During my trip up to the Northland, it hit home to me more than ever what it is about New Zealand that has drawn me in so much. There are many reasons to fall for this country, but here are five of the big ones.
It is not just that New Zealand’s rolling green hills, dense pine forests, snow-capped mountains and warm sandy beaches are so stunning – which they truly are. (I’m yet to explore the South island but I’m told the colours of the landscape and lakes are so vivid, you wonder if it’s been Photoshopped by an eager 21st century Mother Nature). There’s something else to it too. As we were introduced by our bus tour guide to the giant Kauri tree – which, naturally, I hugged – he told us a number of stories about their history and mythology. The Māori, who first encountered this land, paid such reverence to the power of nature and underpinned it with spiritual meaning, that it has imbued the whole landscape. Hugging such an ancient, towering tree is humbling, and reminds us that we are privileged to be here.
On a shallower note, my skin – which back home was white with a hint of blue, is enjoying the sunshine. I no longer shine brighter than the moon with the reflection of my pale English skin when exposed to the sun’s rays, but I now consistently have a hint of a tan (by my standards, admittedly). Of course, given the thin ozone layer in this part of the world, sun protection is more important than ever.
Maybe it’s the vast expanse of nature at your doorstep, but there seems to be a sense of importance given to balance in the lifestyle here. Yes, work is important, but there’s time and space for fulfilment outside of that too. People I’ve met talk of indulging in extreme sports hobbies, renovating and selling houses, going camping with the kids, heading to a bach in the Coromandel for a family beach break, or spending the weekend in a remotely beautiful part of the country to enjoy some long hikes. While all these things are possible in other countries too, it just seems easier here, a natural part of life to recharge your batteries and make the most of the world around us.
The Asian population of immigrants to New Zealand is growing and bringing with it – among many other things – a vast culinary expertise. Meaning an array of restaurants offering deliciously authentic, convenient and affordable food from a host of Asian countries – Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, the list goes on. Yum. And Asian supermarkets are plentiful if you need those hard-to-find ingredients to create your own dishes at home.
When I stumbled across this marae in Paihia, on the way to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, I examined the beautifully ornate and grotesque carvings around the entrance and it made me smile. To me, they were reminiscent of the gargoyle statues you’ll commonly find outside the temples in Bali. This juxtaposition of intricate, delicate, jewel-encrusted ugliness, imbibed with cultural and spiritual meaning, and the importance of gods, family and respect for the land, hints at the Asian origins of the indigenous Māori. Centuries ago, these people migrated here from Polynesia and, even longer ago, their intrepid ancestors sailed over from Indonesia, the Philippines and East Malaysia.
Of course, the Europeans subsequently made their mark on New Zealand and the country has especially strong historical ties with Britain. This is evident everywhere you go – the fact they drive on the left side of the road; you can easily find typically British products like Marmite, Branston pickle and baked beans in supermarkets; and the people themselves who are – for the most part – polite and friendly with an innate, self-deprecating sense of humour and perspective. This beautiful, exotic place on the other side of the world reminds me of home.
Now, read about my New Zealand North Island adventures.