella so everyone in the region can smell you) or bug sprays with different amounts of DEET. DEET scares me a little, since it's so strong that it can actually eat away at fabrics, and I recall having a bad allergic reaction to some forest-strength DEET while at a powderpuff football practice in college. Therefore, if you are going to buy a strong DEET spray (they come in concentrations between 20% and 99%), it's best to try wearing it before you go out into the wilderness and have many less facilities to help if your body doesn't react well. I stuck with 40%, which didn't keep away all sandflies, but it didn't make me puff up and turn bright red either. The only person that I met that was using 99% was an Irish girl on the Abel Tasman Track who was allergic to sandflies!

Once you get bitten (and trust me, you will) there are plenty of remedies that people claim will stop you from itching. The first (and best) remedy is exposure to them. When I first arrived in NZ and got bitten, the bites itched for nearly a week. By the end of my trip, my body was used to the toxin that the little buggers inject and the bites would stop itching in an hour or so. However, there are much faster approaches to making that itch go away. One tour guide told me that if you dig a fingernail into the bite as soon as it happens, it stops itching. This worked to an extent. There are also lotions that you can make yourself, such as Dettol and baby oil mixed together. At one point in my trip, I got so desperate that I bought a "Click that Itch" from an outdoors store. This device costs $25 and, when clicked, gives a small electric shock to a bite. I clicked it about 4 or 5 times into each bite, and it actually had an effect. The bite still itched a little bit, but it no longer had that nagging, have-to-scratch-this-constantly itchy feeling. I don't know if this device works because it deadens the skin with the electricity, or the electricity stimulates more blood flow to the area, or what…but it helped me make it through Fiordland without going insane, and that's all that mattered!

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