New Zealand is an island nation comprised of two large islands and numerous smaller islands. The two main islands, appropriately called the North Island and the South Island, stretch 1100 miles from north to south and include climates ranging from tropical to antarctic. These two islands comprise almost 99% of New Zealand’s land which totals 103,737 square miles (not including their dependencies). New Zealand is approximately the size of the state of Colorado.
The North Island includes 44,281 square miles of land and stretches 515 miles in a north-south direction. Most of its terrain is rolling hills; however, it is bubbling and actively volcanic in its south-central parts. The North Island contains New Zealand’s capital of Wellington (population slightly less than 350,000) and its largest city, Auckland (population slightly more than 350,000; however, including the surrounding areas the population is approximately 1 million). More than 70% of New Zealand’s population lives on the North Island.
The South Island includes 58,093 square miles of land. Its west coast is characterized by rugged mountains called the Southern Alps. The South Island is also the site of New Zealand’s highest point – Mount Cook at 12,316’. The southwest coast of the South Island is characterized by glaciers and deep fjords which give this relatively small nation a coastal length near that of the continental United States.
Below the South Island is Stewart Island which has a small population. However, the area of Stewart and all other New Zealand islands totals only 1,363 square miles. New Zealand also has the overseas territories of the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau.
New Zealand’s population is just over 4 million. It is 75% New Zealand Europeans and less than 10% native Maori. The other 15% is widely varied in origin. Both English and Maori are considered official languages; however, one must wonder how long the Maori language will be used officially when the Maori population comprises such a small segment of the total population. The population has a 99% literacy rate.
New Zealand’s history is particularly interesting because it is such a young nation, and its formative events occurred in the very recent past. New Zealand is the last large land mass to be settled, and that settlement did not occur until 800 to 1,500 years ago – probably 800 to 1,000 years ago.
The original settlers of New Zealand were Polynesians that arrived by canoe. They established communities, and the population grew. However, growth brought pressure on some resources, and conflicting claims were made on the best lands. The New Zealand Polynesians – eventually called the Maori – fought frequent intertribal wars for land, and they became somewhat infamous for eating their enemies.
New Zealand was first sighted by a European in 1642 when Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman, landed on the west coast of New Zealand. However, he fled quickly when 4 of his men were killed, so he did not have an opportunity to learn much about the islands or their people.
The next European to arrive was Captain Cook who landed in Gisborne on October 6, 1769. Cook had a Tahitian named Tupaia on board, and all were surprised that Tupaia was able to converse with the New Zealanders. With the help of his interpreter, Cook formed friendships with numerous chiefs, and he was welcomed throughout much of the land. Cook circumnavigated New Zealand and charted its coastlines in 1770 (a remarkably accurate chart), and he returned to visit New Zealand on both of his subsequent voyages.
Both Tasman and Cook reported plentiful seal and whale populations in New Zealand, and the sealing and whaling industry developed almost immediately. The sealers completely eliminated the seal population of the South Island by 1830, and the whaling peak was reached by 1838. However, many opted to pursue the less arduous work that was developing to the north – logging.
Cook had commented that New Zealand kauri trees had value for ship’s spars. They were large, grew straight, and their lowest limbs were very high above the ground. The kauris were being cut down before the end of the 18th century, and another industry was born. The industry expanded to the North Island where there were sizeable forests of kauris, and a timber and shipbuilding center developed on the northwest coast of the North Island. Also, a secondary industry emerged from the kauri gum. The gum is congealed sap that was used for manufacturing polishes and later, varnishes. Gumdiggers harvested tons of hidden gum. However, the kauris nearly experienced the same fate as the South Island’s seals – they were almost eliminated. Today, kauri trees are few in number, and they are protected.
As economic ‘development’ was occurring in the west and south, sociopolitical developments were occurring in the northeast. After Cook’s visits to New Zealand, the next Europeans to arrive signaled the beginning of a flood of missionaries. Samuel Marsden of the Anglican Church Missionary Society was the first Christian missionary to land in New Zealand, and he arrived in 1814 (Marsden also brought the first cattle to New Zealand). Henry Williams replaced Marsden as head of the society in 1823 – the same year the Methodist missionaries arrived. The Catholic missionaries arrived shortly afterward in 1838.
Williams advised the British that the Maori needed protection, and James Busby was sent from Britain and appointed as British Resident. By 1835, Busby had organized a Declaration of Independence of New Zealand, and it was signed by 52 chiefs. This document established an independent Maori state – the Confederation of United Tribes – and it promised friendship and protection for British citizens in New Zealand.
There were, however, problems between the British and the Maori. The greatest problem was that land sales were being conducted by those whom seemingly lacked understanding of the concept of privately owned real estate. The British decided that their relationship with New Zealand probably presented more liability than potential profit, so they sought to change that relationship by taking sovereignty over New Zealand.
In January of 1840, Captain William Hobson arrived in New Zealand and was appointed Lieutenant Governor. Within a few days, Hobson and Busby had penned the Treaty of Waitangi granting sovereignty to Britain. (This treaty was critical for annexation because of the recently enacted Declaration of Independence.) The treaty was translated in to Maori by Williams, the Anglican Missionary. History suggests that Williams’ interpretation ‘sugar coated’ the terms of the treaty (intentionally or not), and consequently, the Maori did not understand what they were signing. But sign they did. On February 6, 1840, the treaty was signed by those chiefs present at Waitangi, and it was eventually signed by more than 500 chiefs.
Problems escalated almost immediately. There were large property transfers to the British government, and chiefs were being usurped of their powers. These problems escalated for 20 years until they came to a head in 1860 with the onset of the New Zealand Wars (also called the Maori Wars or the New Zealand Civil War).
The New Zealand Wars went on for 12 years at a tremendous cost to both the British and the Maori. And when they finally stopped in 1872, the British government took yet more “necessary” lands, but the Maori had been worn down and did not openly resist. (The Maori population in the 1780s was between 200,000 and 400,000. In the 1890s, it was a mere 42,000.)
New Zealand remained a British colony until 1907 when it was designated a Dominion. The Statute of Westminster offered autonomy to New Zealand in 1931, but the New Zealand Parliament did not adopt the statute until 1947.
Today, New Zealand’s government is a parliamentary democracy based on the British system, and this young country is becoming known for its progressive social welfare legislation. New Zealand was the first country to grant the right to vote to women in 1893. They were the first country to establish old age pensions in 1898. They established socialized medicine in 1941, and residents continue to get healthcare without charge. New Zealand has also taken a strong anti-nuclear stance in that it will allow no nuclear reactors in its country, including its waters. Therefore, not only is nuclear cargo prohibited, but nuclear powered ships cannot enter New Zealand waters. (In 1976, there were protests of the visit of the US nuclear warship, Truxton. By 1985 – the same year the Greenpeace vessel, Rainbow Warrior, was sunk in Auckland harbor by French agents – the USS Buchannan was refused entry to New Zealand because it violated the new anti-nuclear policy.)
And so this young country continues to evolve. Although the hilly terrain is not conducive to growing most agricultural crops, it is conducive to grazing sheep and cattle which roam throughout both islands. The sheep and cattle industries are strong, and New Zealand exports large amounts of meat and dairy. It is a beautiful land populated by friendly people and A LOT of sheep.
We spent our first month in New Zealand in the general area called Northland (which includes the Bay of Islands). We also visited Whangarei and the Kauri Forests. We spent 16 days sailing from Northland to Auckland, then we spent over three months in Auckland. We spent only two days sailing back north from Auckland to Opua, and we stayed in Opua again for 15 chilly days waiting for a weather window to sail north for Fiji. We left New Zealand on May 16, 2006.
If you don’t fancy making passages, you can jump ahead to Fiji.