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Discover the Other Land Down Under

Feb 12, 2014
New Zealand (NZ) is so far away from England that if you travelled beyond its islands you’d actually be travelling back home again from the other direction. The Mover Magazine’s Ed Roberts visited for four months back in 2007 and he still retains strong links to the fabled land of fire and ice.

When asking your average man or woman on the street what or whom pops into their heads when they think about NZ and New Zealanders, the first things they’re bound to come up with would probably be the Māori, Lord of The Rings films, the Haka, the kiwi bird, its natural beauty, Milford Sound, NZ lamb, the All Blacks and at a push The Flight Of The Conchords. Of course this is barely the tip of the iceberg.

Like everywhere else there are local traditions, products, institutions that are common place and taken for granted but unknown elsewhere. New Zealand is no different. Any of these ring a bell? - Bruno Lawrence; ‘Kia Ora;’ Haast’s Eagle; the Waitangi Treaty; Speights Beer; the possum; the Kauri tree; or Cape Reinga?  All of these are dominant and present in the Kiwi psyche and everyday life but what are they?  

It’s also a land of surprising facts. For instance, the atom was first split in NZ by Ernest Rutherford, the famous Austrian painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser emigrated there. NZ was also home to the largest recorded species of flightless bird, the Moa, and the colossal Haast’s Eagle (both now extinct.) It’s a country full of quiet, yet jaw dropping wonder.

NZ is a chain of three large islands and a series of smaller ones in the South Pacific Ocean. The main land masses are North Island, South Island and Stewart Island (which is virtually uninhabited). The indigenous Māori name for NZ is Aotearoa, which translates as ‘Land of the Long White Cloud'.

Unpopulated by humans until the arrival of the Māori around 1200AD NZ is still a unique biosphere teeming with a variety of animals, birds, reptiles, plants, trees, ferns and moulds. But it wasn’t until Captain James Cook mapped the eastern coast of the North Island in the late 18th century that NZ became of interest to the British Crown. After the initial European influx much of NZ’s land was carved up between the French and international merchant companies with no regard for the indigenous Māori tribes and the majority would not be returned until the 1970s. Perhaps the most important event in New Zealand history – the famously controversial Waitangi Treaty (1840) – came as the result of an increasing lawlessness. This was drawn up for Māori tribal leaders who had asked for the protection of the British Crown. Henceforth, NZ became a British Colony. 

Since the treaty was signed by the majority of NZ’s Māori leaders there has been a steady influx of British migrants to this day. NZ had its own gold rush period in the Central Otago and the W

A recent resurgence of Māori culture has seen their traditional arts of carving, weaving and tattooing become more main stream. The country's culture has also been broadened by globalisation and increased immigration from the Pacific Islands and Asia. NZ’s diverse landscape provides many opportunities for outdoor pursuits and has provided the backdrop for a number of big budget movies like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Last Samurai. The countries largest commercial exports these days are wool and wine.

2013 has seen the largest numbers of international immigrants to New Zealand in a decade. The number of arrivals from the UK remains steady but there is a reported increase in Chinese and African applicants. A rise in unemployment in Australia is also expected to have a knock-on effect too. However, the number of people leaving New Zealand has decreased.

Newcomers have always been encouraged to succeed in New Zealand. The legendary culture of the ‘Tall Poppy’ has been inverted. Once upon a time it was frowned upon to stand apart and excel oneself but such peculiarities are a thing of the past. The government actively encourages everybody to be a specialist in their own field. There’s no stigma any more to standing out and being a success.

Having spent considerable time in New Zealand I can account for its countless wonders and sights. Every turn of the highway reveals another mountain, lake, Māori meeting house, dormant volcano or gorge, each a reason to stop the car and stretch the legs. The human race definitely saved one of the best countries on Earth to discover last.

Images: From the top - Sunset over the city of Aukland; the kiwi is New Zealand's national bird; an early engraving of a Maori tribesman; an example of a traditional carving; New Zealand's flag.


What’s a Tall Poppy?

The expression comes from Aristotle’s ‘Politics’ and refers to an important need to hide your talents and strengths so as not to alienate your fellow man. Luckily its negative connotations have been reversed in New Zealand and Australia, instead championing the right to excel.  A long history of ‘underdog’ culture and profound respect for humility in contrast to that of both countries’ English feudal heritage has resulted in a new inverted understanding of ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome'. Their governments actively encourage everybody to be a specialist in their own field. There’s no stigma to standing out and being a success.

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