Aotearoa – Land of the Long White Cloud
New Zealand is made up of two major land masses, North Island and South Island as well as a number of smaller islands including Stewart Island. The two main islands are divided by a 22km stretch of water called the Cook Strait.
The North Island is known as Te Ika-a-Maui in Maori – the fish of Maui, from the story of Māui, who hauled up the North Island on his waka (canoe), and is the more populous of the two.
The somewhat larger but much less populated South Island is known as Te Waipounamu – the water(s) of greenstone but is also sometimes referred to as Te Waka a Māui – the canoe of Maui.
'New Zealand - a pocket edition of the world'
– The youngest country on earth
Geographically isolated from other land masses for at least 80 million years when it split off from the ancient super-continent Gondwanaland, New Zealand’s flora and fauna developed species that are entirely unique and found nowhere else.
Ancient plant and animal species such as primitive pines, ferns, flowers, birds and reptiles evolved in isolation and the flightless kiwi and the tuatara can both trace their ancestry back to this long vanished world.
New Zealand is part of a continent called Zealandia, most of which is under the ocean. The country lies across two moving tectonic plates – segments of the earth’s crust and as these plates collide, the rocks are being pushed up creating hills and mountains, including the Southern Alps.
Over two thirds of the population lives in North Island and the remainder in South Island. The majority of New Zealand’s population is of European descent while Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand is the most ethnically diverse in the country.
New Zealander’s are affectionately known as “Kiwis” and the name derives from the kiwi, a flightless bird native to New Zealand. The kiwi has also become the most well-known national symbol for New Zealand.
New Zealander’s are friendly and speak English, they say hello to you in the street and in the small towns you’ll get talking and be invited in for a cup of tea. Away from the main tourist centres, shopkeepers show a genuine interest in you and your needs and have been little influenced by the sales pitches of the cities.
New Zealanders new and old jokingly refer to this land as “Godzone”.
New Zealand’s cuisine can best be described as “Pacific Rim”, gaining inspiration from Europe, Asia and Polynesia.
This blend of influences has created a delicious range of flavours and food in cafes and restaurants nationwide. For distinctly New Zealand style dishes, there’s lamb, pork and cervena (venison), salmon, crayfish (lobster), Bluff oysters, whitebait (smelt), paua (abalone), mussels, scallops, pipis and tuatua (both are types of New Zealand shellfish), kumara (sweet potato), kiwifruit, tamarillo and pavlova, the national dessert. There is also New Zealand’s national ice cream – Hokey Pokey.
There are many fine dining restaurants to compliment bistros, cafes, bakeries and a coffee culture. New Zealand has had an excellent reputation for local beer and wine. Besides the large breweries, there are also many local micro-breweries producing more flavoured brews.
New Zealand has a stunning and diverse range of scenery. Within a short distance, the eastern plains changes to alps and ice and then to wild rainforests, glaciers and rugged coastlines with penguins, seals and dolphins.
This is what we call “The Real New Zealand”.
Sadly, many travellers haven’t had the opportunity to actually meet the local people and explore the magic of the country. Many travellers choose to experience New Zealand by way of a large coach tour or alternatively, they have chosen to “self-drive” with a GPS. It was, for this reason, we guide and host our own intimate small group custom tours of New Zealand’s South Island.
New Zealand – Where nature comes to you
The tragedy concerning the recent history of New Zealand’s flora, fauna, the birds, reptiles and insects is the damage caused by humans and the predators they brought with them.
Before civilisation, New Zealand was a land of birds, an avian society and night and day the forests were alive with rustlings, calls, booms, whistles and hoots. Early explorers and European settlers noted the New Zealand forest had a loud dawn chorus. This is no longer the case due to extensive loss of forests and the introduction of bird predators and competing species. The bellbird and the tui are two of the birds that would have formed part of the dawn chorus since they have a vocal and melodious call. There were over 120 species of geese, ducks, rails, moa, parrots, owls, wrens and other perching birds. Around 70 of these were found only in New Zealand. Almost a quarter was nocturnal, and many were giants. The huge, flightless, foliage-browsing moa occupied niches usually the reserve of browsing mammals and the tiny wren.
Birds such as the weka, kea and kākāpō evolved in isolation and they had few natural predators apart from the giant Haast’s eagle. By the 1900s Europeans had introduced other rat species, ferrets, weasels, stoats, cats, pigs and dogs, which further depleted New Zealand’s birds and other animals.
Now, research and management programs aid the recovery of species struggling for survival such as the kakapo, kiwi, kokako and tuatara. Time magazine once described New Zealand as “the ultimate storehouse for discontinued zoological models”, and Professor Sir David Bellamy (acclaimed British academic, botanist and TV personality) produced a television documentary series about New Zealand called “Moa’s Ark”.