Tuesday, 30 December 2008

NEW ZEALAND 1


“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” - Hilaire Belloc

Boxing Day

New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. There are 3 main Islands: The North Island, the South Island and Stewart Island. The total combined land area of 268,680 square kilometers is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Colorado and a little larger than the United Kingdom. The North and South Islands are separated by 22 km channel called the Cook Strait. The North Island is mainly hilly with isolated mountains, including volcanoes, two of which are still active. Lowlands on the North Island are mostly coastal or are the Waikato Valley. The South Island is very mountainous with numerous fjords and harbours, making for an extremely long coastline relative to its area. New Zealand also administers the South Pacific island group of Tokelau and claims a section of the Antarctic continent. Niue and the Cook Islands are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand.

The first people to colonise New Zealand’s soil were Polynesians, who came from other Pacific islands to New Zealand around 800 AD. They named the islands Aotearoa (“Land of the Long, White Cloud”). These people were the antecedents of the Maori people of New Zealand and they remained in New Zealand until 1642 AD when the Dutch stumbled onto it. However, the Dutch found the local Maoris very belligerent and did not stay. No other Europeans explored the island until Captain James Cook first arrived in New Zealand in 1769 AD on the Endeavour. Captain Cook successfully charted the islands and put New Zealand on the map. Relations with the Maoris for Cook’s first visit were good but soon deteriorated. In 1818 AD the “Musket Wars” began and 20,000 people died in 12 years of fighting. 1840 AD brought the first real colonisation to New Zealand in Wanganui, New Plymouth, Nelson and Wellington. Also in 1840 AD the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the colonists and approximately 50 Maori chiefs, granting sovereignty to the Queen of England but retaining the ownership of the lands, forests, fisheries and other property. This was a crucial step in achieving peace between the Maori and European people.

1856 AD saw New Zealand become a self-governing British colony and the beginning of their gold rush. Wellington became the official capital also in 1865. By 1867 AD Maori were given the right to vote. In 1893 AD women were given the right to vote (25 years before the US or Britain!). In the 1900s, New Zealand’s population was hard hit from first World War. New Zealand suffered more casualties per capita than any other country in the war and to add tot eh casualties, the worldwide influenza epidemic in 1918-1919 took its toll. Then again by World War II more population losses resulted. In 1947 New Zealand became fully independent.

New Zealand became an outspoken voice against nuclear weapons and testing in the late 70s and early 80s. With a defining moment being the bombing of the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor by French secret agents in 1985. That same year New Zealand’s government banned visits by any ships carrying nuclear weapons. In 1990 public opinion forced the new National government to maintain their anti-nuclear stance. New Zealand today is a very clean, green, and rural place where not a lot has changed over the last 50 years.

The population of New Zealand is roughly four million people. Despite the plentiful amount of land available per person, most people live in or around New Zealand’s major cities. Auckland in the North Island is home to more than a million while the capital Wellington (also in the North island) has a population of 400,000. Close to 80% of the population is of European origin with most being of British heritage while the others being mainly from the Netherlands, Germany, and Croatia. Only 13% are Maori and 5% Pacific Islander. There is also a growing Asian population with immigration from Taiwan, Hong Kong, & Korea having more than doubled since 1990.

New Zealand is an interesting mix of European and Maori cultures. It’s not uncommon to see people with very intricate tattoos in the traditional Maori style in business suits in Auckland. The main sports are yachting, fishing, golf, rugby and cricket. Even the national rugby team, the New Zealand All Blacks, do a traditional Maori ‘Haka’ dance at the beginning of each match, to frighten their opponents. It is also a land full of extreme sports; it is the birthplace of bungee jumping, jet-boat riding, white water kayaking and many other activities to get the adrenaline going. Tourism is one of New Zealand’s main sources of earnings. However, farming and agriculture are also a very big part of New Zealand life. New Zealand has around 47 million sheep. Meat, wool, dairy products and food processing are the next largest source of earnings for the country. Many areas of the North Island grow many kinds of fruits, vegetables, plants, and wine.

New Zealand had proved to be a very stable democracy over the past hundred or so years. However, there is some tension centered around Maori claims for land based on the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. The 1984 – 1990 Labor Party acknowledged the validity of these claims for fishing grounds and other assets and set up the Waitangi Tribunal to consider specific Maori claims. Progress toward these claims continues but is a hot political topic still. In 1997 New Zealand elected their first female Prime Minister and she was beaten by another female in 1999. Helen Clark, elected PM in 1999 successfully lowered unemployment and strengthened the NZ economy. She was re-elected in 2002.

New Zealand’s climate, like its neighbour Australia’s, is the opposite of that in the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, summer is from December to March and winter is from June to August. The north part of New Zealand has a subtropical climate and the south part is more temperate. Even on the North Island itself there is a marked difference between the northernmost part, which is more subtropical and the southernmost part which is much more temperate in climate. For example, Wellington seems very like San Francisco in climate and terrain, but Keri Keri in the north is very tropical and near beautiful beaches with white sand and clear waters. Summer temperatures average around 25˚C for the highs and 10˚C for lows in the north. It can be chilly by the sea though with strong winds often blowing. Rain is spread evenly throughout the year and weather can change rapidly.

Interesting Facts about New Zealand:
• Official languages are both English and Maori
• Currency is the NZ Dollar (1 NZ dollar = 0.85 AUD = 0.60 USD = 0.40 Euro)
• Official bird is the Kiwi (a flightless bird as big as a large chicken)
• The Kiwi fruit is also know as Chinese gooseberry and is native to China and Taiwan, but grown commercially in New Zealand
• New Zealanders are often referred to affectionately as “Kiwis”
• European New Zealanders are referred to as “Pakehas” by the Maoris
• New Zealand was home to the now extinct Moa bird, which stood as tall as 3 metres
• New Zealand is one of the very first places to welcome the new day because of its close proximity to the International Dateline
• Religion is predominantly Christian (81% of the population)
• Rugby football is the national game
• Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) is a famous New Zealander, the first to reach the summit of Mt Everest
• New Zealand uses the Metric system
• New Zealanders drive on left side of the road (like drivers in Australia and the UK)

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