New Zealand Country Blog (1/2)
Last updated: Monday April 5th, 2021
New Zealand, whose size roughly equals Germany, is a country of 5 million located in the South Pacific, at the confluence of Australasia (lat. 'south of Asia') and Polynesia (grc. 'many islands'). While most people see New Zealand as part of the Oceanian continent, some scientists plead for NZ being its own, largely submerged microcontinent called Zealandia - you'll be the judge on this issue. New Zealand's nearest neighbors are Australia, Fiji, and Tonga, all being more than 1,000 km away from the geographically isolated nation, which equals a three-hour flight at least. The country is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, therefore often subject to earthquakes that can easily reach a magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter scale. New Zealand mainly consists of two islands, uncreatively named the North and South Island, as well as lots of offlying minor islands. The distance between the northernmost point of North Island and the southernmost point of South Island is 1,400 km as the crow flies or 2,100 km while driving. While the South Island is the bigger of the two in terms of area, the North Island is the demographic and economic powerhouse of the country. South Island is home to the highest mountain chain of New Zealand, the Southern Alps, reaching a maximum altitude of 3,724 m (12,218 ft) at Mount Cook or Aoraki in the Māori language. Sparsely populated South Island is famous for its mountains, valleys, cold lakes, and fjords, the most notable one being Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park on the west coast of the island. In contrast to the South, the North is more known for its volcanoes, its waterways and its lush green vegetation. Due to the fact that the North Island is located closer to the Equator, the temperatures are generally more mild, reaching 30° C (86° F) in summer, while South Island places like Dunedin get an average daily summer temperature of only 15° C (59° F). Remember: New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means summer happens between December and March, and July is a winter month. North Island is also home to New Zealand's biggest lake, Lake Taupō (pronounce: toe-paw), which is emptied by the nation's longest river, the Waikato. North Island was created multiple million years ago, when the Taupō supervolcano erupted, this can be seen as the highest points of the island can all be found near the former caldera of that supervolcano. Today, those mountains (Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe, and Ruapehu) form the most iconic parts of Tongariro National Park, visited by millions every year. By the way, some of these mountains did serve as a filming location for Lord of the Rings's notorious 'Mount Doom'.
If you look closely on a satellite map of North Island, you might notice a perfectly-formed single mountain in the western parts of the island. That mountain is actually a volcano, and is called Mount Taranaki (see thumbnail), that too served as a filming location, primarily for volcano scenes. Even Mount Fuji scenes were filmed here! After North and South Island, the third-biggest New Zealand island is Stewart Island or Rakiura, a very sparsely populated island south of South Island. The third-biggest island in population, however, is Waiheke Island (pronounce: why-hee-kee) with about 9,500 inhabitants. Waiheke is famous for its vineyards and wineries. Plus, the island is located extremely close to the nation's largest city, Auckland, with lots of commuters living on the island.
The alpine scenery of South Island compared to North Island's lush vegetation. Source 1. Source 2
Speaking of cities, Auckland, the largest city in the country, has about 1.5 million people which equals 1/3 of the entire country's population! The capital, however, is Wellington located on the southern end of North island. In general, the North Island has bigger cities than its southern counterpart. All New Zealand urban areas with a population of 50,000 can be found in the following table:
A collection of New Zealand city images. Auckland, Dunedin, and Rotorua. Source 1. Source 2. Source 3
These cities coincide with the best-known New Zealand settlements, with the notable exception of Queenstown. Queenstown, a city in South Island's interior, has about 16,000 inhabitants and is known for being New Zealand's adventure capital. Bungee jumping, jetboating, alpine climbing, zorbing (a sport Kiwis invented), skydiving and much more can be done in the charming little city on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
Although no unilaterally agreed definition on what a 'settlement' or a 'city' exists, it is generally accepted that Whangārei is the nation's northernmost major hub, while Invercargill marks the southern pendant, being one of the most meridional cities in the entire world! Invercargill, at the same time, also forms the westernmost city. To complete the four cardinal directions, Gisborne (pop.: 37,200) is the easternmost city, being one of the first cities in the world to see the sun. New Zealand cities are generally built very compact (although suffering badly from urban sprawl) without a lot of suburbs, meaning city proper mostly equals urban area at the same time. Notable exemptions include the conurbation of the twin cities of Napier and Hastings, and four independent cities in the Wellington urban area (Wellington, Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, and Porirua). In fact, the term 'suburb' has a different meaning in Aotearoa than in the United States. Here, it refers to a neighborhood or any other kind of divisional parts within a city, but does not refer to a suburb in terms of an independent city bordering the main city. These are called satellite communities.
New Zealand was one of the last big landmasses to be inhabited by humans. It is estimated that first human settlers arrived somewhen in the 13th century AD. Those settlers were Māori, a Polynesian sailing people, who are nowadays regarded as the indigenous people of New Zealand. According to Māori legend, the first settlers, led by legendary Kupe, came in canoes from Hawaiki, the mystical original home of all Polynesians (most likely in modern-day French Polynesia). Different Māori tribes, or iwi lived untouched by Western civilization for 400 years, until a Dutchman named Abel Tasman became the first European to sight New Zealand on December 13, 1642. Māori tribes were hostile towards the European newcomers and attacked them with arrows and spears. Due to this hostility, Tasman and his crew never set any foot on New Zealand's main islands. The Dutch cartographers (the leading guild of their time) named the place Nieuw Zeeland, or New Zealand, in honor of the Dutch province of Zeeland. Time passed and the British became the dominant colonial power. In 1769, British captain James Cook became the first European to set foot on New Zealand, doing so in Poverty Bay near present-day Gisborne on the east coast of North Island. Visitors from the Old Continent became more common (primarily in the northern parts of North Island) and Māori used the newcomers to trade goods such as wood, flax or food. But history has shown us brutally that colonialists were rarely acting on peaceful intentions. They were eager to claim land, get reputation and spreading Christianity. In contrast to its big neighbor Australia, New Zealand wasn't a penal colony and did receive very few criminals.
Trade has played an integral part during the early years of colonization. Source
A major event in New Zealand history happened on 6 February, 1840, when the British Crown and Māori chiefs signed a treaty establishing the colony of New Zealand. While the British got the sovereignty over the land, Māori got their properties defined and became British subjects. Britain was now officially the owner of New Zealand, allowing British people to flock into the country. This pact, known as the Treaty of Waitangi has since then become a national mythos in New Zealand as it gave the country some kind of identity. February 6, the date of the treaty, has been recognized as New Zealand's national day in 1974. The treaty comes with a hollow aftertaste though. The text did not say the exact same words in English and Te Reo Māori, which the English used to their advantage. For example, in the Māori version the word "sovereignty" was translated as "governance", which means the Māori didn't agree to give the British sovereignty over the land, but rather just governance. With the establishment of the treaty, New Zealand got its first colonial government, led by the first governor in New Zealand history, Mr. William Hobson. The ever-growing presence of British settlers looking for land was bound to lead to skirmishes between colonialists and indigenous people. And so, shortly after the renowned and famous treaty, New Zealand sunk into one of its darkest eras, the New Zealand Wars.
The year is 1843. Many important cities have been founded in the last three years, such as New Plymouth, Whanganui, or most importantly, Auckland. More and more Europeans (or pākehā in the Māori language) have come to New Zealand to power British colonialism and some of them illegally occupied Māori land, which unsurprisingly angered the locals a lot. In the northern parts of South Island, surveyors looking for land on behalf of the colonial government entered rightful Māori property in the Wairau Valley. Māori chiefs did warn the intruders to leave their territory immediately. The surveyors refused, which led to a carnage called the Wairau Affray and eventually ended in the deaths of four Māori and 22 British settlers. The New Zealand Wars had started.
Many tribes have started to challenge the British, as they felt betrayed by the disregard of the Treaty of Waitangi a few years earlier. Many clashes, mostly in the North Island, happened with hundreds of deaths, one of the most notable ones being the 1845 Flagstaff War, in which legendary Māori leader Hōne Heke cut down a British flagstaff as a sign of disrespect. After reaching its height in the 1860s, the New Zealand Wars ended in 1872, after 29 years, with an overwhelming British victory. Huge land confiscations (more than 16,000 sq km of Māori land) happened and Māori people were humiliated and ostracized by the British. Those land wars left 3,000 men and women dead.
Māori leader Hōne Heke cuts down the British flagstaff, 1845. Source
In 1861, gold was discovered in the Central Otago region of South Island. Many people from all around the world flocked to New Zealand to make themselves a fortune. This in return, made the near city of Dunedin (speak: duh-NEE-dən) the biggest urban area in the country, only to lose it to Auckland a few years later. Speaking of Auckland, the isthmus city had been the capital since 1841, but in 1865 it was decided to move the capital to a more centralized location, and so government offices moved to Wellington, which continues to serve as a national capital to this day.
In 1893, New Zealand became the first nation (although still being a colony back then) in the world to grant women the right to vote - including Māori women. It has to be noted though, that this only applied to the active suffrage. The passive suffrage (i.e. the right to stand for election) did not get introduced for females until 1919. Immigration remained big around the fin-de-siècle and party politics came up, eventually preferring a two-party system of the Labour Party (left-wing) and Liberal Party (right-wing), the latter being renamed to National Party a bit later. We will focus more on that in chapter 3. In 1907, New Zealand officially became a dominion, a type of British 'colony' with high levels of self-governance. Many pundits see this date as NZ's independence from Britain.
In World War I, Australia and New Zealand fought together for the Allies under one army corps, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). The fighting led to another growing feeling of national identity. The army corps is best known for its brave fighting in the Gallipoli Campaign (modern-day Turkey), costing the lives of 2,700 NZ soldiers. To this date, every 25 April (the date of the landing in Gallipoli in 1915), New Zealand remembers the fallen commemorating the so-called ANZAC Day. In World War II, New Zealand again defended their side together with the British Empire, suffering from 12,000 casualties in the end.
Māori soldiers performing their Haka war dance in North Africa, 1941. Source
In 1945, New Zealand became a founding member of the United Nations, and joined a security treaty with the US and Australia only six years later. In 1953, fellow New Zealander Edmund Hillary became the first person to climb Mount Everest together with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Somewhen in the 1980s, Māori people got their renaissance when their language was revived and their protest movements to support indigenous rights got more popular. Today, Māori people have their own language, TV channels, parties, businesses and much more and aren't seen as second-class citizens anymore. New Zealand has found its identity which is based on the principle of including everyone. In 2011, the city of Christchurch was struck by an earthquake which left 185 people dead and the Christchurch Cathedral, an icon of the city, heavily damaged. In 2019, Christchurch again became the epicenter of news when a white supremacist gunman opened fire on two mosques, killing 51, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in all of New Zealand's history. As brutal as this atrocity was, as beautiful was New Zealand's response to this with unconditional support to the Muslim community (or whānau) and the follow-up ban on semi-automatic rifles. (personal anecdote: back then, I was in New Zealand myself and experienced the tragedy first-handed and was absolutely impressed and proud of that reaction)
Kia kaha, New Zealand. I'm proud of you. Source
New Zealand, together with 15 other nations, is a commonwealth realm, a union of former British colonies with the Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, as their head of state. So, does this make Queen Elizabeth the leader of New Zealand? Well, somehow yes and somehow no. The Queen does have very little influence on New Zealand politics and serves more as an identity symbol. She has a ceremonial role and does not interfere in internal affairs, but she is the rightful head of state, a fact many New Zealanders seem to not know. If the monarch is not present in New Zealand itself, they get represented by the so-called 'Governor-General' who is authorized to appoint and dismiss officials on behalf of the Sovereign. The Governor-General has a lot of appointments all around the country as acting head of state.
New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy. The Queen (or, if absent, the Governor-General) together with the elected House of Representatives form the New Zealand Parliament. To all Americans reading this: a parliament is essentially the same as Congress. The parliament then forms a government that creates policies and laws, and is chaired by the prime minister who serves as the chief executive of the government and is often seen as the factual leader of New Zealand. As of April 2021, all three leader roles are taken by women. To sum up, there is no clear answer to who the leader of New Zealand is. All offices have their certain tasks and duties. Here's a little table for a better understanding:
|the Sovereign (Queen)||head of state||Elizabeth II|
|Governor-General||representative of the head of state||Dame Patsy Reddy|
|Prime Minister||head of government||Jacinda Ardern|
The current government as the executive power is formed by a coalition of left-wing parties, namely the Labour Party and the Green Party, with Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party being the biggest partner. Labour itself has won enough votes in the 2020 election to govern without a coalition, but still decided to include the Greens. New Zealand's Parliament meets in the Parliament Buildings in Wellington, with its executive wing, colloquially known as 'the Beehive', being the office of the Prime Minister. Parliament consists of 120 members, gets elected every four years using mixed proportional representation since 1993 and is currently represented by five different political parties, which can be found in the table below:
|Party||Ideology and Position||Seats||in Government?|
|Labour||centre-left social democracy||65||✓|
|National||centre-right conservatism and liberalism||33||×|
|Green||left-wing progressivism and environmentalism||10||✓|
|ACT||right-wing liberalism, individual freedoms||10||×|
|Māori||centre-left indigenous rights||2||×|
Prior to the 2020 election, New Zealand's government also included the right-wing populist NZ First Party, but they lost all of their seats and are no longer represented in neither the government nor the parliament. (I have no idea why Labour and NZ First decided to form a government in the first place).
Administratively, New Zealand is split up into 71 general constituencies (or electorates), sending one MP each to Wellington. Loyal to the purpose of proportional representation, the other 49 seats are filled by party lists. Seven of those 71 general constituencies are Māori electorates, meaning they are reserved for Māori politicians only. Currently, five of them are represented by Labour politicians, while the local Māori party holds the other two.
The centre of political life. Parliament Buildings in Wellington. Source
New Zealand is divided into sixteen regions. Those regions mark the first-level subdivisions of New Zealand and have local governments. Eleven of them have regional councils, while five act as unitary authorities, meaning the biggest city's council acts on behalf of the region too. Nine of them are located in the North Island, the largest one being Auckland Region with more than 1.6 million people. At the bottom of that list is West Coast Region in the South Island with a mere population of 33,000. The smallest region in terms of area is Nelson Region at 424 km2 (which solely encompasses the city of Nelson), and the biggest is Canterbury (Christchurch's region) at 44,508 km2, which approximately corresponds to the size of Switzerland.
The Chatham Islands, about 800 km east of the mainland, are part of New Zealand too, but can't be found in any region. Instead, they have their own small local council. They are too small to send an MP to Parliament, so instead they are included in a Wellington electorate.
At this point you may ask yourself: "how can this guy talk for so long about New Zealand without mentioning the Cook Islands and Niue once? Aren't they part of New Zealand too?" It might surprise you, but the answer to this question is both yes and no. To clarify on this, we need to differentiate between New Zealand proper (which most people refer to as 'New Zealand') and the Realm of New Zealand.
The Realm of New Zealand is an area where the Queen acts as the 'Monarch of New Zealand', but has no further relevance. The realm of New Zealand includes New Zealand proper, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, and Ross Dependency. As you can see, these regions are part of New Zealand if speaking about the Realm, but not part of New Zealand proper. The Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing countries in free association with New Zealand, and the Monarch of New Zealand is their head of state (there is no Monarchy of the Cook Islands or Niue). New Zealand remains responsible for external affairs and other smaller policies, and Cook Islanders and Niueans are nationals of New Zealand, but they have high degrees of autonomy. Those two nations actually have own diplomatic relations, their own parliament and have own custom controls (includes controlling New Zealand citizens, who are not Cook Islands/Niue citizens!). It's a very complicated issue which would need its own blog, but in a nutshell it can be said that those countries are autonomous and not part of the country of New Zealand but share strong ties.
The status of Tokelau, however, is different. Tokelau is a dependent territory, but is referred to by officials as a nation. Although there are general elections on Tokelau, citizens advocate against further self-determination giving their minute population of just 1,500 people. Last but not least, New Zealand claims the Ross Dependency in Antarctica, but through the Antarctic Treaty of 1961, that claim remains unrecognized by the international community as Antarctica should be free for everyone to conduct scientifical research.
The flags of the Cook Islands (left) and Niue. Source 1. Source 2