Things you (probably) didn’t know about New Zealand

New Zealand seems to be a place that everyone likes. British people who go on holiday there often come back saying they’d happily move to the country, and it’s easy to see why – there’s fantastic scenery, a high standard of living and they’d be 12,000 miles away from their family. Not only that, but (as we saw here) New Zealand has got a city that smells almost totally eggy. What more incentive do you need?

New Zealand flag

History

If for some reason you don’t like the name New Zealand, why not try calling the country Aotearoa instead? This is the Māori name for the islands and translates, poetically, as “land of the long white cloud”.

Satellite view of New Zealand

Of course, perhaps we should all be calling it Aotearoa seeing as the Māori lived there first – they arrived in the 13th century, about 400 years before any Europeans, so should really have had first choice of what to name the place.

The first European impression of Maori people (1642)

Animals

Because of New Zealand’s location, and the fact that it was uninhabited by humans for so long, the country is home to a number of unique creatures. Most famous of these is the kiwi – New Zealanders are so proud of the flightless little bird that they like to be called kiwis themselves.

Southern brown kiwi

Kiwis (the birds) are nocturnal, have brown feathers and are about the size of a chicken (again, this is kiwis the birds not kiwis the people). They’re a record breaker in the bird world because they have the biggest egg to body ratio – kiwi eggs are about 6 times the size of a chicken’s and can weigh as much as a quarter of the female bird.

Bird eggs including a kiwi egg

These unusually large eggs are popular here in Britain, where they’re sold as “kiwi fruit” and can be sliced on top of a cake (at least I think this is right – I can’t research everything).

Kiwi fruit

Kiwis aren’t the only unique birds to have lived in New Zealand. Before being hunted to extinction by the first human settlers, the islands were home to the moa – a type of giant flightless bird, a bit like a double ostrich. Of the moa, the largest were a species called Dinornis robustus that lived on the South Island – incredibly, they grew to 3.6 metres (11 feet 9 inches) tall and weighed over 200kg (440lb).

Moa

If a bird that size sounds terrifying to you, you probably don’t want to hear about Haast’s eagle, another of New Zealand’s extinct creatures. This was the biggest species of eagle ever to have lived and, almost unbelievably, it used to hunt, kill and eat the massive moa.

A Haast’s eagle attacking some moas

Food

These days, with no more giant flightless birds to eat, New Zealanders are working their way through the islands’ sheep instead. One of the nation’s favourite dishes is a simple meat pie – the average kiwi (kiwi the person, this time) eats 15 meat pies a year and the country’s Dominos has developed a special meat pie pizza.

Meat pies

Another classic New Zealand meal is colonial goose which, somewhat predictably, is actually made of lamb. European settlers had trouble finding geese (perhaps they’d forgotten to pack them) but discovered that, if they used their imagination, a leg of lamb stuffed with honey and apricots was an acceptable substitute.

Colonial goose

Sport

Everyone knows that New Zealanders love rugby – it’s the one international sport they’re any good at – and the All Blacks have won the rugby world cup twice. Before each match the team perform a haka, a type of Māori war dance, designed to intimidate the opposing side (who usually just stand there, watching politely).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXA1DHDcLNg

With its rhythmic chanting and foot-stamping the haka can look quite frightening; although clearly it wasn’t frightening enough to prevent the European colonisers from stealing Māori land.

Haka

Other popular sports in New Zealand include ki-o-rahi, which is similar to Aussie rules football, and waka ama racing, which is racing in waka amas (long boats that look like a canoe with stabilisers).

Waka ama

Extreme sports are also very big – New Zealand invented bungee jumping, apparently after someone saw the country’s amazing scenery and thought it would look even better upside down. Another kiwi invention is zorbing, in which people climb inside an inflatable ball then get pushed down a hill.

Zorbing looks like it might be a lot of fun, but it doesn’t seem that extreme and it’s certainly not a sport – there’s not a lot of training required and no need for any innate zorbing skill.

Zorbing

Entertainment

The most popular TV show in New Zealand is Shortland Street; a soap opera set in a hospital and featuring such memorable characters as Len Cooper and Dallas Adams. I’ve never seen it, but I’m sure it must be very good – other shows in the country’s top ten include Coronation Street and Mrs Brown’s Boys, so the competition was obviously very strong.

Shortland Street

New Zealand’s best selling pop song ever was the appropriately named “How Bizarre” by OMC. Exactly what people liked about this song isn’t clear – I’ve listened to it on YouTube and I’ve still got no idea.

The song spent three weeks as New Zealand’s number one single before becoming a hit around the world; it reached number one in Austria, number four in Sweden and number 32 in Belgium.

Further information

Unless you’re travelling around New Zealand in a campervan, which would be brilliant, you’ll need somewhere to stay. One option is to spend the night in The Boot, a bed and breakfast cottage on the South Island.

The Boot

The cottage is described on its website as “private, boutique accommodation”, (missing the obvious “boot-ique” joke, possibly on purpose). The Boot is the ideal place to stay if you want to pretend you’re in a fairytale, even if that fairytale does focus on a poor woman’s struggle to feed her large family.

In the unlikely event that you run out of things to do in New Zealand, why not have fun with the locals by pretending you think Lord of the Rings is real? For example, every time you get into a taxi, repeatedly demand to be taken to “the dwarf Frodo’s house” until the driver is forced to explain that Frodo is a fictional character, and that he isn’t even a dwarf, and that if you don’t stop going on about it you’ll have to get out and walk.

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About Nick Heady

Nick Heady

My favourite holiday souvenir is a shower cap I brought home from the Luxor casino in Las Vegas. I’ve never used it, though. I’m saving it for a special occasion.

At the Luxor, all the casino games are inside a pyramid. The hotel rooms are also inside a pyramid. And their shower caps come in little pyramid-shaped boxes. It’s fantastic.

Once you’ve been to Vegas, there’s no need to go to Egypt. The Luxor’s pyramid has a giant lamp on top and, from the hotel windows, you can see a medieval castle – the same can’t be said for Egypt’s pyramids. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a model of the Sphinx that’s bigger than the one in Giza. It’s made of plastic, sure, but at least its nose is still intact.

Nick works in our marketing team

Places mentioned in this post

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