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New Zealand Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of New Zealand
Due to immigration, modern New Zealand is home to a diverse blend of people from far and wide. Maori, Pacific Islander, European and Asian influences blend peacefully to create a vibrant culture. Known for being friendly, down-to-earth, laidback and open, most visitors will find New Zealanders from all ethnicities to be helpful, approachable, generous and up for a laugh.
Maori culture has its origins in Polynesia so some aspects of Maori language, customs and traditions are quite similar to those of neighbouring islands. With strong traditional values based on respect for the family, ancestors and the land, Maori culture is hierarchical and steeped in centuries of tradition. Maori families typically come together for special occasions, celebrations and ceremonies filled with sacred dance, spiritual song and traditional food. Visitors will see traditional Maori art and carving almost everywhere they go in New Zealand, from elaborate tattooing to carved necklaces. Although Maori culture experienced a decline after the arrival of European settlers, it experienced a renaissance of sorts in the 1960s, which continues to grow today.
Geography and Environment of New Zealand
Sitting in the South Pacific Ocean, this island nation is split in two – comprising two major landmasses surrounded by several smaller islands. The mountainous South Island is larger (but less populated) and features New Zealand’s highest peak (Mt Cook) as well as glaciers, rugged bush and a rocky coast. The North Island is more volcanic – typical environmental features include geysers, lakes and mud pools. Forest growth can be found all over New Zealand, with large national parks and reserves preserving the nation’s heritage bushland.
History and Government of New Zealand
Maori tribes, descended from Polynesia, lived in New Zealand for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in the 18th century. Relying on fishing, hunting and foraging, these people were able to live off the land and develop a deep connection with the earth as a result of this. European settlers caused wide-scale disruption and land loss for the Maoris, which resulted in conflict and displacement in the early days of colonisation. The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi officially recognised Maori land ownership, of which the British and Maoris were signatories. This historic agreement is viewed as a pivotal moment in New Zealand’s history and the first important step towards reconciliation between the original inhabitants and settlers.
In 1852, New Zealand was granted the right to self-govern and in 1907, independence was granted (although the British monarchy remain as head of state). More recently, New Zealand voted in its first female prime minister in 1997. Jenny Shipley held office for two years, before handing over to another female leader - Helen Clarke, who continued to lead until 2008.
In the last ten years, New Zealand has enjoyed a surge in tourism, partly due to the wealth of wineries, ski fields and nature reserves. The film industry has also been a great champion of New Zealand, with filmmakers enjoying the rugged terrain and relatively cheap costs associated with filming in New Zealand. The Lord of the Rings franchise is probably the most well known film to be shot in New Zealand, and has been largely responsible for putting New Zealand in the international spotlight.
A devastating earthquake hit Christchurch in 2011, resulting in widespread loss of life and infrastructure. Although Christchurch is still rebuilding, visitors are encouraged to visit this spirited city.
New Zealand at a glance
- Wellington (population 370,000)
- 4.2 million
- English, Maori
- (GMT+12:00) Auckland, Wellington
- Type I (Australian/New Zealand & Chinese/Argentine 2/3-pin)
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