Saturday, 3 January 2009


“Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

The events in the Middle East have once again filled me with dismay. Yet again, Israelis and Palestinians have engaged in hostilities and as each bomb explodes, as each shell reaches its target, as each suicide bomber detonates his fatal load, more death and destruction, more innocent lives pay the price of a war that is being fought without honour on both sides.

I pity the children who have to grow up in such an environment. The children whose lives are at risk each and every minute of every day. Children whose backyards are demolished buildings, whose playgrounds are cemeteries, whose playthings are guns and bombs.

The song this Saturday is by Ofra Haza (1957-2000), a Yemenite-Jewish singer who grew up in a poor neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. Inspired by a love of her Yemenite-Jewish culture, the appeal of her musical art quickly spread to a wider Middle Eastern audience, somehow bridging the divide between Israel and the Arab countries. As her career progressed, the multi-lingual Haza was able to switch between traditional and more commercial singing styles without jeopardising her credibility. The music, too, fused elements of Eastern and Western instrumentation, orchestration and dance-beat. Success was to follow in Europe and the US; during her singing career, she earned many platinum and gold albums.

This song is about building bridges. Bridges across cultures, across races, across enemy sides.

Friday, 2 January 2009


“I want to have a good body, but not as much as I want dessert.” - Jason Love

Today is the feast day of St Macarius, who is the patron saint of confectioners. The reason St Macarius is the patron saint of cooks, confectioners and pastry chefs is because he was a successful merchant in fruits, candies and pastries in Alexandria, Egypt. He was born in the 4th century in Alexandria and died about 401 BC. When he converted to Christianity he gave up his business to be a monk and lived as a hermit. After several years, he was ordained among other monks practicing severe austerities. Sugarplums during the time of Saint Macarius were various candied fruits. In Portugal, green plums are cooked in sugar syrup to celebrate his feast day.

Here is a recipe for a delightful Italian sweetmeat. Make it and eat it while remembering St Macarius!

3/4 cupful hazelnuts (toasted, skinned and chopped)
1 cupful almonds (blanched, toasted and chopped)
1 cupful finely chopped, candied peel
1/2 cupful plain flour
1/4 cupful cocoa
3 teaspoonfuls ground cinnamon
1/3 cupful honey
1/2 cupful white sugar
rice paper
icing sugar

Combine the nuts, peel, flour, cocoa and cinnamon, mixing thoroughly. Put the honey and sugar together in a saucepan, bring to the boil and then pour over the fruit and nuts, stirring well the sticky mixture. Line a greased 20 cm flan tin with rice paper and pour the panforte mixture in, pressing down firmly. Bake in a cool oven (150˚C) for 30 to 35 minutes. Allow to cool, turn out and sprinkle the top with icing sugar. Cut into wedges and wrap in cellophane.

Wednesday, 31 December 2008


“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions…” - Joey Adams

It is good to be home, even though we were away for only very few days. The journey back was uneventful and we had a very quiet New Year’s Eve at home. Similarly today, a very quiet New Year’s Day, pottering around home and enjoying a day of leisure.

It is now a well-entrenched custom in many countries while recovering from the New Year’s Eve party, to set aside a few minutes on New Year’s Day and make New Year’s Resolutions. Usually these resolutions are of the self-improvement type, renouncing bad habits, improving oneself as a person and generally making oneself a better member of society. One may vow to give up smoking, become involved in a community group, drink less, take up a new hobby or become fit. Needless to say that in most cases, these resolutions are forgotten barely has the sun set on January the 1st! Some surveys that have been carried out re-enforce this, with as many as 95% of New Year’s Resolutions not being adhered to or fulfilled. Hardly worth the effort of making these resolutions, is it?

In many countries it was believed that whatever one did on January 1st would influence what transpired over the whole year. Hence, this was a day of merry-making, good food, sweet words and pleasantries. No work was done, nothing was taken out of the house (only brought in). Especially so with money, fuel, matches and bread such that one would not lack any of these during the year. No bills or debts were paid on this day and nothing was lent out. If one had to take something out of the house that day, a coin was taken out the previous night and then brought in the next morning before one took out the item.
Take out then take in, bad luck will begin;
Take in, then take out good luck will come about.

The Romans introduced the custom of celebrating the beginning of the year on January 1st in 46 BC. They called this celebration the January calendae, and they decorated their houses with lights and greenery for the three days that the festivities lasted. People exchanged gifts that were carefully chosen so as to ensure the propitiousness of the year ahead. Gifts of honey and sweets were given and meant that one wished the receiver to have a year of peace and sweetness; gifts of money or gold meant that the year would be prosperous; while giving lamps or candles meant that the year would be filled with light and happiness. The emperor also received gifts from the citizens to wish him a happy year ahead. This tradition was adopted by the countries that Rome had subjugated.

In England, the feudal lords received samples of produce from the peasants tilling their land. The lords in turn sent to the King something more valuable (gold was always a popular gift!). Amongst the common people a traditional New Year’s Day gift was a dried orange stuck with cloves and a sprig of rosemary tied with silk ribbons. Many Englishmen used to give their wives money so that they could buy pins for the whole year ahead. Before the industrial revolution of the 1800s, pins and needles were very expensive as they were hand-made. After the 1800s when pins and needles were mass-produced, the custom disappeared, but the term pin-money is still used to describe money set aside for minor personal expenses.

It is St Basil’s Day in Greece today, and St Basil was one of the Fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. He was born in Caesarea (Palestine) in the fourth century AD and during his life he sailed to Greece, where he was active, until his death on the 1st of January. Many legends relating to his life commemorate his kindness to children. This has led to the custom of gift giving on New Year’s Day in Greece. St Basil has been equated with the Santa Claus of other nations. Being the first day of the year, tradition has it that one must receive money on this day (and hence continue to receive it everyday of that year!). This is the Greek custom of the “bonamas” (a term perhaps related to the Italian buon anno or even the French bonne âme), a monetary gift to friends and relatives. The vassilopitta, St Basil’s Cake, is another tradition, and this is a sweet, raised yeast cake which contains a silver or gold coin (depending on the family’s finances!). The father of the family cuts the cake after the New Year is heralded in and distributes the pieces in strict order: First, one for the Saints, then one for the House, then one for each member of the family, from the most senior to the youngest child. Then pieces for the guests, livestock and then for the poor, the remainder being for the “house”. The person finding the lucky coin is assured of luck for the rest of the year.

The tradition of the “first foot” or podhariko is widespread in Greece, as it is in some other European countries, and the British Isles. This involves the first visitor to enter the house on New Year’s Day. He sets the pattern of good or bad luck that will enter the house for the year. The luckiest first foot is a dark-haired stranger who must be male. Unlucky first foots are female, red or blond-haired, cross-eyed, with eyebrows that meet across the nose. The first foot must have been outside the house before midnight and must enter the house any time after the clock has struck midnight, as long as he is the first to come in. Good luck is ensured if the “first foot” brings with him some token gift, a loaf of bread symbolising sustenance for the whole year, coal or wood symbolising warmth or a few coins or some salt, symbolising prosperity.

Other Greek traditional sweets for New Year’s Day (except the vassilopitta) are melomakarona (honey macaroons) and dhiples (thin, crisply fried pancakes served with honey and crushed nuts). A renewal of the water in the house is another custom. Fresh spring water is drawn and taken into the house on New Year’s morning as St Basil’s Water. This is used to fill ewers, jugs, vases and other containers, thus blessing the house for the whole year.

Carolling is popular and the carollers must be given some money to ensure prosperity for the coming year. The carol sung is the New Year’s kalanda (from the Latin calendae, first day of the month). The carollers often hold a model of a sailing ship, beautifully made and decorated, symbolising St Basil’s ship on which he sailed to Greece. They accompany themselves with steel triangles, drums, fifes and other folk instruments while going around from house to house.

I hope that your year is filled with health and happiness and that your larder is never empty, your table always blessed and your loved ones always content.

Here are the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks for you to enjoy!

Tuesday, 30 December 2008


Today was out last day here in Auckland and we decide to take it easy, sleeping in, having a late breakfast and then just ambling around the City and then making our way to the airport for our afternoon flight to Melbourne. The weather was extremely pleasant, warm and sunny and the Aucklanders were out in full force, making the most of the last shopping day of 2008.

We walked up towards Albert Park and had a wander through the pathways and lawns, making our way up to the University of Auckland. This is New Zealand's pre-eminent research-led University. Established in 1883, it has grown into an international centre of learning and academic excellence and is New Zealand's largest university. Its mission is to be an internationally recognised, research-led university, known for the excellence of its teaching, research, and service to its local, national and international communities. It aims to be a vibrant and intellectually challenging place of learning, nurturing a community of scholars who share a passion for discovery, the advance of knowledge and human progress.

The signature building of the University is the Clock Tower, which is a wonderful Victorian confection in white, reminding one of a wedding cake bedecked in icing sugar filigree decorations. The campus is quite extensive and is an agglomeration of modern and Victorian buildings, beautiful parks, gardens, roads and pathways.

We went back to Albert Park and walked back towards the Queens St, finding the Auckland City Public Library. This is a beautiful new multistoried building which as well as containing an extensive book collection, there are a couple of galleries in which exhibitions are organised. We visited the gallery which had the “Once Upon a Time” exhibition. This was a marvellous exhibition of fairy tale books for children, from the 18th century to the present time. The illustrations were fantastic and the range of books presented truly amazing. Well worth visiting!

We made our way back to the hotel making our farewells to the fair city of Auckland. IT was an excellent break, very relaxing and filled with some novelty although we had visited here once before some years ago. Now at the airport we are awaiting the boarding call for our flight, which has been delayed coming in and hence delayed going out. Hopefully, we’ll be at home for New Year’s Eve tonight…



The itinerary for today was the South. We once again used public transport, with which we are very impressed, and travelled as far south as Papakura, a rather rustic outer suburb and then came back towards town via Manukau and its rather slick shopping centre adjacent to Rainbow’s End (a theme park mainly of families with children). We then travelled back through Newmarket, a bustling shopping district and finally the wonderful Parnell.

New Zealand is a curious mixture of the old and the new, with some pockets remaining quite old-fashioned and making one think that one is caught in a time-warp. Other areas are very modern and up-market, with all new buildings, latest technology and quite the hustle and bustle of a cosmopolitan metropolis. We saw evidence of both aspects during this trip and everything in between as well.

Papakura was of the time-warp variety, a sleepy little outer suburb that seemed more like a little town. All around the Auckland area, and especially so in the outer suburbs one sees more Maoris and Islanders making up the general population, with a sizeable proportion of Indians, Japanese and Koreans (although the last-mentioned three groups are more likely to prefer the urban areas). This makes for a very lively mix of people and something that impresses one about the Maoris is their more widespread integration into the population – more so than the Australian aboriginal population.

Manukau was rather boring but seemed to be the hub of the region with its large shopping centre and the adjacent theme park. Down towards the sea one may find more sympathetic and tourist-worthy niches and pockets of picturesqueness. However, the region is largely one of business and industry, and of quiet efficiency. A short distance away is the Auckland international airport and this would contribute to the area being a hub of activity. Close to Manukau are the Auckland Botanic Gardens and these are certainly worth a visit if one is horticulturally inclined. There are numerous areas with themes ranging from the natives, to roses, palms, herbs, camellias, perennials and succulents. An onsite café serves breakfast and lunch daily.

Newmarket is bustling inner city suburb which boasts a very busy shopping area with several strip shopping streets as well as a major shopping centre. Surrounding it are residential and light industrial areas. It is well worth a visit as there some interesting little shops in amongst the regulation branches of the multinational franchises.

We took the bus and after a short ride down towards the City we found ourselves in Parnell. This old suburb is adjacent to the City centre and was initially designed s accommodation of working class people. It then became gentrified and is now an exclusive residential area with many excellent restaurants, specialty shops and many boutiques, souvenir shops and art galleries. It is rather lovely to explore on foot and then to have lunch or dinner in one of the excellent restaurants there.



Well, the weatherman was right! We woke up to a dull and grey morning today and at about 8:00 am, the rain began to fall. New Zealand seems to be blessed with good rains right around the whole year, making for a very green and lush countryside, even in summer. It was rather surprising not seeing the usual warnings and signs about water restrictions that one sees in Australian hotels these days. Our hotel had absolutely no such signage and the tap water was excellent in terms of purity and drinkability.

Although it rained on and off all day, we walked everywhere with the help of a large umbrella that the hotel provided for us. The rain ranged from the annoying drizzle to the sudden downpour, but we managed not to get at all wet. We first visited the Auckland Art Gallery, which is in temporary residence in a building next to its usual lovely old Victorian home. The original building is being renovated and extended so that the exhibition space is increased by 50%. The renovated gallery will reopen in 2011.

I must say that we found the gallery very disappointing. Although the gallery was ample, the rooms generous and the exhibition spaces extremely well-disposed, the art works exhibited were unfortunately sadly below expectations. Some modernist rubbish created by the untalented for the pretentious critics to wax lyrical over, some photographs and photocollages that were quite grotesque and a couple of themed exhibits that had pieces of varying quality and were a pot pourri of old and modern (mainly indifferent) works. One of the exhibitions was “The Enchanted Garden” and all of the exhibits had to do with a gardening theme. For such a wonderful theme, the works displayed were rather prosaic.

Only a few pieces were memorable and were capable of evincing some sort of emotion (with the exception of “the emperor has no clothes on” type of reaction that the majority of works evoked). We were assured by the curators that the permanent exhibits that are usually on show are much better, but we have to revisit the gallery in 2011 in its newly appointed building. Fortunately the entry was free on Monday, otherwise I would have bewailed the entrance fee, however low it may have been.

We walked to the Domain, where the Museum of Auckland takes pride of place. The Domain is a huge park adjacent to the City and is one of the crowning glories of the city. Hectares of parkland, manicured lawns, well-planted trees and pleasure gardens surround the hill on which the rather severe classical-style museum sits. Very close to the museum is the Winter Garden with two enormous conservatories and a formal pond, fernery and refreshments kiosk.

We entered the museum paying a very modest donation fee of five dollars each and found ourselves in a very spacious atrium area. It was quite a busy day with numerous people around, given the holiday and the rainy day. A day in the museum is de rigueur under such circumstances. The museum is one of the best places to visit in Auckland. Excellent exhibits, generally well displayed, a broad variety of thematic displays, an excellent interactive children’s museum area, a fantastic array of Maori and Pacific Islands artefacts and on the topmost floor the war memorial and the monument to the unknown soldier.

A dinosaur exhibition with its centerpiece of a complete fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton was interesting and informative. The children were once again having a field day here and little gasps of pleasure alternated with giggles and a frightened whimper now and then. The Auckland Museum is definitely worth a day’s visit or even more if you wish to do the multiplicity of exhibits full justice.

Close to the museum within the vast parkland of the Domain, is the Winter Garden. This is a gorgeous spot where two huge conservatories face each other across a large formal lily pond surrounded by a colonnade over which wisterias and other climbing plants ramble. One of the conservatories is dedicated to seasonal flowering plants with an enormous display of fuchsias, begonias, alstromoerias, orchids, dahlias, begonias, hydrangeas, sunflowers and several more colourful blooms. The other conservatory is a true tropical hothouse in which there is a central lily pond where Nile waterlilies and Victoria amazonica waterlilies bloom, surrounded by orchids, banana plants, ginger plants, tropical ferns, bromeliads, tuberous begonias, heliconias and other tropical jungle plants.

Adjacent to the conservatories is the open air fernery, which is quite an amazing place as one descends down a ramp and some stairs to a shay sunken garden where pools of water mirror the fern fronds and where the quiet air is only disturbed by the babbling of the running water and the drone of a lone bee frustrated by the lack of flowers in this place where greenery reigns supreme. A place to truly heal and nourish the soul.

We walked back to town through the Domain and the University of Auckland. The weather, which had been showery for the most of the day turned rainy and we were grateful of the large golf umbrella that was lent to us by the hotel. We walked by the old city cemetery and in the grey and wet gloom it was indeed a melancholy place where one could contemplate the vanitas vanitatum of life and serve as a useful memento mori.

We got back to the hotel slightly wet, but nevertheless replete of the day’s activities and the wonderful sights we had seen. I was quite thankful for the lack of water restrictions as a nice, long, warm shower hit the spot.



We bought a Discovery Day Pass today for $13 each and with it we were able to travel on any of the public transport vehicles (trains, ferries, buses) for the whole day in all parts of the Auckland metropolitan area. This proved to be a wise decision that allowed us to see quite a lot of the city and the suburbs efficiently and cheaply. We chose to go North of the city and visit several of the seaside suburbs, some of which are quite idyllic. We were surprised by how hilly is the area that the greater Auckland is built on.

We went first to Devonport and Takapuna, built on a peninsula directly opposite the Waitemata Harbour. Both of these suburbs are quite lovely, especially Devonport, which has a country town charm and is very much geared towards the tourist and the holidaymaker. There are numerous tourist shops, art galleries, cafés, restaurants, bars, parks and other facilities for both locals and tourists who wish to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of Auckland. The town is accessible by ferry from Auckland, the ride taking only 15 minutes. Alternatively one may go by bus via Takapuna.

Takapuna is more suburban and cosmopolitan, but there is also a holiday feel to the suburb, as there are excellent hotel facilities, a long swimming beach with white sands and the same tourist shops and facilities that the visitor expects. Whereas Devonport is more historical, Takapuna is more modern sporting even a couple of high rise apartment buildings and a big Westfield shopping centre, as well as the old style shopping strip.

We then took the bus and travelled up the north coast to the Eastern bays, going as far as up Torbay and the recreation area of Long Bay Regional Park. Long Bay is a lovely spot where sandy beaches alternate with rocky bluffs and is the first area to the North of Auckland outside the greater metropolitan area. This is a very popular spot for holidays, camping, swimming and relaxation. Coming back from Torbay, which is a small town sitting on the crest of a hill with magnificent views, one comes down to Browns Bay, which is another seaside suburb that has a large shopping area, beach facilities and where quite few retirees seem to live. We then took the bus back to Takapuna and finally back to Auckland.

Something which we noted was that New Zealand senior citizens travel free on public transport on presentation of their “Gold Pass”. This is such a good idea and a sign of an enlightened government. Several other observations made us think that the government both local and national seems to be taking care of its citizens well, better than Australia is doing presently. Australia was as New Zealand is in this respect about 25-30 years ago. Globalisation and following US trends has made the social welfare system deteriorate in Australia in the last couple of decades. All’s the pity as the lifestyle for the majority of people seems a lot better in New Zealand than in Australia at the moment.

The weather was absolutely wonderful today, hovering in the mid-20s with a gentle sunshine and no wind. The weather bureau is warning about rain tomorrow, so it was a good idea that we ventured out north today!



Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and its largest port. It occupies a narrow isthmus between Waitemata Harbour (in the east) and Manukau Harbour (in the southwest). It was established in 1840 by Governor William Hobson as the capital of the colonial government and was named for George Eden, earl of Auckland, British first lord of the Admiralty and later governor-general of India. It was incorporated as a borough in 1851 and remained the capital until superseded by the city of Wellington in 1865. It was made a city in 1871. The most extensive urban area in New Zealand, Auckland also has the country's greatest concentration of indigenous Maori and has large numbers of Polynesians from other islands in the South Pacific. The population of the greater urban area is about 1.2 million people.

The city is a focal point of road and rail transportation, with the urban area being also served by New Zealand’s leading international airport, at Mangere. Auckland’s most important feature is Waitemata Harbour, a 180-square-km body of water that has maximum channel depths of 10 metres and serves overseas and intercoastal shipping. The port’s principal exports include iron, steel, dairy products, and meat and hides. Petroleum, iron and steel products, sugar, wheat, and phosphates are imported. Other industries of the Auckland area include engineering, publishing, and metal trades; the manufacture of paint, glass, plastics, chemicals, cement, and a variety of consumer goods; vehicle assembly and boatbuilding; and food processing, brewing, and sugar refining. A large iron and steel mill was opened at Glenbrook (32 km south) in 1969. The Auckland Harbour Bridge (1959) links the city with the rapidly growing, primarily residential North Shore suburbs and with Devonport, the chief naval base and dockyard for New Zealand. Construction of a natural-gas pipeline running from the Maui field to Auckland was completed in 1977.

Major institutions within the urban area include the War Memorial Museum, the Museum of Transport and Technology, the National Maritime Museum, the Auckland Art Gallery, the public library network, the University of Auckland (1957; from 1882 to 1957, Auckland University College, a constituent part of the University of New Zealand), the town hall, and several teacher-training colleges. Also in the locality are swimming and surfing beaches, several extinct volcanic cones, golf courses, sporting grounds, and parks and reserves. In 2000 and 2003 Auckland played host to the America’s Cup yachting race finals, both events helping to boost tourism in the region.

We wandered around the City today and took in some of the sights. Queen Street is the main street and the main shopping area within the CBD. A couple of noteworthy arcades off this street are the Queen’s Arcade and the Strand Arcade, the former better than the latter. Towards the north one finds the Victorian town hall with its distinctive clock tower. Next tot his is the Aotea Square and directly across the square is the Metro centre with its cinema complex and restaurants, cafés, bars and shops.

Albert Park is the major park within the city precinct and this is a typical Victorian park laid out in imitation of the great parks of Great Britain, with its lawns, majestic northern hemisphere trees, statuary, fountains and formal flower beds. The elaborate Victorian fountain is a central feature of the park and nearby is the statue of Queen Victoria which was unveiled in 1899 to mark the sixtieth jubilee of her reign. Adjacent to the park are the lovely old Law Courts, another Victorian building in the grand style. One may then walk towards Chancery St where there is a pedestrian shopping mall with restaurants, cafés and specialty boutiques. Further on, Vulcan Lane takes one back to Queen St.

Following Queen St down towards the sea, one finds the Britomart district dominated by its Victorian transport centre, where one obtains information, tickets and other tourist advice. It is also a transport hub with an underground train station and numerous bus termini around it (including a free city circle bus). Further along is Quay St, running parallel to the shore. The magnificent Ferry Building dominates Quay St and is where one may dine, shop and go through to embark on the ferries that transport one across the harbour.

We visited Victoria Markets situated just outside the CBD down Victoria St and located in an old incinerator building complex. This used to burn the city’s rubbish in the 19th century, but was soon put out of commission and is now home to several permanent stalls and shops, restaurants, cafés and tourist attractions. Opposite this is Victoria Park, not as impressive as Albert Park, but another welcome oasis of green in the City.


“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)