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By Sue Butler
Bravo LtdCopyright © 2006 Kuperard
All rights reserved.
LAND & PEOPLE
New Zealand is situated approximately 994 miles (1,600 km) off the southeast coast of Australia, across the Tasman Sea. Its landmass is slightly bigger than that of the U.K. — approximately 103,738 square miles (268,680 sq. km), while its population is just over four million compared to the U.K.'s sixty million. Put another way, in New Zealand there are only fourteen people to the square kilometer, whereas in the U.K. there are 241.
Although the two main islands, the North and the South, are well known, the country is in fact an archipelago with over 700 offshore islands, most of which are very small and within about 31 miles (50 km) of the coast. The North and the South Islands are long and narrow, stretching from latitude 34° degrees to 47° south. Thus the maximum distance to the sea from any one point is never more than about 80 miles (130 km), and it is the mighty Pacific Ocean that laps the shores of the 10,000–11,000 miles (15,000–18,000 km) of coastline. Due south of the mainland, as the South Island is often called by New Zealanders, is Stewart Island, or Rakiura, which is about 648 square miles (1,680 sq. km) in area. Around 500 miles (850 km) to the east are the Chatham Islands, which, lying just west of the International Date Line, are the first to see the sun rise, and to greet the New Year.
New Zealand's landscape is diverse — from green, gently rolling, sheep-scattered hills in the North Island to dramatic, snowcapped, rocky mountains and lakes in the South. The two main islands are only about 12 miles (20 km) apart, but early visitors felt they were visiting two different countries. Much of the "winterless" far north's hill country is farmed, although there is a lot of forest cover in the higher areas, which rise to nearly 5,600 feet (1,700 meters). In the center of the island, surrounding Lake Taupo, are a number of volcanoes that have been active for over a million years, while nearby, to the east, are the mud pools and geysers of Rotorua, one of New Zealand's foremost attractions.
The South Island is vast, bigger and chillier than the North, and is divided lengthways by the Southern Alps, the highest point of which is Mount Cook at 12,313 feet (3,753 meters). Lush rain forests lie to the west, and to the east, where rivers flow from the mountains, lie the extensive farmlands of the Canterbury Plains, which seem to stretch forever. To the south are a number of icy, unbelievably turquoise lakes. This picture-book color is a natural phenomenon caused by the incessant friction of ice and water, which grind the pieces of rock into "rock flour," the tiny floating particles of which help to reflect light. Different again is Stewart Island, which, unlike the North and South Islands, is mostly covered in lush native vegetation on its gentle, rolling hills.
Most of New Zealand's coastline is rocky, but it has a number of bays and harbors around which New Zealanders and visitors love to sail, particularly on the safer eastern waters around the Bay of Islands, where the many islands form a natural protection against the ocean.
Volcanoes and Earthquakes
Not without justification is New Zealand referred to as "the shaky isles." An average year will see thousands of quakes, although only about two hundred will be felt. Volcanic activity occurs mostly in the north, although ancient craters follow a line through the country to islands in the sub-Antarctic nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away.
It must not be forgotten that New Zealand, which was once part of the massive continent Gondwana and separated from Australia around eighty million years ago, is located on the edge of tectonic plates, known as the Pacific "rim of fire." Volcanic activity has given the country its geological history of rising and collapsing mountains, landslides, and the formation of lakes. The Southern Alps, for instance, arose as a result of two huge plates on the Alpine fault meeting and sliding past each other.
Twenty-eight volcanoes surround the Auckland region, and it is thought that a new volcano could erupt in this area in the next hundred years. Mount Ruapehu, in the central North Island's Taupo volcanic region, has been erupting regularly since 1969. The 1996 eruption produced over seven million tons of ash, which could be seen by satellite and affected visibility so badly that air traffic was disrupted.
White Island's volcano, which lies 30 miles (nearly 50 km) off the Bay of Plenty on the eastern side of the North Island, is still active and has an alert level of 1, indicating that it is always steaming, and a plume of white smoke issuing from its peak can be seen from the coast. Visitors to the island don hard hats and masks and can view the sulfur works, long abandoned.
Such activity, of course, raises the ugly threat of tsunamis — a word that became familiar to the rest of the world after the tragic Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 in Southeast Asia, but that is well understood in this region. New Zealand suffers very large earthquakes every few hundred years, and it is thought that in the fifteenth century a tsunami over 33 feet (10 meters) in height devastated many Maori coastal settlements. A major quake — one measuring in the region of 8 on the Richter scale — is long overdue, and a recent study of the threat of tsunamis to the Bay of Plenty and eastern Coromandel suggests that the risk is higher than was previously thought.
"Long on mud and rain" is the perception of New Zealand's climate, and this is not altogether inaccurate. Auckland is estimated to have twice as much rain as London, but also twice as much sun! With seasons reversed from most of the rest of the world, New Zealand's summer is a good time for northern hemisphere dwellers to visit, during their winter. February is usually considered the most stable month for warm weather.
New Zealand lies approximately halfway between Antarctica and the Tropics — "roaring forties" territory, that is often the bearer of winds and stormy seas. The west coast suffers much worse weather than the east, and is less populated as a consequence. The country's climate is officially "cool to temperate," but this leaves out a great deal in between. It is subject to a lot of high and low fronts, and to say the weather is unpredictable is putting it mildly. There is a saying in Auckland, "If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes." Temperatures rarely exceed 86°F (30°C), and fall below freezing only in the higher, inland areas and in severe winters in the south, when gales can be forceful, although they also bring the snow to the ski fields. Summer temperatures are between 70 and 75°F (21–24°C) in Auckland, and two or three degrees lower in Queenstown and Christchurch. Winter averages are around 57°F (14°C) in the north, while Queenstown falls to 46°F (8°C) or even lower.
The seasons are discernible, with spring from September to November. Summer, from December to February, is milder in the south and warmer in the north, although Christmas Day can still be unpredictable even though it is officially in summer. Fall, from March to May, can often extend to an Indian summer in the far north while winter, from June to August, brings the rain in the north and snow in the south. It is not unknown, however, for all four seasons to be experienced in one day!
Probably in greater supply than sunshine is rainfall, which can vary from nearly 12 inches (300 mm) annually in Northland to over 236 inches (6,000 mm) on the southwest coast around the Milford Sound. Averages, though, are in the region of 24–59 inches (600–1,500 mm) per annum, although certain areas achieve around 98 inches (2,500 mm). A record-breaking annual rainfall of around 710 inches (over 18,000 mm) was once measured on the west coast at Cropp River.
Most of New Zealand enjoys over 2,000 hours of sunshine a year, with favored spots being the north of the South Island around Nelson and Blenheim, and the east of the North Island, in particular Whakatane, the Bay of Plenty, and Napier. These areas usually exceed 2,350 hours, and even the rainy west coast has around 1,800 hours. However, sunbathers need to be very careful, as the breaks in the ozone layer in the Antipodes are severe, and Auckland has the highest rate of melanoma in the world. Weather forecasts always include references to the burn factor and the length of time one can safely stay in the sun. It is even a regulation that schoolchildren bring hats to play outside. No hat, no play!
A NATION OF ISLANDERS
New Zealand is a multicultural nation, and — as nearly three-quarters of the population is of European, mostly British, origin, with Maori representing approximately 15 percent and the Pacific peoples nearly 6 percent — it can be said to be a nation of islanders. (In comparison, Aborigines represent only 1.8 percent of the population of Australia.) The families of Pacific origin were from Samoa, with the next largest group from the Cook Islands (the Cook Island Maori), then Tonga. Many of today's "Islanders" were born in New Zealand, and far more Cook Islanders, Niueans, and Tokelauans now live in New Zealand than on their own home islands. The Island population is a young one, which lives mostly in the Auckland area.
One in seven New Zealanders claim Maori ethnicity — an increase of 21 percent since 1991, as there are more Maori births than European or Asian. There are, however, no purebred Maoris left. Blood count is no longer a definition, and the term "Maori" now describes a person of that race or a descendant of any such person. The word, which means "normal" or "ordinary" in Maori, came to be used by the incoming Europeans in order to differentiate Maori from other Polynesian tribes who did not identify themselves by a collective name. Maori refer to themselves as tangata whenua, which means "people of the land." New Zealand's Asian population amounts to approximately 6.6 percent of the total, of which the largest group is Chinese, followed by Indians.
The country has changed considerably from its early British and Maori origins and, although this heritage is still evident today, the population is gradually becoming less European. Nearly 20 percent of all children under the age of fifteen are of more than one ethnic group, and half of these have European-Maori parentage. A further change is that the Maori population is younger (only 3 percent are over sixty-five) than the general population (12 percent over sixty-five).
By and large, the different peoples in New Zealand's meltingpot live well together. However, Maori and the Pacific Islanders do not enjoy the same living standards as other groups, particularly the Europeans. This, along with poorer health, lower life expectancy, and lower educational achievement, often leads to lower income levels and greater unemployment among their number. These social issues are currently being addressed by the Labour government, which has the Maori vote to thank for its continuance in office. Many of the problems arose when the Maori, a largely rural population until the mid-1900s, had to make the transition to urban living, particularly after the Second World War. From 1951 to 1971, the percentage of Maori coping with city life rose from 20 to 58, and by 2001 Maori were as likely as the rest of the population to be living in cities or larger towns. Recognizing that problems could ensue with two very different cultures living in such close proximity, in 1971 the government appointed a race relations conciliator.
Recent years have seen a resurgence of Maori identity, with many becoming more vociferous about their loss of land and economic hardship, considering that the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi had been breached. This was the treaty by which the Maori ceded sovereignty to Britain in return for the rights and privileges of British subjects and the undisturbed possession of their lands. In 1975 a special Tribunal was set up to consider Maori land claims. The process is occupying a team of lawyers full-time and has become big business, leading many MPs to call for a deadline for claims submissions. There are currently more than eight hundred under consideration, and it took the Labour government two and a half years to settle two. Part of the problem has been the differences in interpretation of the English and Maori texts.
One of the consequences of the Maori cultural renaissance, which came at a time when more immigrants were arriving, was the increased awareness that New Zealand is a multicultural society, with regard not only to its nationalities but also to the way these contributed to an identifiable, national lifestyle, which seemed to have shaken off the European cultural and economic fetters. The Asian population, too, two-thirds of which live in the Auckland area, has had its share of problems, and has often been the target of anti-immigrant feelings. By and large, though, the many groups are welcomed by New Zealanders, who recognize the importance of injecting new blood into their country. The Asian population nearly doubled in the years from 1991 to 2001, when the last census was carried out.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The Early Days
New Zealand is short on human history — shorter than any other country, as it was the last landmass in the world to be settled, although the actual date of settlement is still a matter of conjecture. Maori are considered to have been the first arrivals, coming from East Polynesia in the thirteenth century, the navigator Kupe being credited with discovering the country. However, the peace loving Moriori tribe may have arrived at the same time or earlier, probably also from Polynesia, as they share similar ancestry with the Maoris, although their origins are obscure. They made their home on the Chatham Islands, having migrated from the South Island. It is believed that there were more than two thousand Moriori living on the Chatham Islands in the eighteenth century, but their numbers were severely depleted by disease and Maori attacks. Today no one from this gentle tribe is left, the last full-blooded Moriori having died in 1933.
Maori descendants trace their ancestry back to a fleet of canoes from Hawaiki, which is thought to be in the Society Islands, now called Tahiti. As much of New Zealand's history dates from preliterate times, myth and legend have become intertwined with fact, so it is often difficult to separate the two, or to know when history takes over from, or replaces, tradition. Maori legend says that the North Island was fished out of the sea by Maui, a demigod living in Hawaiki, hence the Maori name for the North Island, Te Ika a Maui ("the Fish of Maui"). Concerned that the gods might be angry about this, Maui went to make peace with them, leaving his brothers to argue about ownership of this new land. Their arguments turned to blows, and their pounding of the catch, or land as it now was, helped to create the mountains and valleys of the North Island. Similarly, the South Island is known as Te Waka a Maui ("Maui's Canoe"), and Stewart Island Te Punga a Maui ("Maui's Anchor") — the anchor that held the canoe as Maui pulled in the big fish.
The First Europeans
New Zealand was first sighted by Europeans in 1642, by the Dutch navigator Abel Janszoon Tasman, founder of Tasmania, on his great "South Land" expedition to ascertain if "Terra Australis Incognita" existed. It is thought that a Dutch cartographer gave New Zealand its present name because as Australia was then called New Holland, it was appropriate to name the new land after the other main province of the Netherlands, Zeeland.
This southern continent had eluded explorers for centuries, and consequently had gained a reputation for being rich. It was the west coast of the South Island that Tasman saw and charted but, because the first encounter between Maori and Europeans off the coast resulted in the deaths of four Dutchmen, New Zealand was left to its "savage" inhabitants for more than a hundred years until James Cook arrived in 1769 on the first of his three voyages. Cook traveled around and charted both the North and the South Islands, and was amazingly accurate considering the navigation problems of the time. He returned in 1773 and again in 1777, recounting in his journals his view that New Zealand was a land of promise, where settlers could build a comfortable life.
Early European traders, though, were more interested in making quick money than in settling. The profits to be gained from whaling, sealing, and natural resources such as timber and flax were enough to have them returning to Europe on a continual basis to sell their gains and reap the rewards. New Zealand's coasts had attracted mostly British and Australian whalers until the American captain Eber Bunker sailed into Northland's Doubtless Bay in the late 1700s. In 1847 the world's whaling fleet comprised nine hundred ships, of which just over seven hundred belonged to the U.S.A. When a ban on the Americans, excluding them from Australian ports, was lifted, New Zealand became the attraction, especially as provisions were cheap, with no duties or restrictions. No wonder the first American millionaires were whale-ship owners and not oil moguls! Russell, or Kororareka, as it was called then, was home to the whaling fraternity, and was known not so much as the refuge for carousing whalers as the "refuse," if Darwin's observations are to be believed. So wild was the town, with its reputation as the "hell-hole of the Pacific," that it made itself a natural target for missionaries. It was also where the rebel chief Hone Heke, who had been the first Maori leader to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, had became disillusioned with British government and felled that symbol of English authority, the flagpole, four times.
Excerpted from New Zealand by Sue Butler. Copyright © 2006 Kuperard. Excerpted by permission of Bravo Ltd.
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