A friend has emailed me on the back of the New Zealand photos I recently uploaded, with a few questions about the place.
It reminded me that I haven’t really written a “Springer’s final thought” about the trip and about the country, despite having done lots, seen lots and hugely enjoyed it. So here goes. And apologies this is a bit of a long one.
What amazed me about a country that’s really only 150 years old in its modern definition, is that it has such a strong sense of heritage. And I don’t just mean that of the Maori or immigrants’ lands of origin: more than that, New Zealand has hung on to all its “old stuff” intently.
Most towns and cities have plenty of buildings from the mid to late 1800s, and while there is no shortage of modernity and the skyline of Auckland, for instance, could rival anything in the “new world”, New Zealand seems less brash and Americanised, and more in touch with settler-era heritage, than for instance Australia. New Zealand’s small towns are quaint and characterful whereas those in Australia I visited were perhaps just a little soulless.
Despite its youth, its geographical isolation, the huge immigration that has shaped it and continues to do so (or perhaps because of all that?) it’s a country that seems gently confident with itself and its sense of identity.
That means, therefore, it’s hard to define the people. They’re all immigrants – even the Maori, as some whites were keen to point out to me. There’s a mix of influences from the older settler countries such as those in the British Isles, 20th century migration such as from the Netherlands or eastern Asia, and now significant waves from the Pacific Islands. More Polynesians, apparently, now live in Auckland than any other city.
But what is clear is that they are laid back, friendly, hard-working, and always interested to talk. I had some great chats with some random New Zealanders, experienced some great kindness, and really got a sense that they’re a top bunch of people.
And someone told me that 25% of all immigrants came from Scotland. Exploring the exhibition on The Scots in New Zealand at Te Papa, the National Museum, it was phenomenal to see exactly how much one nation’s immigrants (often the landless, uneducated and poor) contributed to the character and success of New Zealand in terms of culture, music, industry, religion, and government. It was also amusing to note how important the Scots were in both the early temperance movement and alcohol industry.
The exhibition made me think. Scots, too, have been defining influences in so many other countries, such as Canada, the USA, Australia and of course England and the wider UK. If only the Scots had as much confidence in their ability to shape Scotland as their ability to shape elsewhere, we really would be the best country in the world.
With everything from glaciers to huge mountains to lush forests to golden beaches, New Zealand has it all. It’s a big but empty country, slightly bigger than the UK’s landmass but with under a tenth of the population, there’s plenty to explore. The scenery is breathtaking, and I had more than a couple of “wow” moments.
The hillwalking is supposedly brilliant, and the network of paths, huts and information centres seem plentiful well-organised without reducing it to something tacky or over-commercialised. Of course they don’t call it “hillwalking” – and don’t make assumptions like I did when I saw a book entitled “101 Great Tramps”.
The weather, too, is fantastic – while it’s hot in summer, especially in the north, you’re never too far from a reasonable breeze to keep things cool. It rained a couple of times when I was there, mostly in the south, and I guess will do so more in the winter, but temperatures seem to rarely be too low or too high: effectively, the best bits about British weather.
In short, New Zealand is just brilliant. If you were going to build a country from scratch – geography, people, climate, the lot – you’d be hard-pressed to beat it. It’s like Scotland turned up to 11, albeit without the plentiful supplies of Irn Bru, trains, dark humour and proper football.
I’d definitely go back – but I’d take longer, see more, do more, relax more, and do lots of hiking.
And not knacker myself by flying out in the one go.