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New Zealand Overview

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New Zealand is a land of snow-capped mountains, long sandy beaches and wild coastline, rolling grasslands and sapphire fjords. Its praises have been sung for centuries by the native Maoris, and its mythical beauty finally drew European settlers who are today known as the outdoor-loving, adventurous Kiwis. It is a country with a rich multiculturalism, from European and Polynesian to Asian and native heritages. Its awesome landscape provides endless opportunities for adventure and play, as well as sophisticated but laid-back cities that accommodate the tastes of any traveler on a New Zealand cruise.

Maori: the First New Zealanders

New Zealand's history is remarkable because it was one of the last places to be settled by humans, due to its isolation. The first peoples didn’t arrive to the islands until sometime between 800 and 1300 AD. These first peoples were Eastern Polynesians, and according to native myth, they came by sea in huge canoes. They arrived in waves of migrations, and settled into a distinct culture known as Maori, which in the Moari language means "native" or "ordinary." The Maori existed in sub-tribes, and like most tribal relations around the world, occasionally fought with each other between periods of cooperation. Eventually, a small group of these people migrated to the nearby Chatham Islands, and developed their own unique culture; they are now known as the Moriori.

Maori mythology is strongly based on oral traditions or three forms. The first is genealogical recital, called whakapapa, which provided a sort of timescale to unite Maori myth. The recital linked the living to gods and heroes, and connected the narrator to the character whose deeds he/she described. The second oral form is poetry, which is always sung or chanted to distinguish it from prose. Such poetic lines are indicated by musical features. Finally, the Maori use narrative prose to convey the majority of legends. Many were well-known stories told for entertainment during the cold New Zealand winters. These stories contained traditions and the origins of various things to which the Maori are connected.

Again because of New Zealand's isolation, the Maori have been described as the last large human community to be untouched by the "outside world." The first Europeans to encounter these native described them as a fierce and proud race of people. They came to be exposed to Europeans in the late 1700s, through sealers and whalers hunting the New Zealand waters. Deserters or escaped convicts from Australian colony also made their way slowly to the islands. Some of these Europeans were enslaved, and others came to identify as Maori themselves. The natives called them Pakeha, which referred to any non-Maori person.

In the early 1800s, muskets were introduced to some Maori tribes in close contact with European settlers. The tribal balance of power was substantially upset, and bloody inter-tribal conflicts ensued that are known as the Musket Wars. The violence exterminated some tribes and drove others away. In addition to this, foreign European diseases that ravaged native populations, and the Maori were significantly depleted by 1840.

The British Crown was pressured to intervene in the 1830s as European settlement, perceived as lawless, and Christian missionary activities increased. To this end, Queen Victoria annexed the islands of New Zealand to Great Britain in 1840. Most, but not all, Maori tribal chiefs subsequently signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which rendered them subjects of the British Crown in return for guaranteed property rights and tribal autonomy.

In the following years, the Maori had much of their land taken from them, and the culture severely declined to the point that some worried they would be completely assimilated into the pervasive European culture. Luckily, the Maori retained their cultural identity, and underwent a revival in the 1960s. Many Maori politicians became successful, and movements to revitalize native art, music, and traditions emerged.

A cruise to New Zealand would be incomplete without visiting a Maori museum, seeing native art, or learning about rich Maori culture.

New Zealand's European History

The name "New Zealand" was given by the first explorers to come to the islands, Dutchmen led by Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. They called the land Nova Zeelandia after the Dutch province of Zeeland. Several of Tasman's crew were killed by the Maori, effectively driving Europeans away until James Cook of Britain visited the islands in 1768. In the wake of that expeditions, Europeans sailed for New Zealand with frequency in order to trade food and goods such as metal and weapons for Maori timber and artifacts. Christian missionaries arrived to convert the great majority of natives to Christianity. With Britain's annexation of New Zealand and the hazy conditions of the Treaty of Waitangi, land acquisition became (and remains) controversial.

New Zealand was granted its independence from Great Britain in the 1850s. As a country, it is notable for being the first nation in the world to give women the power to vote, in 1893. New Zealand participated (enthusiastically, some say) in the Boer War, World Wars I and II, and the Suez crisis. Currently, New Zealand forces are active in Afghanistan, rebuilding and Iraq, and several peacekeeping missions around the globe. Like many countries, New Zealand underwent a social and economic revolution in the 1960s and 70s.

Kiwi Government

New Zealand's form of government is called a constitutional monarchy, that is accompanied by a parliamentary democracy, which follows British government institutions. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state; under this form of government she is recognized as an elected or hereditary monarch but does not hold absolute powers. She is represented in New Zealand by the Governor-General.

New Zealand is also notable because it is the only country in the world where the highest offices have been filled simultaneously by women. Between March 2005 and August 2006, Queen Elizabeth II, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, Prime Minister Helen Clark, Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Margaret Wilson ran the country.

New Zealand does not have a written constitution. Instead, the Constitutional Act of 1986 is a formal statement of the country's constitutional structure. New Zealand is a multi-party system with checks and balances between executive, judicial, and legislative branches.

Cultural Opportunities of a New Zealand Cruise

New Zealand is definitely a hotbed of multiculturalism. It has a rich native culture, which has recently been joined by other nearby Polynesian cultures. Its major European influences are British, Irish, American, and Scottish. New Zealand culture reflects Australian in some aspects, while hosting influences from southern, southeast, and east Asia as well.

New Zealand has several festivals to honor these myriad cultures. Diwali, a major Hindu festival, and the Chinese New Year are celebrated annually in Aukland, as is the world's largest Polynesian celebration, called Pasifika.

The country's music is similar to both the UK and America's, but is influenced by indigenous rhythms and tones. Of course, New Zealand has an amalgamation of musicians, like any other modern country, from traditional and folk, to classical and rock. As for film, New Zealand gained international attention for Academy-award winning movie The Piano, Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors about an urban Maori family. New Zealand gained even wider recognition in the film category when Peter Jackson filmed all three movies of The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the country, using a mostly-New Zealand crew and actors in minor parts.

New Zealanders favor rugby as a popular sport, known for its tendency toughness and tendency toward injuries among players. Their national team, Rugby Blacks, have the best record of any national team in the world. New Zealand also has taken world championships in the America's Cup Regatta, cricket, and the women's netball team has taken world championships several times. A New Zealand cruise offers plenty of opportunities to view any one of these sports, or perhaps even participate!

Maori sports have gained popularity as well, especially waka ama (outrigger canoe racing), and ki-o-rahi, the traditional Maori ball game.

The arts, museums, and other cultural attractions are abundant in New Zealand. Taonga (Maori art) is famous is famous for weaving and tattooing, called te moko, as well as wood carving. Some lucky travelers may also find the opportunity to watch Maori artists at work, or be able to create some of their own. Art galleries abound in the bigger cities of Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch that feature historic collections dating back to the 1800s, as well as contemporary artists. These cities are also home to museums, each with a specific focus, from Antarctica, to Polynesia, to social and contemporary themes. New Zealand also has its share of performing arts, if you're the type of traveler who enjoys live entertainment.

Overall, New Zealanders are known throughout the world for their love of the arts, sports, and the outdoors.

The Breathtaking Landscape

New Zealand is world-renowned for its incredible and beautiful landscapes, which make it a popular travel destination. The country is made up of two main islands, the North and South Islands. It also has several smaller islands, including the Stewart and Chatham Islands. It is located in the Southwest Pacific, giving it the tropical feel that so many vacationers search for. New Zealand landscape is characterized by the dramatic: azure skies and emerald hillsides, sheer mountains and gorgeous seascapes.

Because of its island status, it has 15,134 km of breathtaking coastline. New Zealand is one of the greatest surf spots in the world, whether for beginners looking for mellower waves or the awesome power of spots like Raglan Bay. New Zealand waters also offer myriad opportunities for ocean kayaking, world-class sailing, and rowing. Its long uninterrupted coastline is also friendly to relaxing and watching spectacular sunsets or sunrises over the ocean. The beaches of the North Island are covered in dark sand that is heavy with iron. The South Island also has some long stretches of sandy beach, but transforms into a more wild and rugged coastline for its majority.

For those adventurers looking to conquer a peak or two, there is plenty of variety waiting. The spine of mountains jutting from the North Island is dwarfed by the even more impressive Southern Alps of the South Island. Tucked into the Alps are some formidable glaciers, the largest being the Tasman, and most famous being the Fox and Franz Josef. An increasingly popular way to enjoy these ice mountains is to do a heli-hike: fly up in helicopter and hike back down. The North Island also has active volcanoes and thermal areas in its center, called the Volcanic Plateau. The South Island’s other main geological feature is the Canterbury Plains, a vast alluvial plain that makes up a largest stretch of flat land on both islands.

The islands of New Zealand are actually just the tip of the continent of Zealandia, which is 93% submerged in the ocean. It sank after breaking off from Australia millions of years ago, and has its own under-water features, including peaks and plateaus.

Island Fauna

New Zealand drifted away from the large landmass of Gondwanaland about 100 million years ago, and so the animals and plants on the island have evolved separately from the rest of the continents; in fact, much of New Zealand's flora and fauna cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Indigenous animals hold tightly to prehistoric characteristics, especially the family of weta insects, which have remained unchanged since the Mesozoic. One species of weta can actually grow to the size of a mouse; their name means "god-ugly" in Maori, but despite appearances, the weta are not dangerous.

As native birds evolved, they had no natural predators to fly away from, and so many of them became flightless. The kiwi is the most famous of these, being New Zealand’s national symbol. Unfortunately, the kiwi is endangered, and this status on top of its nocturnal habits make it a very difficult animal for the casual traveler to catch a glimpse of. Other flightless birds to inhabit the islands include the takahe, kakapo parrot, and the world's largest bird, the now-extinct moa. The takahe was thought to be extinct until its much-publicized re-discovery in 1948—apparently it's just shy.

Reptiles, frogs, and bats are the only other animal indigenous to the islands. The tuatara may be the most interesting, as it is equally related to lizards and snakes, but there are no snakes on the islands. It, too, is unfortunately endangered. Other reptiles include geckos and skinks. There are four types of New Zealand primitive frogs, named as such because they belong to an ancient family in the amphibian suborder.

The waters off the islands are home to whales and many species of dolphins. A cruise to New Zealand may draw some of the beautiful animals to play in the wake of the ships or off the waves of the bow.

New Zealand's other forms of wildlife have all been introduced. Dogs and rats were brought by the Maori. Trout, salmon, red and fallow deer, the Australian opossum, rabbits, and domestic animals came to island with European settlers.

Cuisine of the Islands

The dishes of New Zealand draw from European, Asian, and Polynesian influences to create a delicious array of foods to satisfy the worldly traveler. It has collectively been named Pacific Rim cuisine.

Typical dishes on the island will include venison, pork, and lamb. Drawing from their abundant waters, New Zealanders favor lobster, salmon, mussels, and native shellfish called pipis and tuatua. Fresh produce is prided in the country’s diet, from kumara, which is a sweet potato, to kiwifruit and tamarillo. The national dessert is pavlova, which is a meringue cake usually covered in fruit.

Perhaps more mouth-watering than its cuisine are New Zealand's expertly-produced wines. Most New Zealand meals will be accompanied by an appropriate wine to set off the flavor. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the most common varietals, because so many menus feature fresh fish. Marlborough and Hawke's Bay are the country's top wine regions. A New Zealand cruise may feature a wine-tasting expedition, which will also help acquaint the traveler with native Kiwis.

Aukland is home to more than 900 restaurants, providing something (and probably several things) for each traveler, no matter your tastes!

The Long White Cloud

The islands are dominated by a maritime climate, and so receive ample annual rainfall. The west coast of the South Island receives the most and is known as the wettest part of the country. Just over the Alps, ironically, is the driest part of the country. The Maori called New Zealand "Land of the Long White Cloud."

True to the Southern Hemisphere, the country experiences its warmest period in January or February, and July is consistently the coldest month. Regardless, temperatures are moderate throughout the year. Thermometers rarely reach 80F degrees in any part of the country, and conversely rarely fall to freezing except in the mountains. Snowfall is concentrated to the high peaks and snow is an exceptional sight on the coast. No matter when you plan your visit to New Zealand, you can expect beautiful weather!

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