By Fija van der Kooij
A travel story about New Zealand
Famous for its rugby team, Lord of the Rings and manuka honey, New Zealand is so much more than these three things. The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. The arrival of Europeans in the 17th century brought enormous changes to the Maori way of life. Maori people gradually adopted many aspects of the Western society and culture and since 1840, with the Treaty of Waitangi, the two cultures coexist.
The country exists out of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island with another few smaller islands surrounding them. One fun fact is that 77% of all the people in the country live on the North Island while the South Island is a third bigger. With a landmass of 268,000 square kilometres, it is the 75th biggest country in the world with an impressive coastline of 15,000 km. The highest point is on Aoraki (Mount Cook) at 3,724 meters. New Zealand offers a diversity of various landscapes, wherefore several types of nature are present: mountains, fiords, volcanos, beaches, glaciers and lakes.
On TV, the New Zealand rugby team performs the famous ‘Haka’ before every match. Besides this traditional ceremonial dance, the culture of the Maori is built on traditions. They traditionally cook food under the ground, greet people by pressing their noses and foreheads together and often wear traditional face paint to show who they are as Maori. Each face painting reflects the individual’s ancestry and personal history. In earlier times, it was an important signifier of social rank, knowledge and eligibility to marry. Their language known as Te Reo has the status of an official language. The people are warm and welcoming. My personal experience has been that Maori are proud of their heritage and having worked with several Maori in New Zealand, they were always eager to tell me more about their culture and traditions.
Having had the pleasure of experiencing New Zealand for over a year, I can say it has been my favourite country to visit. One of the reasons why, is its diverse nature and biodiversity. But not only this, the people are some of the kindest souls I have ever met. Extremely helpful in every situation. They are welcoming to tourists and are proud to be called Kiwis. A Kiwi is a flightless bird, native to the country and the national symbol for the people of New Zealand. I was happy to work in several hotels, restaurants and bars where I encountered many locals.
Franz Josef Glacier
A unique place to visit is the Franz Josef Glacier. A tiny village on the South Island with 350 permanent residents which hosts around 2000 overnight visitors during peak seasons. This village has been built around tourism activities and is therefore able to handle this amount of tourists. The Maori name for the glacier is Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere (‘The tears of Hine Hukatere’). According to tradition, Hine Hukatere loved climbing the mountains and persuaded her lover Tuawe to climb with her. Tuawe was a less experienced climber than Hine Hukatere but accompanied her until an avalanche swept him from the peaks to his death. Hine Hukatere was broken-hearted and her many tears flowed down the mountain. Rangi the Sky Father took pity on her and froze them to form the glacier. Not only is this story capturing, but the surroundings are astonishing. Fox Glacier (neighbouring Franz Josef) is one of only two glaciers in the world that descends into a rainforest which receives heavy rainfall, the other being Perito Merino Glacier in Argentina. But be aware: the West Coast of New Zealand receives plenty of tourists, therefore I urge you to visit other places too.
Sustainable way of travelling
New Zealand is the perfect country where to live close to nature. One of the most popular and sustainable ways to explore the various landscapes is by staying in a Self-Contained Campervan. This vehicle needs to comply with the necessary laws (such as carrying several water tanks, having a bin and portable toilet present) and needs to be certified by licenced dealers. Exploring New Zealand is an awe-inspiring experience but doing it in a campervan brings along a whole new element of excitement and adventure! Camping in a tent, campervan or motor vehicle on public land, also called freedom camping, is allowed in many places throughout the country. If done in the right way, it is such a rewarding experience. During my travels, my boyfriend and I bought our own self-contained campervan in which we toured the country. We respected nature, did not harm plants or animals and always took our trash with us. We were rewarded by exploring some unique places in the middle of nowhere, seeing the most stunning skies in the Southern hemisphere. I can’t recommend enough to go out of the cities and into nature! It is a different way of seeing nature when you wake up right in front of a mountain, lake or in the middle of a forest.
New Zealand is on the right path when it comes to sustainable tourism. Sustainability seems to be the norm for many activities. Since 2019, a tourist fee of approximately €20 has been introduced. These fees are utilized for the preservation of nature, culture, infrastructure and the tourism sector. Due to the amount of gorgeous nature, hiking is the main activity and can be done sustainably. Other activities such as canoeing, cycling, glacier viewing and swimming can easily qualify as sustainable too. Many activities involve animals unique to the country such as the famous Kiwi bird, the yellow-eyed penguins, the Maui dolphin and the New Zealand sea lion. Most of these live freely, although some live in captivity due to the rarity of their species, in order to be able to rehabilitate them. Be aware of this and respect nature by not interfering with it. Different tours with experienced guides let you see these animals in their natural habitat.
100% Pure New Zealand
The slogan of Tourism New Zealand reflects what kind of country it is – 100% Pure New Zealand. It also describes itself as a ‘clean and green adventure playground’. I find it very fitting as this has been my experience too. The amount of fun and exciting things I have done cannot be counted on two hands! I have rafted on the Queenstown river, hiked for 6 hours to get to the top of Roy’s Peak in Wanaka, visited the holy place where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, witnessed the Haka performed by Maori many times and so much more. It is truly a captivating country!
During my year in New Zealand, I have mostly lived in my campervan. We have driven from North to South and East to West, I wanted to see and experience every corner of this fantastic country. New Zealand is considered one of the safest and least corrupt countries in the world and I could sense it. I felt at ease during the entire time I was there. I had a marvellous and fascinating experience of which I am very thankful. If you end up going to New Zealand, I want to say; Kia ora, welcome!