New Zealand – a unique country
New Zealand… geographically isolated for at least 80 million years has a special claim to being different from any other land mass on earth.
Land and People
New Zealand is a small island country of about 100,000 square miles situated in the South Pacific with a population of around 4.2 million people and a reputation of having one of the most pristine environments on the planet. These farthest flung islands were the world’s last sizeable lands to be discovered and occupied. Geographically isolated from other land masses for at least 80 million years when it split from the ancient super-continent of Gondwanaland, New Zealand’s flora and fauna have developed some species that are not found anywhere else. Ancient plant and animal species such as primitive pines, ferns, flowers, birds and reptiles evolved in isolation. For example, the flightless kiwi and the tuatara can both trace their ancestry back to this long vanished world. Geologically, much of New Zealand is very young and being situated in a geologically unstable area there is still phenomena such as upward thrusting mountains and geothermal activity.
The first inhabitants were from Polynesia. A wave of immigration took place some one thousand years ago and legends tell of early Polynesian navigators on epic voyages south to Aotearoa – Land of the Long White Cloud. For some seven hundred years ancestors of today’s Maori population had this part of the world to themselves.
About 250 years ago the Europeans began to arrive. Integration of cultures has not always been easy but, with a willingness at a personal level to make it work, this has been smoother in New Zealand than almost everywhere else. The Chinese came with the discovery of gold and other Polynesian peoples also have arrived. Most recently mainly young people have been welcomed from South East Asia, originally to study but now to settle. New Zealanders, new and old, jokingly refer to this land as “Godzone”, are quietly proud of their country and all prefer to be known as ‘Kiwis’!
New Zealand abounds in beautiful scenery. Stunning landscapes are not unique to New Zealand but the variety and their proximity is different from anywhere else. Coastlines and beaches, alps and glaciers, rivers, lakes and lagoons, thermal pools, forests and green pastures can all be found within a days drive or a short flight and contribute to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world – a land of contrasts and one which has been described as “a pocket edition of the world”.
Food & drink
Americans and British will feel at home eating in New Zealand. The food and drink in restaurants and shops is instantly recognisable. Many brands are also similar. However, it is in the fresh produce that New Zealand excels. Whether it be meat, fish, fruit, vegetables or dairy visitors often comment on the flavours reminiscent of a bygone time at home. In the past New Zealand has sent its best produce abroad and although it continues to export with the increase in tourism more of the best is staying in the country. Kiwis have always enjoyed their food and it is not only the hearty meal in which they now excel. There are many fine dining restaurants to compliment bistros, cafes, bakeries and a coffee culture. Tourism towns are main centres also have a range of cultural restaurants. There are some fast food outlets but as Kiwis still prefer meat pies at lunch and traditional fish and chips for supper big chain fast food names are not overly common.
For some years New Zealand has had an excellent reputations for wines particularly for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Most wine is produced by boutique wineries so there is plenty to try although it is relatively expensive. Beer is also popular. Most are lager/pilsners produced by big breweries although there are a number of local micro breweries producing more flavoured brews.
- Lamb, Beef and Venison are excellent for meat lovers
- Seafood (Fish: John Dory and Blue Cod and shellfish: Crayfish and Green Lipped mussels are specialities)
- Kumara is a local sweet potato
- Kiwi fruit are grown in Nelson. Hard and stone fruits are a Central Otago speciality.
- Hangi feast – a traditional Maori method of cooking where food is steamed underground
- New Zealand wines are first-rate. (The Marlborough region has a worldwide reputation for white wine as does Central Otago for Pinot Noir)
- Beer is popular. Most are lagers/pilsners but it is worth trying local/micro brewers if you are a connoisseur.
- The legal drinking age is 18
- Expect to pay around NZ$25-40 for a main course
- Tipping is not expected but is gratefully received. Only tip or leave change if you think the service was particularly good
- Exotic cuisine and fast food chains are limited on the South Island
For those needing or wanting to stay in touch with home or countries abroad communication can be a frustration because of lack of coverage, speed and charges for access particularly on the South Island. Things are improving with more cable and broadband being laid.
- Most hotels, lodges and tourist venues are providing WiFi. Some still make a charge.
- Internet cafes can be found throughout the cities and towns
- Most hotels and hostels also provide internet access
- Public phones generally only accept phone cards (very cheap and easily available)
- Mobile phone coverage is limited because of the remoteness of much of the South Island
- Check before leaving home to make sure your phone can be used in NZ
- Allow about a week for mail to arrive at international destinations
What to buy
New Zealand is not short of things to buy as mementoes or gifts with a range of expensive to cheap options. Unfortunately, there are now some unscrupulous traders particularly with regard to greenstone and paua jewellery. Your Canterbury Trails guide will advise and recommend the authentic.
- Greenstone (Jade) and paua (abelone) shell jewellery are specialities. The jewellery often comes in Maori shapes or designs which have different meanings
- The South Island is home to many sheep! and possum! Merino and merino/possum garments are especially good value and ideal wear winter and summer on the South island.
- Check to ensure that you are able to import some items back into your home country.
- Bargaining is not expected in shops
Most kiwi’s are down to earth, open, friendly and very fond of their country and egalitarian. As a result contact with locals can be enlightening and enjoyable. On tour with Canterbury Trails we will meet as many locals as possible.
- Smoking is widely restricted and is banned in pubs, restaurants, public buildings and public transport
- Smoking is also banned in some outdoor public places such as some parks
- Toilets are western-style, located in cities, towns villages and even in remote locations
- They are clean with soap and paper generally provided