Aotearoa is what the Maori call their land, which means, Land of the Long White Cloud. Abel Tasman, the famous Dutch explorer, was the first European to discover the land and called it Staten Landt, back in 1642. At that time, he mistakenly assumed it was part of the southern tip of South America. It was shortly thereafter, in 1645, when Dutch cartographers renamed the land Nova Zeelandia, after the Dutch province of Zeeland. It was ultimately the British Explorer, Captain James Cook, who anglicized the name to New Zealand, when he mapped the islands in 1769.
New Zealand is an island country in the South Pacific Ocean. It is in the southernmost part of Polynesia. It lies more than a thousand miles southeast of Australia, its nearest neighbor. The country comprises two main islands; the North and South Islands, as well as a number of smaller islands, some of which are hundreds of miles away from the main group. The capital city is Wellington and the largest city is Auckland. Both of these cities are located on the North Island. More people live in Auckland than on the whole South Island alone. New Zealand was annexed by Great Britain in 1840 and became a self-governing dominion in 1907. She gained full independence in 1947.
New Zealand was one of the last places on earth to be inhabited by humans. The Maori, a Polynesian people, reached New Zealand around 800 A.D. Maori legend says that the North Island of New Zealand was fished by the daring demigod, Maui. Today the North Island is known as Maui’s fish. The Maori are considered to be the indigenous people of New Zealand. They arrived from a place they called Hawaiki. This place is not on a map but is believed to have been an island or group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The Maori language and culture has similarities to others of Polynesia, such as the Cook Islands, Hawaii and Tahiti. They have enjoyed many years of isolation, which allowed their customs and culture to flourish.
The area of New Zealand is a little bit bigger than the United Kingdom and is home to only about 4.5 million people, making it one of the least populated nations. The population is 15 percent Maori, 70 percent European and the balance, a mix of other ethnicity’s. English, Maori and New Zealand sign language, are the official languages. The main religion is Christian, however an equal number of people state they belong to no religion. New Zealand is often listed as one of the most peaceful and least corrupt nations on earth. The people are known to be extremely friendly with liberal views. New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote back in 1893. The drinking age is 18, prostitution is legal, the driving age is 15 and the consensual age for sex is 16. Same sex marriage became legal in 2003. It was also the first country to have the top three positions of power held simultaneously by women; the Prime Minister, the Governor and the Chief Justice.
The landscape of New Zealand is varied and both islands are spectacularly beautiful. It has a huge amount of coastline due to the numerous harbors and fjords. It is only 280 miles across at its widest point, so throughout most all of New Zealand, the coastline is not far away. It is no surprise that Auckland is called the “City of Sails”, having the highest, boat ownership per capita, in the world. New Zealand, with its pristine rivers and lakes, as well as the coastal waters, makes it one of the premier fishing destinations in the world. The largest, fresh water spring, known as Pupu Springs, discharges almost 4000 gallons of water per second and contains the clearest water ever measured, outside of Antarctica.
New Zealand is a volcanic region and part of the Ring of Fire. This is a horseshoe shaped area in the Pacific Ocean, where about 90% of the world’s earthquakes and 81% of the world’s largest earthquakes occur. Numerous earthquakes are felt annually in New Zealand and there have been a few with devastating consequences. The most recent, with a devastating human toll, was in Christchurch in 2011, where 185 people were killed.
The indigenous vegetation of New Zealand consists of mixed, evergreen forest, which covers two-thirds of the land. One-third of New Zealand is protected as national parks. Nearly nine-tenths of the indigenous plants are unique to the country. When the Maori arrived, there were few animals, making the islands a haven for birds, due to lack of predators. The flightless kiwi is the national bird of New Zealand and why the nation’s people are called Kiwis; a nickname likely given to troops during World War I. There were only three kinds of reptiles, bats and a few species of frogs. Today, sheep and cattle are abundant as well as many other animals, brought over by Europeans.
New Zealanders are adventurers. They host many activities that can scare the normal tourist half to death. One such activity is cigarette boat racing, along the water’s edge, racing at 70 mph, missing the cliff edge by inches. Another is called black water rafting, which is much like white water rafting (which is also popular) but this is done in caves with nothing more than a mining helmet for light so being suddenly thrust into rapids comes as a bit of a surprise. They are avid sky divers, paragliders, and bungee jumpers and have the world’s largest swing that reaches speeds of 75 mph as it freefalls and then swings high above the Nevis River. They also have a unique cave filled with glow worms that are only found there. Thousands of these tiny creatures radiate their light as guides provide commentary on the cave’s historical and geological significance. The Waitomo Glowworm caves is one of New Zealands most visited attractions.
As we look into the cuisine of New Zealand, the biggest influence comes from their local ingredients. New Zealand has a large agriculture economy, which yields many products from both land and sea. A few of their biggest exports are sheep, dairy and wool. It is estimated that there are nine sheep for every human in New Zealand. Seafood is also plentiful. Green lipped mussels, scallops, oysters and whitebait are just some of their treasures. The cuisine is similar to Australian cuisine, which has a British influence. Dishes such as savory pies and fish and chips are much loved throughout the islands. Mediterranean and the Pacific Rim have shaped the cuisine as well. Asian culinary traditions become popular in the 1970s. Today their cuisine is considered to be cosmopolitan. Fruits and vegetables grow really well in their rich, volcanic soil. Kiwi is a fruit that is often associated with New Zealand. Kiwi grows there, however, they are not native to the land. Originally the fruit was called Chinese gooseberries and was introduced to New Zealand in 1904. New Zealand is also famous for its Manuka honey, renowned for its medicinal benefits, which is produced from the pollen of the beautiful Manuka flowers, with a little help from the honey bees.
The Maori brought with them from Polynesia, kumara (sweet potato) taro (another root vegetable’ and ti’ leaves (used like banana leaves to impart steam when wrapped around meats or fish.) The lush, native New Zealand plants such as fern root and watercress, along with seafood and a rare, flightless bird, called moa (which were hunted to extinction) all played a significant role in the Maori diet. Like other Polynesians, the Maori cook foods in earth ovens. Stones are heated by fire and food is packed in leaves and place on the hot coals. The packs are further covered with foliage, cloth or wet sacks and then the earth. Today in New Zealand it is popular for tourists to visit a Maori village and participate in a hangi (feast). When you approach the Maori village a tribal warrior or two in traditional garb, heavily tattooed and wielding swords, will test you to see if you are friend or foe. They do this by throwing down a taki, or token gift such as a leaf, while shouting chants and then they stick their tongues out as far as humanly possible. Then a woman elder will sing a song to create a sacred space for the host and visitors to meet. Finally one of the visitors will pick up the taki, as a gesture of courage. Once in the meeting place the women will demonstrate their skill with poi balls (soft balls connected to a tether) which are twirled to make tribal rhythms as they chant and sing. It is a mesmerizing artistic dance.
So let’s enjoy a Kiwi Meal:
Our decor started out with fern leaves, as the silver fern is considered to be symbol of the country. A picture of the flightless, kiwi bird, as well as the kiwi fruit, a sweet potato or kumara, a sheep, green mussel shells and a bungee cord (as that is where commercial bungee jumping originated), completed the setting.
We began the meal with a typical Maori greeting which is a called hongi. This is done by pressing your nose and forehead to your greeter’s nose and forehead and sharing the breath of life or ha. Often the greeter will accompany the hongi by saying “kia ora”or “greetings.” It is quite a spiritual experience. I came across this fun picture of our beloved author, Zane Grey doing this exact ritual while in New Zealand. The photo was taken in 1926. He was wearing a ceremonial feather cloak, called a kahu kiwi. These were woven by women for the chiefs and special guests. The cloak was made by inserting kiwi feathers into a backing of flax.
Our first course was the famous, green lipped, New Zealand mussels. I absolutely love these mussels and make them all the time. This recipe had a bit of an Asian flair. A sauce, made of mayonnaise, sirachi, sugar and lime juice covers the mussels, that come on the half shell. (These mussels can be found in the freezer section of most grocery stores.) They are topped with a bit of cheese and baked for about 12 minutes. They were garnished with a touch of flying fish roe, for a decadent and mouthwatering start to our Kiwi feast.
The main course and salad were served together and were a perfect balance. A kumara (sweet potato) salad that had watercress, fresh greens, radishes, goat cheese and pinenuts, was dressed with a light, balsamic vinaigrette. It was a lovely salad served alongside New Zealand grilled lamb chops that were marinated overnight in a mayonnaise, honey, sirachi and mint marinade. They just take a few minutes on the grill and were also served with a mint pesto. These lamb chops, mint pesto and salad were all scrumptious. For those people who think they don’t like lamb, I am pretty certain this recipe would change their minds. Lamb is made all different ways in New Zealand but this way is a keeper!
For dessert we enjoyed the controversial Pavlova. The origin of this beloved dessert has been the subject of debate between Australia and New Zealand for ages. Based on my research, I chose it to make it for New Zealand. This is my new all-time, favorite dessert, regardless of which country claims it. The dessert is named after the famous Russian prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova, that toured both New Zealand and Australia in the 1920s. The dessert is a meringue that is crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. Fresh fruit and cream are added. (This one was made with strawberries and raspberries.) Finally it is topped with sliced almonds and shaved chocolate. Pretty much any kind of fruit is acceptable and often times the kiwi fruit is included. This dessert will remain a lifetime treasure.
As we say goodbye to this peaceful and beautiful island nation of New Zealand, I leave you with a excerpt from Zane Grey’s book the Tales of Anglers Eldorado New Zealand. This was his first meeting of the Maoris. “He first introduced the chief Mita, who in his native costume made a striking picturesque appearance. The chief in most forceful voice and dignified manner, began his address, the content of which was translated by Mr Buck. What was my amaze and embarrassment presently to hear “Greetings and salutations to Zane Grey, who had come from far to conquer the leviathans of the deep. We wish to bestow upon him the name Maui, after our Maui legend of the great fisherman of the Maoris.””
Zane Grey aside from being a world renowned author, was a fisherman extraordinaire that held 11 world fishing titles and was instrumental in bringing forward fishing techniques used today.
We are now off to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy as every bit of it was filmed in New Zealand. Then off for a nice walk/hike they call “tramping” in New Zealand, a national pastime! The clear water, outdoor lifestyle and great food just may be why New Zealanders have one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
Until next time,
Haere ra (farewell) in Maori