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One of the great pleasures of visiting New Zealand is meeting and getting to know its people. In a world which is too busy, too late, too tired, too suspecting to give you the time of day, New Zealanders are a breath of fresh air.
Most incoming tourists are immediately surprised at the friendliness of the locals and their willingness to help. It doesn't stop there. These are a people whose hospitality extends to inviting you in to their homes for a cup of tea and then extending it into an invitation to spend the night. Their generosity extends so far that when I hitched a 5 hour ride to Christchurch, I found my fellow backpacker to be rather amazed that this time she actually hadn't been invited to spend the night by the family that picked us up. It seems hospitality is in the blood. You'll find a warm welcome even at backpackers and camping grounds, frequently family-run businesses, where your 'hosts' will not only take your money but offer information on local sightseeing.
New Zealanders live in a country that is astoundingly beautiful and astonishingly varied and they know it. However, unlike their European and American counterparts, their patriotism is a genuine appreciation for the graceful and rugged beauty of their land. They have seen ancient glaciers descend into a subtropical forest, swum alongside dolphins and witnessed volcanoes erupting. If anything, for all the surrounding beauty, kiwi's have a knack for understatement. While the Maori dubbed the North Island Te-Ika-a-Maui and the South Island Te-Waka-a-Maui, the two islands have simply been called the North and South Island. Nevertheless, even though they may not be the first to blow their own trumpet, New Zealanders are in love with the land.
They are avid trampers or hikers, climbers, kayakers and sailors. If there is something out there to be seen they have to get out their and see, feel and experience nature's beauty. So much so, that where nature has not provided access to man, kiwi ingenuity has found a way to get you there. They've invented jetboats for transport on shallow rivers and lakes and some believe a New Zealander invented the first plane. Kiwis simply get high on nature. It's a natural high which they've enhanced with the invention of adventure sports like bungy jumping, black water rafting, jet skiing and adventure racing.
Despite the beauty, this is one country where nature is unpredictable. The weather often dominates the news. Floods, droughts, earthquakes and avalanches frequently cause havoc to farmers and residents, destroying land and livelihood. The Kiwi's take it all in as the natural order of things, responding to the chaos with a, 'She'll be right'. Kiwi blood seems to have an inner resilience in the face of adversity and there's simply no place for moaners and whingers within the Kiwi spirit.
There's no such thing as a typical kiwi, they come in all shapes, sizes and colours. When the pioneers settled here intermarriage with the Maori was common practise and one which continues to do this day. As such, it helped to foster positive relations between two very diverse peoples and cultures. Of course, no piece written about New Zealanders is complete without the Maori. Having been the first to arrive in the land back in circa 1100-1200AD, they have survived the pioneers as well as the muskets and the western diseases they brought them.
The Maori arrived here by canoe from Polynesia and settled mainly in the North Island where they found a milder climate and a ready supply of food. Nowadays, the greater proportion of Maori still live in the North Island. With a population that accounts for about 15% of the total population, they are an integral part of the New Zealand. Not only do many New Zealanders have some Maori blood in their ancestry but Maori is pro-actively taught in primary school. The Maori culture calls for and receives respect. Nevertheless, despite governmental attempts with bilingual signs/protocol and Maori funding, history has not yet been forgotten. When the Maori signed the infamous Treaty of Waitangi, they were appalled when its terms weren't respected. It is a feeling which still cuts to the bone today. As the treaty states, "Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand, and to the respective families and individuals thereof, the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates, Forests, Fisheries, and other properties....," . It's a tough one. While the Maori claim that their land has been stolen from them, the pioneers cleared the land for farming and have lived there for 3 or 4 generations.
Whichever way you look at it there's no denying that the Maori enrich this culture. Their tradition is rich in the art of storytelling. An art which has been handed from generation to generation in rich mythological tales which describe the birth of the culture to the soul's journey to the afterworld. Artistically, the Maori also continue to shine. Traditionally, they tattooed their faces with fantastic designs carved into the skin and dyed. The Marae, canoes and daily utensils, were also painted in earth colours and intricate designs. Personally, I think that Maori art provides a brilliant representation of its people. The colours like the people are warm and inviting, the designs intricate and painstaking, much like their past and present.
Finally, New Zealand contains the greatest population of Pacific Islanders in the world. They have settled here from Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands and other NZ protectorates. They have settled mainly in the North and represent about 5% of the population.
Maureen from Malta.