New Zealand is an island country in the Southwest Pacific comprising two main land-masses commonly referred to as the North Island and South Island as well as several smaller islands (the most notable of which is the Chatham islands, a set of remote islands 500 miles to the southeast of the rest of New Zealand). The country is most notable for its geographic isolation, it is situated more than 1250 miles southeast of Australia on the other side of the Tasman Sea. During its history of isolation, they island of New Zealand developed a distinct fauna most distinguished by the several species of birds found only on these islands.
During its long isolation, New Zealand served as the final refuge for several species of wildlife descended from the great breeds of Gondwanan, the worlds first and last supercontinent. About 80% of New Zealands fauna is endemic, found nowhere else but this island country. New Zealand has suffered a high rate of extinctions, including the moa, the huia, laughing owl and flightless wrens, which occupied the roles elsewhere occupied by mice. This is due to human activities such as hunting, and pressure from introduced feral animals, such as weasels, stoats, cats, goats, and deer. Five indigenous vascular plant species are now believed to be extinct as well, including Adam’s mistletoe and a species of forget-me-not.
Notably, New Zealand has led the world in island restoration projects, where offshore islands are cleared of introduced mammalian pests and native species are reintroduced. Several islands located very near to the three main islands are wildlife reserves where common pests such as possums and rodents have been eradicated to allow the reintroduction of endangered species to the islands. This allows for the natural food chain and wildlife cycle to return to an island long deprived of it’s native species.
New Zealand’s wildlife is not the only thing unique to the islands, while much of the country’s culture is derived from its British roots, it also includes significant influences from American, Australian and Māori cultures. Notably, the world’s largest Polynesian festival, Pasifika, is an annual event in Auckland. Pasifika is a Pacific Islands themed festival which attracts more than 225,000 visitors a year.
Much like New Zealand’s wildlife, the culture of the islands natives, the Maori, has been affected by the arrival of Europeans. As in traditional times, The Māori habitually perform karakia to ensure the favorable outcome of their most important undertakings, but today the prayers used are generally Christian. Māori still regard their allegiance to tribal groups as the most vital part of their personal identity, and Māori kinship roles resemble those of other Polynesian peoples. However, Māori culture has undergone considerable change since the arrival of Europeans; in particular the introduction of Christianity in the early 19th century brought about a fundamental change in everyday life as the peoples shifted from animism to a more western prayer variety.
In a travel journal for the New Zealand Board of Tourism, Australian TV personality Zoe Naylor said of her adventures in the country:
After arriving into Auckland with Air New Zealand one of my favourite ways to begin any visit to the ‘City of Sails’ is to head to High Street to get lost in the cobbled alleys and peruse the myriad of local designer shops. I always find fabulous and unique fashion that I can’t buy anywhere else in the world.
The next day I hopped on the ferry to Waiheke Island, just thirty minutes from the city. If you’ve never been there, it is like a little touch of paradise. After a tour of the stunning Cable Bay vineyard, I sat down in their restaurant and sampled some great local produce looking back at the view over Auckland city.
The following day I took a Potiki Adventure tour which provided me with an opportunity to meet some of the local Maori and experience their contemporary lifestyle. It was wonderfully insightful.
That afternoon I had the opportunity to participate as crew on an America’s Cup yacht. With the sun shining, I had a crash course in sailing one of these grand prix racing vessels. It was one of the most stimulating things I’ve ever done and a fantastic way to see Auckland city.
To top off my perfect day I treated myself to dinner at Clooney’s in Sale Street. New Zealand is perfect – it’s hip, funky and incredibly cool.
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