Monday, March 21, 2011

New Zealand, Three Countries in One

Today is the first day of Blog4NZ (Facebook) (Twitter #blog4nz). I'm all in favour of this campaign, but what can I say to you about why New Zealand is a great country to visit? I've been pondering it for a couple of days and have come to the conclusion that there isn't really a New Zealand, there's three almost completely different things covered by the concept. And there are three different places.

The first is Urban New Zealand, where I and most of the people I know live. Urban New Zealand has most of the population in cities that are less than 200 years old, and mostly composed of building less than 50 years old. The Maori tended to build using temporary materials and quickly adopted English construction techniques so the oldest buildings are (to my knowledge) all post contact. Urban New Zealand is largely built around port cities and rural support towns so it is involved in trading and service industries with light industry thrown in. Urban New Zealand makes some of the best espresso on earth and world class cuisine is available. If you're a tourist, our cities are probably worth a day or two's visits each, but be prepared that you will see our version of 19th century England jumbled in with every style since.

There are exceptions, Napier was rebuilt in the then fashionable Art Deco style in the 1930s and is one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture around.

The second New Zealand is agricultural New Zealand, and most of that is pastoral. Pastoralism is what built New Zealand and is today still our major export industry. While today's youth is largely disconnected from the land, most urban New Zealanders in my youth had some kind of connection with the land, my mother grew up on her parent's farm, and growing up farming was a kind of Shangri La for the urban Kiwis. Now we no longer live in a subsidised rural fantasy-land, our farms have become world class economic units, but because of our weather the stock stay outside all year grazing on grass for most of the year behind picturesque weathered fences. We have organic farms, market gardens, and more. New Zealand farming is beautiful from a distance and Woofers (Willing workers on organic farms) or just plain farm-stays are a great way to see this up close.

The third New Zealand is Wild New Zealand. Beautiful mountains, skiing holidays, white water, ocean and surf beaches where you can still not see another person. The further you get from the cities, the more beautiful it becomes. As a child I grew up being able to go easily to the wild places and today I like visiting them. Our complete lack of snakes, large carnivores, tropical diseases and other drawbacks make our wilderness some of the most human friendly in the world. Today, we see wild New Zealand as our heritage in the way that my Parents' generation saw pastoral New Zealand as theirs. If I was planning a visit to New Zealand this is where I would head .. with regular trips back to urban NZ for my espresso fixes and lattes for Tessa.

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