The Maori were the first to arrive in the country, arriving in canoes from Polynesia around 1,000 years ago. Europeans arrived some time later, with Dutchman Abel Tasman the first to sight the country in 1642. In fact, it was the Dutch that named the islands Nova Zeelandia. But it was the Brits who set up in this far off land, establishing British law in 1840 with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and then anglicising the name to New Zealand.
The land’s original name of Aotearoa, given to it by its Maori people, translates as the land of the long white cloud. And where there are clouds, there tends to be rain. This is certainly true of New Zealand – particularly in the west. But those raindrops are a recipe for green fields in abundance and well-fed sheep – all part of the destination’s charm.
Head into the mountains and alpine conditions kick in. In winter, skiers revel in the snow on the slopes of both the north and south island, and then of course there is the Franz Josef Glacier – a 12 km glacier located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the south island’s west coast.
Plenty of New Zealand’s attractions are not even slightly weather dependent. Thrillseekers can bungee jump in adventure capital Queenstown in any season. Or skydive, or canyon swing, or whatever their appetites for high adrenaline desire.
Then there are the natural wonders. Glow worm tunnels for instance at Waitomo, for instance, or slightly stinky hot springs at Rotorua. Or the unbelievable landscapes that drew the makers of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit to the county’s shores.
Its cities are cosmopolitan and quaint at the same time. Take capital Wellington for example – the home of fine food and great shopping. Then there’s Auckland, the slightly better known big brother that has a harbour that rivals that of Sydney, along with a cultural scene and nightlife that is going from strength to strength. Earthquake-ravaged Christchurch has reemerged from its devastation with an innovative new look and feel that is quite unique, breathing new life into the historic Canterbury city.
And, of course, there is the food and wine. The Marlborough region, located in the northeast of the south island, is renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc but there are 10 major wine-growing regions spread across the country producing a number of styles worth a taste. Try one of the white varietals with one of the many seafood dishes to be found across the destination, or go red with the quintessential Kiwi roast lamb.
Places to Visit
- Milford Sound
- Franz Josef Glacier
- Bay of Islands
Unique Things to See and Do
- Taste some award-winning wines in the Marlborough wine region.
- Get the adrenaline pumping with a bungee jump or skydive in Queenstown.
- Hike the ever-changing landscape of the spectacular Franz Josef Glacier.
- Cruise through Milford Sound – described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world.
- Take a revitalising dip in the hot springs and mud baths of Rotorua.
New Zealand’s Maori Culture
Maori culture existed in New Zealand long before the Europeans arrived. The indigenous people of the islands arrived more than 1000 years ago from Hawaiki – their mythical Polynesian homeland – by canoe.
Now, Maoris account for 14% of the country’s population, but their culture remains an integral part of Kiwi life through history, language and traditions.
Visitors may already be familiar with the stomping, slapping and tongue poking of the Haka war dance as performed by New Zealand’s All Blacks before each rugby game.
But there are plenty more ways for them to experience that culture for themselves – by visiting a tribal meeting ground known as a marae to hear speeches and singing, see carvings and greet the local people with a traditional pressing of noses.
There they may see some of the elaborate Maori tattoos that traditionally signified a number of the bearer’s attributes such as their knowledge and skills, their social rank and marital status.
Or on the food front, there may be a traditional hangi – a feast prepared in an underground earth oven.
Museums are also a great place to discover more about the Maori way of life, with many also featuring cultural performances. For example, the Auckland Museum has two dedicated Maori galleries, while the national museum Te Papa has a marae space which allows visitors to experience it for themselves as well as acting as a showcase for contemporary Maori art and design. In Rotorua, Te Puia showcases various aspects of Maori culture as well as the area’s unique geothermal attributes.
Getting around New Zealand
Renting a car or a motorhome can be one of the easiest ways of seeing the destination, but if you prefer someone else to take the wheel, then there are buses and coaches aplenty with hop-on hop-off itineraries also available.
For those with a thing for railways, although the rail network is by no means extensive, there are a couple of ways to get your train on. For example, in the north island, Kiwirail’s Northern Explorer connects Wellington with Auckland with the 12-hour journey taking in the Tongariro National Park among other spectacles.
There is also a strong domestic air network with a number of low cost carriers operating services at reasonable prices.
Best time of year to travel to New Zealand
Whether you yearn for snow or sun, New Zealand can deliver weather to suit so long as you pick the right month.
Temperatures in the destination are mild overall, with most of the country located close to the coast. The far north has more of a subtropical clime during summer, while temperatures in the inland alpine areas of the south island areas can fall as low as -10 degrees Celsius.
January and February are the warmest months overall with average temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius, with July the coldest with average temperatures ranging between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius.
Did you know…?
Wherever you are in New Zealand, you’re never more than 128 kilometres (100 miles) from the ocean.
Did you ALSO know…?
Golf is still the most popular participated sport in New Zealand with more golf courses per capita of population than anywhere else in the world.
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