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Written by Patricia WilliamsPhotos Sourced by our Photo Editor Sarah Harvey and some taken by Tim Moore

Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand

Photos - click to enlarge.


Aotearoa - The Land of the Long White Cloud - God’s Own Country (“Godzone”) – however they are labelled, these islands at the bottom of the world together form one of the most isolated and most beautiful of all countries. New Zealand is to be found in the extreme southwest corner of the Pacific Ocean, comprising North Island, South Island and Stewart Island. New Zealand also governs Bounty, Campbell, Chatham and Kermadec Island Groups. The variety from subtropical Northland at the tip of North Island to the fiords of the southernmost region of South Island is immense, covering the range of dazzling white surf beaches, snow-topped ski mountains, geysers, volcanoes, cattle-rearing plains, lakes, forests and above all, sheep pastures. The 65 million sheep of New Zealand outnumber the 3.5 million humans by over 20 to 1.

Although Europeans scoff at this modern country’s “lack of history” it behoves visitors to bone up on it before they go to New Zealand. It is known that Polynesians in exposed open canoes paddled to these islands many hundreds of years ago, and the country’s recorded history begins as long ago as the middle of the 1300s when early Polynesians established communities on this land that they called Aotearoa. Aotearoa means “the Land of the Long White Cloud”, which is what they saw stretching over the country as they approached from the sea.

These people were the forebears of today’s indigenous Maoris. The village of Whakarewarewa near Rotorua in the centre of North Island preserves the Maori way of life to this day, admittedly for tourist consumption, but also to demonstrate with considerable pride all that they stand for.

A fine example of Maori carving

All Maori customs have their origins in the ways in which the early migrants had to learn to adapt to a new life in what was for them, the colder country of New Zealand. In order to keep warm they wove garments from New Zealand flax, they also decorated their homes with their woven tapestries. They made cookery implements, axes and jewellery, including charms such as the Tiki, all from native New Zealand greenstone, and they built carefully designed fenced villages (called a "pa”) each with a school, a meeting house (whare runanga) and a communal cooking place.

They danced. The Maori word for dance is haka. The girls, wearing shell jewellery and flowers, danced the haka poi in which little balls of flax moved against their wrists as they wreathed gracefully in the movements of the dance. Meanwhile, the men danced a warrior’s battle dance, the haka, now known to everyone worldwide through the traditional prelude to All Black rugby matches.

Maori Greeting

They greeted one another by pressing noses and foreheads (a hongi, a ritualised hug) while saying the words Haere Mai. This lovely greeting can be heard in many of their songs. All were tattooed, considerable meaning being attached to the various tattoos. Today’s Maoris study both the language and the meaning of their traditions, along with the carving and weaving initiated by those long-ago migrants.

Rules and rituals were strongly and superstitiously enforced, and vengeance for trespass was a built-in response permitted and indeed expected by custom. These customs continued uninterrupted amongst the tribes, until the arrival of the Pakeha (white man) who trampled all over their traditions and customs, unknowingly to start with, but then in full knowledge of the harm inflicted.

First on the scene was Dutchman Abel Tasman, but he did little but record his discovery of the country and the fact that some of his crew had been murdered by indigenous warriors. In 1769 however, Captain James Cook, who was made of sterner stuff, was not content with simply finding the Bay of Plenty, he raised the flag there and claimed New Zealand for Great Britain.

The Bay of Plenty

He and botanist Joseph Banks spent several months exploring the coastlines of the two islands and charting them for posterity, along with recording the incredible variety of flora they saw and noting sightings of seal colonies and whales.

However, even Cook failed to understand the implacability of Maori laws and he lost several of his crew members who had inadvertently broken these laws and were called upon to pay the ultimate penalty for so doing. Determined to learn to understand Maori culture and these brave people, Cook returned several times to New Zealand.

Maori words are in common use in New Zealand as place names and if you just remember early on to sound every letter, to pronounce every vowel, it is not difficult to say them. Knowing what the words mean is another matter, but once you have been told the meaning, some translations are so enchanting that you will easily remember them. (The Maori name Aorangi for Mount Cook for example – this means Cloud in the Sky).

French Names on Akaroa Signpost

French explorers also found New Zealand about this time, Akaroa on the South Island bears witness to this with its French street names. Escapee convicts from Australia also reached these shores. Then along came the missionaries preaching Christianity and the adventurers attempting to involve themselves in the trade of seals and whales. All fell foul of the Maoris who were already involved in their own tribal wars, and wrong-doing pakehas were killed and their bodies used in cannibalistic rituals.

Next to arrive were the entrepreneur Wakefield Brothers who, through their campaigns in England, lured migrants to travel with their New Zealand Company to colonize the land of promise. The land that they were promised belonged to the Maori tribes and many unscrupulous exchanges of land for firearms took place.

Eventually this unequal trade was legitimized by the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840 which basically stated that it is the Government that makes laws; that respect and protection would be given to the Maori resources and way of life; and that protection of the basic rights of all people within New Zealand would be given. Nonetheless war between Maori and colonist continued in the North Island for another thirty years.

Meanwhile, the gold rush had hit the South Island and state aid was being provided to British people to help them make the move 12,000 miles south, these being the first of the “assisted passage” immigrants. When the gold started to run out, these immigrants turned to sheep and dairy farming and this industry boomed when the development of refrigerated ships made export a possibility.

With prosperity came peace between Maori and Pakeha, who continue to live harmoniously and comfortably alongside each other to this day.

The currency in New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD). For the latest exchange rates go to

The two airports for international flights are Wellington International on Rongotai Isthmus, 7 kilometres southeast of Wellington City Centre, and Auckland Airport at Mangere, 21 kilometres south of Auckland.

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Most visitors count on a few weeks for their stay in New Zealand. Many tourists hire cars or campervans and tour as much as they possibly can in the allotted time. Camp sites are first class, although around Christmas and New Year booking ahead is essential, as this is the major summer holiday period. There is a Tourist Information Bureau in just about every town and an abundance of maps and information leaflets. Tourism is nurtured in New Zealand, and the tourist’s needs are met in all things.

Rail travel in New Zealand enables you to get a real sense of the vastness and variety of the landscape. Tranz Scenic operates three main long-distance journeys – the Overlander between Auckland and Wellington; the Tranz Coastal from Picton to Christchurch; and the Tranz Alpine which crosses the Southern Alps between Christchurch and Greymouth. A ferry transports you across Cook Strait to link the two train journeys from Wellington and Picton. There are open viewing platforms on all the trains, and the bridges and viaducts over which you pass are remarkable feats of engineering from the Victorian era. You don’t have to do this marathon in one huge bite; a season ticket will allow you to hop on and off as you choose.

The airport at which you arrive will determine the route you take for your sightseeing. Organized tours tend to concentrate on the South Island but if your time allows it, you should undoubtedly try to head north as well.

Northland is bush clad and sub tropical, almost primeval, with glorious beaches, citrus groves and amazingly tall kauri gum tree forests. Drive up through Dargaville to the Waipoua Forest sanctuary where you will hear the tuis singing, parakeets shrieking and see dancing fantails. A drive north from here brings you to the famed Ninety Mile Beach and on to Cape Reinga at the northernmost point of the North Island. The beautiful and historic Bay of Islands is to be found on the east coast of this region, and there is much to see and do in this area which is a favourite summer holiday destination with New Zealanders. Water sports of all kinds are available and boat trips to some of the many islands in the Bay. Whangarei is the city of the region and it promotes musical events throughout the year. Visit Russell with its Pompallier House and Christ Church; Waitangi’s Treaty House; go big game fishing at Cape Brett and spare a thought for the author Zane Grey who lived here. Take a cream trip from Opua – this was originally the daily run to pick up the cream from all the outlying islands, and now provides a delightfully relaxed way of passing the day.

Auckland Tower

Auckland, with a population of nearly 1.5 million, is the largest city in New Zealand and is set across three harbours and fifty islands on the remains of extinct volcanoes. It is a spectacularly attractive city with lovely colonial architecture and a vibrant cosmopolitan pace of life. The ferries plying across to the islands give a holiday atmosphere to this sophisticated city. Vines and kiwi fruit jostle for space in the fields to south and north.

Bay of Plenty – its main city is Tauranga – lies to the southeast of Auckland and stretches from Coromandel Point to Cape Runway. From Thames you can hike the Billy Goat Track in Coromandel Forest Park. Visit Matamata which is “Hobbiton” from the Lord of the Rings.

Waikato - its main city is Hamilton - is very English and this area is the seat of intense dairy farming. Take in a visit to the glow worms in the limestone caves at Waitomo where you can sample cave tubing, black water rafting (i.e. white water rafting in the dark!) or abseiling if your interest in the glow worms fades.
You travel south through the volcanic landscape of Tongariro National Park with rivers, waterfalls, pools and craters and its active volcanoes, Ngauruhoe which puffs black clouds, Mount Ruapehu which has a boiling hot crater lake and you can hike here along a track that runs between the two. This is a hiker’s paradise, and in the winter, a popular ski resort.

Lake Taupo

On down the desert road to Lake Taupo, beloved of NZ trout fishermen, and to the thermal region of Rotorua (nicknamed “Sulphur City” because of the rotten egg smell arising from its slurping, plopping, boiling mud) to see spurting geysers, bubbling mud and visit the nearby Maori village of Whaka and soak in the hot-springs spa.

Gisborne over to the east is Chardonnay country with vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see. NZ wine however, costs more in New Zealand than it does in the UK due to the heavy taxation. Half the population of this region is Maori. This is a peaceful place to visit, with stillness, clear, starry nights and clean, soft air. They call it paradise, the Garden of Eden. You can hike the Lake Waikaremoana Track (“Sea of Rippling Water”) from Te Urewera National Park.


Hawke Bay is on the east coast with Hastings and the art deco city of Napier (built following the earthquake of 1931 which destroyed the previous city) being very popular with holidaymakers and the beaches here are packed in the summer. Fruit orchards fill the surrounding countryside and Cape Kidnappers is a popular tourist destination.

Taranaki on the west coast with New Plymouth its city, is where you can see snow-capped Mount Egmont in its mixed rainforest and farming-land setting.

Manawatu’s cities of Palmerston North and Wanganui lead towards Wellington. They meet the Wairarapa Range and its gorges, and Paliser Bay with its roaring surf. Here in this rural area north of the capital you will hear bellbirds and see grazing sheep and Charolais cattle.

Wellington from Mount Victoria lookout

Wellington, New Zealand’s Capital City, is based at the south of the North Island and boasts a beautiful harbour. Its hillsides are covered in white wooden houses looking just like the “little boxes made of ticky tacky” of the song about San Francisco. The Roaring 40s whistle through the funnel formed by Cook Strait which divides the two Islands, and hence the city acquired its nickname Windy Wellington. The city is also on the earthquake fault line which runs up the Hutt Valley, but people just get used to the furniture rattling about, and go on with their daily living, paying scant notice to the regular “quakes”. Take the cable car to the summit for stunning views over the city, and visit Te Papa National Museum which charts the history of New Zealand. There is a very fine wooden Cathedral.

Marlborough forms the Gateway to the South Island through Blenheim and Picton and is vineyard country again. The Marlborough label is sold worldwide but it is expensive to buy in New Zealand. Queen Charlotte Sound, at the head of which lies Picton where the Wellington ferry docks, offers bird- and dolphin-watching opportunities.

Tasman to the west of Nelson is an area of farming, forestry and fishing and forms part of the Abel Tasman National Park. This verdant region has lodges for hikers and well-defined tracks including the popular coastal track.

The West Coast is all but cut off by the mountain range of the Southern Alps which run for 450 miles with only 4 passes. Its main town is Greymouth, wet and green, with gold and coal mining and tourism its main concerns. This is where you come to see the Tasman, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. Winter sees the ski season at The Hermitage on the slopes of Mount Cook, which reaches12,400 ft, otherwise known as Aorangi, “Cloud in the Sky”.


Canterbury’s fertile Plains bring you to that most English of cities, Christchurch, where you can punt on the River Avon and imagine yourself in the Old Country. A visit to the Gothic Cathedral reminds you that Canterbury NZ was promoted as a Church of England Utopia and the Canterbury Pilgrims who landed at Lyttelton built to the glory of the C of E. From here visitors go up the coast to Kaikoura for whale watching, to Banks Peninsular and Akaroa for the spectacular scenery.

Vintage Sightseeing Tram in Christchurch

Otago on the southeast is as Scottish as Christchurch is English. Dunedin, the main city, was founded in 1848 by Scots Presbyterians. There’s a Robbie Burns statue, a magnificent Cathedral built from wealth generated from the gold. Take a walk up Baldwin Street – it is the steepest anywhere. Go out to visit the colonies of yellow-eyed penguins and royal albatross.

Dunedin Railway Station

Southland is Queenstown and the water sports and adventure playground of the world. In its incomparable setting on Lake Wakatipu there is every conceivable sport and activity on offer. You can go white river rafting on the Dart and Shotover, bungee jumping and paragliding, canyoning and mountain biking to name but a few. For something less challenging, there is a restful voyage on the old paddle steamer, the Earnslaw, on Lake Wakatipu to enjoy. Lord of the Rings tours are on offer following the Tolkein Route. Or you can go and explore Arrowtown, the gold mining town, and discover its fascinating history.

The pier at Queenstown

Invercargill is a manufacturing and engineering centre with fishing for crayfish, cod and oysters. You take the ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island.

Fiordland or Westland is the area to the southwest of the South Island, one of the largest national parks in the world. Milford Sound is the most popular tourist destination and many people walk the famous Milford Track amongst its giant ferns and lupins. Te Anau and Lake Manapouri are very beautiful unspoiled destinations amidst this rugged and sparsely populated terrain from which to be based. Next to Nepal, this is the most popular place in the world for trekkers.

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If, like so many visitors to New Zealand, you fall in love with this beautiful country and its outdoor lifestyle and you are tempted to emigrate – go on line for details at

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