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If you're reading this, then you've probably heard of New Zealand before, what you might not know is why New Zealand is such an incredible destination. It’s a very broad question to answer, and we could go on all day about it if you let us! But in the spirit of keeping things nice and straightforward, we reckon it breaks down into four main reasons: our history, our people and culture, our environment and lastly the fact that we're only little. Read on, and we'll get into the nitty-gritty of why each of these reasons makes New Zealand such an alluring destination.
Around 80 million years ago, the continent of Zealandia broke away from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, much of it then sinking below sea level to leave what we now know as New Zealand. In the millions of years since it separated from the rest of the World New Zealand has developed its own incredible landscape and ecosystem, partly thanks to some seriously violent volcanic activity, to become one of the most unique environments in the world.
One of the most defining features of New Zealand or Aotearoa is that it was the last place in the world to be settled by humans. We’re not talking European discovery; we’re talking homo sapiens as a whole – the indigenous population of Māori have only been here for approximately 700-1000 years and European settlers for little more than 200 years. In terms of human history, this is an incredibly short time!
The local Māori are descendants of the legendary Polynesian sea-farers that discovered and populated the Pacific Islands before making the incredible journey to New Zealand hundreds of years ago, arriving and settling in the last large, habitable landmass ever to be discovered. Since that time, they have developed a unique way of life that is still alive and vibrant in many parts of the country. Māori culture places great importance whānau (family) and the wider community, this social and welcoming take on life has influenced New Zealand culture as a whole over the centuries.
In 1642 the famed Dutch Navigator Abel Tasman and his crew happened across New Zealand when on an expedition to explore the East Coast of Australia. However, he never set foot on New Zealand soil and sailed home with tales of a 'very fine land' that persisted for more than 120 years. Then in 1769 iconic British Captain, James Cook, sighted New Zealand and began to explore parts of the coastline, interacting with the local Māori and collecting information about the local plants and animals.
50 years after Captain Cook visited New Zealand there was an estimated Māori population of 100,000 and less than 200 European settlers. From there the colonisation of New Zealand was anything but smooth, with wars raging between Māori and Europeans and inter-tribal conflicts becoming bloodier due to the introduction of muskets. Eventually the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 to end the fighting and authorise British sovereignty over the country, however a host of major translation discrepancies and other factors have led to ongoing contention around the Treaty. Fast forward to today and we have a population of nearly 5 million spread across the New Zealand territories.
New Zealand has a diverse population spread out in relatively low density across much of the country. About 14% of our population identify as Māori, although many New Zealanders will simply refer to themselves as 'Kiwis.' Over the years we’ve developed a fairly practical way of life, we’re friendly, and we spend a lot of time in the outdoors because it’s so easily accessible! We’re crazy about sports (rugby in particular), have some interesting slang (if you ever visit you’ll hear plenty of it) and thanks to the influence of Māori culture and the fact that much of New Zealand is made up of small, rural communities, we have a reputation for legendary Kiwi hospitality.
Several concepts of Māori culture help guide their way of life, and many of these have permeated through much of New Zealand culture as a whole. A few of these concepts include Manaakitanga - The idea of extending love and compassion to others, whether it be an immediate family member or a complete stranger, to support each other and build the strength of the group. Kotahitanga - The concept of oneness or togetherness, being unified and at peace as a group and a people. Kaitiakitanga - Meaning guardianship and protection of the environment, it is a way of protecting and giving back to the environment to ensure prosperity and sustainability for future generations.
Another thing you'll notice about Kiwi's is that we love a good bit of humor, it might take a moment to get used to, but you'll find we love to tease each other and can be pretty sarcastic in a friendly way. This all makes for a great experience when visiting as we are pretty down-to-earth, relaxed and easy to get along with – We're probably a little biased, but hopefully you'll visit one day and find out for yourself!
Still don’t believe us? Here are a few quick examples: We were the first country in the world to give women the right to vote, A Kiwi - Sir Edmund Hillary, was the first person to climb Mount Everest. We've been consistently rated the least corrupt country in the world for the last four years (tied with Denmark), and we have the longest place name in the world 'Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu’ – read a bunch more exciting facts here.
One of New Zealand's biggest drawcards is our stunning and unique environment. Geologically New Zealand is part of the 'Ring of Fire,' and much of the North Island is volcanic in nature, particularly areas like Tongariro National Park, Taupo, Taranaki, and Rotorua. This has led to the formation of several standalone mountains including the stunningly symmetrical Mount Taranaki. Along with some incredible geothermal features right across the North Island with a concentration near Rotorua and Taupo. It also means there are some incredible offshore islands such as the famous White Island or Whakaari in Māori (our most active volcano) and the Poor Knights Islands (one of the top dive destinations on the planet) and the iconic Bay of Islands.
The South Island is dominated by the Southern Alps, this mountain range runs the length of the island and creates a stunning environment and weather patterns. Areas like Fiordland, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, Mount Cook/Aoraki and Arthurs pass are prime examples of the stunning locations the Southern Alps have produced.
Thanks to this unique geography on both Islands New Zealand has a massive amount of stunning natural features such as lakes, river, waterfalls, hot springs, glaciers, craters, geothermal areas, white sand beaches, islands, archways, lush forests and so much more. The best part is it’s all crammed into a small area where you’re never more than 75mi (120km) from the ocean.
Geology aside, New Zealand's wildlife is absolutely incredible. Having separated from the rest of the world 80 million years ago, we have a very unique eco-system. Two species of fruit bat are our only native land mammals, so birds ruled the land until other mammals were introduced and some bird went extinct through various means. Moa were the largest birds in existence weighing up to 550lb (250kg) and reaching over 11ft (3.5m) tall when stretched upwards. However potentially even more impressive is the Haast Eagle that weighed twice as much as any other eagle with a wingspan of up to 10ft (3m) that preyed upon the giant Moa! Both of these species went extinct soon after the arrival of humans.
Even today we have many iconic native species including the flightless Kiwi, Tuatara (the only survivor of an ancient reptile family that lived alongside dinosaurs 200+ million years ago), Māui Dolphin (the world's rarest and smallest dolphin). Kea (the only truly alpine parrot in the world), Giant Wētā (the world’s largest insect) and Kākāpō (probably the oldest living bird species on the planet).
We have the 9th longest coastline of any country even though we are 76th in terms of landmass, on top of that over 30% of our landmass is protected so we can look after our beautiful environment. All in all, we are incredibly lucky to live in a stunning environment chock full of unique wildlife that is well looked after!
We touched on it briefly earlier, but one of the main reasons New Zealand is so fantastic is that we are only little! We mean this in a few different ways, yes in a physical sense New Zealand is only a small, long and narrow country about 1,000mi (1,600km) long and 280mi (450km) at the widest point. This is fantastic because you could start your day on top of a snowy mountain and the same afternoon you could be swimming on a white sand beach! For travelers, it means you can see and do so much no matter where you are and spend less time on the road or catching flights to get places.
In another sense it means we are close people thanks to our low population and small size; we often joke that there are only two degrees of separation in New Zealand (everybody knows someone who knows someone that knows you). This, of course, isn't actually true but it's a good indicator of how intertwined the country is. It’s also one of the many reasons why we have so many fantastic family run businesses like hotels, lodges, attractions, tour operators, restaurants, transporters and more that offer our legendary Kiwi hospitality. This allows people to have a truly genuine, authentic, and immersive experience when visiting New Zealand!