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Maori Chiefs, glaciated valleys and 60 millions wooley animals - life is a little bit different in the land of the long white cloud Contrary to popular belief, there is more to New Zealand than bungy jumping, kiwi fruit and 60 million sheep.

In fact, the biggest mistake anyone can make is to underestimate New Zealand and expect it to be just like Australia. Apart from residents of both countries possessing funny accents,they couldn’t be more different. With dashing snow-capped mountains, endless glaciated valleys,steaming volcanos, tropical beaches and wild gushing rivers, New Zealand is profoundly beautiful.It’s a land where it’s possible to go swimming in themorning and skiing in the afternoon.

The locals

With only four million inhabitants on a landmass close in size to Great Britain, New Zealand is clearly not an over-populated nation. It is made up of the North Island, the South Island, Stewart Island and various small islands.

New Zealanders (or Kiwis – and it’s not offensive to call them that) are generally relaxed, outgoing and friendly. The folks who farm the land and those who work in the industries servicing the rural sector are, as anywhere, salt of the earth. They lead quite a life. For a small country they’ve got a great attitude.

While New Zealand boasts a melting pot of cultures, it is predominantly European. The native Maori population and the growing influx from the South Pacific islands and Asia help to give life in New Zealand a unique flavour. Maori account for about 14 per cent of the country’s population and their cultural influence is everywhere.

History

Maori legend has it that the South Island of New and the North Island was a fi sh he caught using a hook. The island didn’t like being pulled from the sea and writhed around a lot, which is why the North Island is so mountainous. Legend also tells of the Maori arriving in New Zealand about 1,000 years ago.They came in a fleet of canoes from a land called Hawaiki, a mythical place that is mentioned in many Polynesian cultures.

Historians have doubts about the great migration theory, but there is no doubt that at least some immigrants arrived in NZ from Polynesia 1,000 years ago or more. With them, they brought a rat, a dog and a sweet potato called kumara. The rat, the dog and a couple of species of bat were the only mammals on the land when the first white explorers turned up.

The first European sighting of NZ was apparently back in 1642 when a Dutchman, Abel Tasman, sighted the north-western portion of the South Island. He didn’t go ashore and withdrew out of Golden Bay (or the less alluring Murderers Bay, as he called it) after a clash with local Maori saw the death of four of his men. Bad weather then forced him north to discover Fiji and the Tongan islands. It is assumed that the name ‘New Zealand’ is a hangover from Tasman’s than a squiggle on the map of the world.

Captain James Cook came across NZ in 1769,at a spot not far from Gisborne on the North Island.He circumnavigated the country, produced a chart of remarkable accuracy, and made observations of the Maori and the plant life of the country. He returned twice more, and by 1790, the European exploration had begun.

Sealers and whalers were the first to take advantage of the abundance of wildlife, then the timber millers arrived to fell the giant kauri trees in the north, ideal for shipbuilding. The bulk of British settlement of the new colony occurred after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, an agreement between the Maori chiefs and Queen Victoria that gave the crown sovereignty in exchange for continued Maori rights to fisheries and the like.The treaty was mere political expediency in 1840,and has largely remained so in the 160 years since,with European settlers riding roughshod over Maori rights. Recent years have seen an attempt to balance the equation.



Climate

As far as weather goes, summer (December-March) is the best time to visit New Zealand if you fancy taking in lots of barbies, beer and wine drinking, outdoor sports, festivals, beach-going, lake and river swimming. But make sure you apply plenty of sunblock.

Winter (June-October) is the best time to visit New Zealand if you like your snow. Most ski resorts open in the first week of June, weather and conditions permitting.

Spring (September-November) and autumn (March-June) are excellent times for engaging in bush walks, mountain biking, and other activities where you can admire the natural beauty the two seasons bring to the fore in a mild climate. The seasons are also great times to visit because there are generally a few less people about, meaning you’re more likely to get that mountain to yourself. Rugby fans should make the trip in autumn. Many of the cultural festivals in the larger cities like Wellington,Christchurch and Auckland are also held at this time.

Generally it gets cooler as you travel south. Maximum summer temperatures average from 30°C in the north to 20°C in the south, while average winter maximums range from 15°C in the north to 10°C in the south. Overnight, particularly in the south, it often dips below freezing in winter. It rains a lot, even in the summer, but most of the rain falls in the west, and areas tucked into the mountain ranges can be dry, and sometimes even hit by drought.


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