New Zealand is a country of stunning and diverse natural beauty: jagged mountains, rolling pasture land, steep fiords, pristine trout-filled lakes, raging rivers, scenic beaches, and active volcanic zones. These islands are one of Earth’s most peculiar bioregions, inhabited by flightless birds seen nowhere else such as a nocturnal, burrowing parrot called the kakapo and kiwi. Kiwi are not only one of the national symbols – the others being the silver fern leaf and koru – but also the name New Zealanders usually call themselves.
These islands are sparsely populated, particularly away from the North Island, but easily accessible. There are sparklingly modern visitor facilities, and transport networks are well developed with Airports throughout the country and well maintained highways. New Zealand often adds an adventure twist to nature: it’s the original home of jet-boating through shallow gorges, and bungy jumping off anything high enough to give a thrill.
Māori culture continues to play an important part in everyday life and government and corporate symbolism with abundant opportunities for visitors to understand and experience both the history and present day forms of Māori life.
New Zealand was the last significant land mass on earth to be settled by humans.
East Polynesians reached New Zealand about 700 years ago in a series of tremendous oceanic canoe voyages to begin settlement of what was to become New Zealand – some 46,000 years after Australia. Their populations grew rapidly and led to the extinction of many unique species of flightless birds, including all 9 species of Moa, some of which grew to about 3.6m (12 ft) in height with neck outstretched and weighed about 230kg (510 lb) ! Over time their culture in these colder lands diverged into the unique Māori that the artists of Captain Cook recorded.
Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, in 1642, was the first non-Polynesian to sight the North West coast of the South Island of New Zealand.(There is a claim, disputed by most historians, that a Portuguese expedition led by Cristovao de Mendonça beat him to it over a hundred years before in 1521-1524). Tasman named his find Staten Landt (on the assumption that it was connected to Staten Island, Argentina at the south of the tip of South America) and this appeared on maps from as early as 1645.
His two ships stopped to take on fresh water in Golden Bay, but were attacked by Māori and four of his men and several Māori were killed there – causing him to name it “Murderer’s Bay”. Leaving the South Island by sailing up the west coast of the North Island, he mapped a small portion of the coastline; Dutch cartographers re-named this known part as Nova Zeelandia.
As part of a dedicated voyage of scientific discovery, Yorkshireman James Cook, a Captain of the Royal Navy, circumnavigated the North, South and Stewart islands in 1769 and charted their coasts. A few people of European and US origin, mostly sealers, whalers, traders and missionaries, settled during the next 80 years, some taking local wives.
In 1840, with the assistance of missionaries, Māori signed different versions of the Treaty of Waitangi and there have been arguments as to the meaning of the cod Maori version ever since. More intensive European (Pākehā) settlement began that same year. Initially annexed to the colony of New South Wales, New Zealand was split off to form a separate colony in 1841. A series of land wars between 1843 and 1872, coupled with political manoeuvring and the spread of European diseases, broke Māori resistance to Pākehā land settlement, but left lasting grievances. In recent years the government has sought to address long standing Māori grievances, but this is a complicated and rancorous process. In 2005, the Māori Party was formed, in part in response to the Government’s law on the Foreshore and Seabed but also to promote an independent Māori perspective at a political level.
When the six British colonies federated to form Australia in 1901, New Zealand decided not to join the federation. Instead, the British colony of New Zealand became a self-governing dominion in 1907. It was offered complete independence under the 1931 Statute of Westminster, although it did not adopt this until 1947. All remaining constitutional links with the United Kingdom were severed with the passing of the New Zealand Constitution Act by both parliaments in 1986, though Queen Elizabeth II in right of New Zealand remains the Head of State (with a local Governor-General (appointed only after local advice) as her representative in New Zealand. Interestingly, the Constitution of Australia still permits New Zealand to join as another Australian state.
New Zealand supported the United Kingdom militarily in the Boer War of 1899–1902, as well as both World Wars. It also participated in wars in Malaya, Korea and Vietnam under various military alliances, including the ANZUS treaty with Australia and the United States. More information about New Zealand’s military history can be found at the National Army Museum.
New Zealand’s population has strongly opposed the testing and use of nuclear weapons. The prospect of nuclear armed US warship visits meant that its Parliament enacted anti-nuclear legislation in the mid-1980s. After consultations with Australia, the US announced that it was suspending its treaty obligations to New Zealand until US Navy ships were re-admitted to New Zealand ports, stating that New Zealand was “a friend, but not an ally”. Military relations were not repaired until 2010.
New Zealand is now a socially enterprising, vigorous and independent nation with a widely-travelled and well-educated population of more than 4 million.
More than one million New Zealanders were born overseas. Of the other 3 million native “Kiwis”, one in four (one in three between ages 22 and 48) have recently left “Godzone” for more favourable economic opportunities abroad (often to Australia where “Kiwis” uniquely don’t need a visa).
New Zealand has a temperate climate – winters are fairly cold in the south of the South Island but mild in the north of the North Island. The nature of the terrain, the prevailing winds and the length of the country lead to sharp regional contrasts. Maximum daytime temperatures sometimes exceed 30°C (86°F)and only fall below 0°C (32°F) in the elevated inland regions. Generally speaking, rainfall and humidity is higher in the west than the east of the country due to the north-south orientation of the mountain ranges and the prevailing westerly/north westerly winds.
Part situated in the Roaring Forties, unsheltered areas of the country can get a bit breezy, especially in the centre, through Cook Strait and around Wellington. The winds seem to be stronger around the equinoxes. In the winter, southerly gales can be severe but they also bring snow to the ski-fields and are usually followed by calm clear days.
New Zealand is one of the most difficult countries in the world in which to forecast the weather. Although the weather is changeable, there is certainly more sunshine and warm temperate temperatures to enjoy in summer. It is not uncommon, especially on the South Island, to experience four seasons in one day.
New Zealand is a small country surrounded by ocean. A complicating, but often beneficial factor on the day to day weather, is the steep mountain range running down the spine of New Zealand orientated in a southwest-northeast direction. These mountains often shelter eastern parts of the country from an onslaught of westerly winds and rain.
The weather is mostly influenced by fast moving weather systems in the strong westerly winds, which are often referred to as the roaring forties, that predominate over southern parts of the country and seas to the south. There tends to be a seven day cycle associated with these westerlies as a cold front sweeps over the country associated with a couple of days rain, somewhere over the country. Often though these westerlies are disrupted by large high pressure systems or by storm systems.
During the summer and early autumn months from about December to April, the westerlies tend to move south giving more settled weather. Always be prepared for a change though. Also, during this time, random weather systems from the tropics can make their presence felt, mainly over the North Island, with a period of warm wet windy weather.
In the Winter, May to August, the weather tends to be more changeable. Cold fronts often bring a period of rain to western areas followed by a cold wind from the south bringing snow to the mountains and sometimes to near sea level over eastern parts of the South Island. When the weather turns cold and wet in the east, to the west of the mountains it will be fantastic. At this time of the year it is not uncommon for high pressure systems and clear skies to park over the whole country for long periods bringing crisp frosty nights and mornings followed by cool sunny days.
In spring, from August to November, the westerly winds are typically at their strongest – these are called the equinoctial westerlies. It tends to rain more in western areas, and especially on the South Island, at this time, while in the east, warm dry winds can give great cycling weather. Once again though, a cold front and its accompanying south winds can give you a taste of winter at any stage.
The Metservice has weather forecasts for five days in advance.