New Zealand's Geography and History in a Nutshell
I've been in New
Zealand for almost a week now. When I haven't been getting ready for my
trip, I've been studying up on this country and poring over maps and photos, so I couldn't wrap this page up without a brief lesson
on New Zealand's geography and history. Being an American, Iíll probably mess this
up a bit but here goes. First, the
Zealand is a country about as large as Oregon with about as many people,
around 4 million. There are two major islands here that are named, not too
imaginatively, the North Island and the South Island.
The North Island,
which is conveniently located north of the South Island, has about twice as many people as the South
Island. The North Island also has the largest city, Auckland, and
the capital, Wellington. The North Island is quite volcanic as
opposed to the South Island, which has a lot of alpine scenery, farms, fields... and
sheep. Except in the mountains,
the New Zealand climate on both islands is pretty mild with coastal high temperatures during the summertime
(that's now) typically between 70 and 80 degrees. I've worn shorts and
t-shirts every day that I've been here so far, but I guess I didn't need to
mention that for those of you Americans who are suffering through blizzards and
Now for a
little history. The islands were settled by Maoris (pronounced "MOW-rees") who migrated here from the
South Pacific, including the Cook Islands, where I had just come from. I
always figured the Maoris settled in New Zealand first and then moved on to
the islands in the South Pacific but it was just the opposite. The Maoris
in general were (and are) a strong and independent people.
Captain James Cook, the first European to explore New Zealand.
European to discover New Zealand was the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, who named
it in honor of the Zeeland province in Holland.
Tasman discovered New
Zealand in the 1600s but Europeans left New Zealand alone for the next hundred
years when Captain James Cook, who
made several remarkable explorations of the South Pacific between 1769 and 1778,
explored the country and claimed New Zealand and Australia for England.
I had stumbled across
Cook's journals when I was in college several years ago and spent many evenings in the U.C. Irvine
library reading about Cook's discoveries in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere
in the Pacific when I probably should have been studying for my midterms. Cook was really a remarkable explorer and he even visited
the Oregon coast once -- that was shortly before he was killed in Hawaii.
In fact, I had crossed paths
with Captain Cook in June on my trip down the Oregon coast (see
June 14, 2001).
in New Zealand began in the early 1800s, not by convicts as in Australia but
mostly by farmers and miners, hence New Zealand's more genteel culture. Although there were some conflicts with the
natives, Maoris in general were assimilated into the white society here more
smoothly than the aborigines were in Australia, and much more smoothly than the
Indians were in the U.S.
The Maori culture is still very strong in New
Zealand, much more so than the Indian culture is in the U.S. In fact, most
place names in New Zealand seem to be Maori names, and you see Maoris all around
the North Island and a bit less so on the South Island. Most Maori names have three or four
syllables, often alternating vowels with consonants -- and they really crack me up. Unlike English place-names, though,
I can't seem to remember the Maori place-names very well, probably because of the
various combinations of puka's, rangi's, roa's, and papa's, like "Papakoura,"
"Paparoa," and my favorite, "PapaMurphy" (that's a pizza
chain in the U.S. -- some culinary humor -- or "humour," as they say here in New
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Zealand's Geography and History in a Nutshell