Welcome to Aotearoa, the country of the long white cloud, as it’s named in Maori. This is probably the country which is the most often missing on a map, so just to help you: it is located in the bottom right corner of the map. This means it’s even further than Australia, 2000 km away, in the Pacific Ocean.
A very new country
New-Zealand is one of the latest land discovered by human. It was first colonized by people from the Pacific islands, which settled there around 1300 AD. They are the original indigenous people named Maori. Later, in the 17th century, Abel Tasman was the first European who discovered the New-Zealand coast and left his name to the sea which separates the country from Australia. But it’s only a hundred years later that the explorer James Cook made the first map of the two islands which form the country, and left his name to the strait between these islands. So the colonization of New-Zealand by Europeans really started in the 19th century. In 1840 was signed the Waitangi Treaty between the Maori tribes and the United-Kingdom, making New-Zealand one of the British colonies, and still seen as the foundation act of the country, and the warrant of Maori’s rights. This treaty didn’t avoid two wars between Maori and Pakeha (name of the Europeans) in that century. New-Zealand became officially independent as a dominion in 1907
First, it was colonized by whales and seals hunter, then farmers, as the green lands offered great possibilities to grow sheep. There was some gold fever in the late 19th century. But New-Zeland remains few populated, with less than 5 million.
What I like about New-Zealand is it’s a very socially progressive country. It was the first to give the right to vote to women in 1893. All the official key positions of the government have been occupied by women. Queen Elizabeth as Head of State, the Governor-general, the Speaker, the Chief of Justice, and the Prime Minister. The actual one, Jacinda Arden, even gave birth during her mandate. Unlike its neighbor Australia, New-Zealand has a better consideration for its indigenous people, since the Waitangi tribunal formed in 1975, which intends to give back land to the Maori tribes to which they belonged. Maori is one of the official languages, and the Maori culture is pushed forward, as many tourists can see.
I also love New-Zealand because this country is ecological, or at least which tries to be “green”. NZ is completely nuclear-free, which means no nuclear energy, and also that no nuclear weapons can enter its waters (even American submarines).
New-Zealand landscapes became very popular thanks to the Lord of the Rings, filmed by the local director Peter Jackson. But what does NZ really looks like? As I said, the country is divided into two main islands, North Island and South Island (no need to explain where they are located), plus several smaller ones, which most important is Stewart Island, located at the south point of South Island. North Island is known as the “smoky island”, because of its volcanoes, and its geothermal area. South Island is known as the “jade island”, because, yes you can find jade stones there. There’s no volcano in the South, only the Southern Alps chain of mountains. One important thing to know about NZ is the tectonic plates. Indeed, the country is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, onto the geological rift between the Pacific plate and the Australian plate. That means NZ is a seismic country, which also explains the geothermal area.
Due to its remoteness, New-Zealand has a very well preserved nature. There was no mammal before the arrival of humans, only birds, like the Moa (a kind of ostrich, now disappeared) and the famous kiwi-bird with no wings. It also means there’s no dangerous species in NZ, not even snakes (only a very rare venomous spider, the Katipo). I’d say that, what characterizes most the NZ landscapes, apart from millions of sheep, is ferns, especially tree ferns. Maybe it’s due to its subtropical climate (mostly in the North, the South is more temperate climate).
Working holiday visa in Kiwiland
I went to New-Zealand with a Working holiday visa. With that visa, you can stay for 12 months in the country (only 3 months without it) and you’re allowed to work if you’re aged between 18 and 30. Honestly, I wished I could stay longer in NZ, but as I was only 19, and it was the first time I traveled so far away from home, and alone, my mother wanted to be sure, that I would not stay too long.
- Transports: due to my age, I wasn’t allowed to rent a car, and I didn’t stay long enough to buy one, so I traveled by bus. The network is really well made, and you can almost go wherever you want. I also took the Tranzalpine train, just for the view
.There only 3 railways in NZ, which is understandable in such a shaking country. Also remember, they drive on the left side.
- Accommodation: I mostly used the BBH network (Budget Backpacker Hostels). Remember smartphones and applications didn’t exist in that time.
- Language: English is the other official language, that everybody speaks with a very strong accent. Trust me my first phone call was a nightmare. But after two months, I felt really proud when I was perfectly able to make a reservation by phone.
- Working: the easiest way to find a job is in agriculture. In the Bay of Plenty (North Island) and in the vineyards of South Island, they need a lot of workers, so being a fruit picker is very common (apples, grapes, etc.). I was a kiwi fruit picker, and very happy to work with that symbolic fruit of NZ. Until I learned it was originally a berry from China, renamed “kiwi” to make it sounds more NZ.
- People: New-Zealanders are very friendly, welcoming and very relax people. “Sweet as” is the way to describe them.
- Sun: this is the main danger in NZ, due to the hole into the ozone layer. Less protected against UV, sadly NZ has the highest rate of skin cancer. So, suncream must be part of your daily routine. And I mean it, I had my worst sunburn there.
November 2007 to January 2008 – Working Holiday Visa