While New Zealand is a relatively young country, it has a rich and fascinating history, reflecting both our Maori and European heritage. Amazing Maori historic sites and taonga (treasures), some dating back almost a thousand years, are a contrast to many beautiful colonial buildings. A walk around any New Zealand city today shows what a culturally diverse and fascinating country we have become.
First Maori were the first inhabitants of Aotearoa/New Zealand (meaning ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’). After arriving from their ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki, probably about 1000 years ago, they set up a thriving society based on the iwi (tribe), which flourished for hundreds of years.
Arriving in Aotearoa
According to Maori, the first explorer to reach New Zealand was Kupe. Using the stars and ocean currents as his navigational guides, he ventured across the Pacific on his waka hourua (voyaging canoe) from his ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. It is thought that Kupe made landfall at the Hokianga Harbour in Northland, around 1000 years ago.
Where is Hawaiki?
You will not find Hawaiki on a map, but it is believed Maori came from an island or group of islands in Polynesia in the South Pacific Ocean. It is not known exactly which place, but there are distinct similarities between the Maori language and culture, and others of Polynesia including the Cook Islands, Hawaii, and Tahiti.
Maori were expert hunters and fishermen. As mostly coastal dwellers, fishing was vitally important to them. It also played a part in their mythology - the god, Maui, was believed to have ‘fished up’ the North Island. Maori wove fishing nets from harakeke (flax), and carved fishhooks from bone and stone. Maori considered whales as kaitiaki (guardians), and used their flesh for food and their hard, strong bones for weapons. A Maori tradition that remains today is to throw back the first fish caught. This is a way of thanking Tangaroa, god of the sea, for his bounty.
With the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, New Zealand became a British colony. This saw a great increase in the number of British migrants coming to New Zealand. Many had their passage paid for by colonial companies. The systematic colonial settlement of New Zealand was largely based on the ideas of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who believed the colonial settlements should be modelled on the structures of British society. Many New Zealand cities and towns were established and populated in this way. These settlements were intended to be civilised and self-sufficient, with small farmers cultivating their land, and living in peace with the native people.
Throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century, the ‘homeland’ of Britain had an enormous influence on New Zealand. Government administration, education, and culture were largely built on British models. New Zealand troops fought, and suffered severe casualties in the Boer War and the two World Wars. As Prime Minister Michael Savage said about England in 1939, ‘where she goes, we go, where she stands, we stand’.
Towards a Republic?
While New Zealand is still heavily influenced by its colonial heritage, the country now has its own strong sense of identity. While still a member of the British Commonwealth, and maintaining close, friendly relations with the USA, New Zealand now has a far more independent trading and foreign policy. Since the mid 1980s, New Zealand has been a nuclear free zone, with its armed forces primarily focused on peacekeeping in the Pacific region. Today, even conservative politicians talk openly about New Zealand eventually becoming a republic - something unheard of until quite recently.
Climate - Land of the Long White Cloud
Since the Maori people named New Zealand ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, climate has been of paramount importance to the people of New Zealand - many of whom make their living from the land. New Zealand has mild temperatures, moderately high rainfall, and many hours of sunshine throughout most of the country. Its climate is dominated by two main geographical features - the mountains and the sea.
Four Seasons in One Day
New Zealand does not have a large temperature range, lacking the extremes one finds in most continental climates. However, the weather can change unexpectedly - as cold fronts or tropical cyclones quickly blow in. Because of this, you should be prepared for sudden changes in weather and temperature if you’re going hiking or doing other outdoor activities.
New Zealand has a unique and dynamic culture. The culture of its indigenous Maori people affects the language, the arts, and even the accents of all New Zealanders. Their place in the South Pacific, and their love of the outdoors, sport, and the arts make New Zealanders and their culture unique in the world.
Today, New Zealanders are largely sophisticated and highly educated urban dwellers. Members of a unique and vibrant multicultural society, New Zealanders are embracing 21st century technology and culture in record numbers. But New Zealanders also have a background of quiet but rugged individualism, self-reliance, and a genius for invention — qualities still evident in the population today.
Unique in the World