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ecoDestinations - New Zealand
The Māori call New Zealand Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. The formation of Aotearoa began when the legendary hero Māui goes on a fishing expedition with his brothers. Jealous of his feats, which included snaring the sun and taming fire, Māui’s four brothers did not want him to come along. So Māui secretly made a fishhook from a magical ancestral jawbone and hid in his brother’s canoe. Māui did not reveal himself until the brothers were far out to sea, then he threw his fishhook into the deep sea where it caught fast on a huge fish. Māui cautioned his brothers to not cut into the fish until they had appeased the god of the sea, Tangaroa. However, they did not listen and cut the head, the tail, the gills and the fins. To this day, the North Island is known as Te Ika-a-Māui, or Māui’s fish. The fish is said to either be flounder or stingray. The head of the fish lies at Wellington and the barb of its tail is the Coromandel Peninsula, while the fins are Taranaki and the East Coast. When the brothers cut up the fish, they created the mountains, plains, valleys and cliffs. The South Island, Te Waka, is the canoe, while Stewart Island, Rakiura, is the anchor.
About 85 million years ago, New Zealand separated from Gondwanaland and its relative isolation created a high level of endemic biodiversity, with 80,000 species of native animals, plants and fungi. The country spans two islands, the North Island and the South Island, as well as some smaller ones that sit on two tectonic plates. Over 20% of New Zealand is protected in national parks, forest areas and reserves. Ecotravelers will experience glaciers, fjords, volcanoes, subtropical forests, waterfalls, ferns, snowy mountains, and miles of rugged coastline. Wildlife sightings include whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and native birds, such as the kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. The kiwi, New Zealand’s national bird that the people have nicknamed themselves after, is a nocturnal, flightless bird with nostrils on the end of its large beak. It’s currently endangered and difficult to see in the wild.
There are distinct similarities between the Māori language and culture and those of the Cook Islands, Hawaii, and Tahiti. It is believed that Polynesian settlers arrived in New Zealand between AD 600-1300 in large double-hulled canoes full of men, women, children, plants and domesticated animals.
In pre-European times, the Māoris were expert hunters and fishermen. They would weave fishing nets from flax and carved fishhooks from bone and stone. They would hunt native birds, including the moa, the world’s largest bird, which is now extinct, with a range of ingenious traps and snares. They also cultivated the land and grew vegetables, roots, and berries. Food was often stored in a pataka, a storehouse on raised stilts. Warfare between the different tribes was common.
Today, Māori make up 14% of New Zealand’s population and their history, language, and tradition are an integral part of New Zealand’s cultural identity. Their language, Te Reo, is one of three national languages (including English and Sign Language), although native speakers are in decline. Tā moko, the art of Māori tattoo, reflects a person’s whakapapa, or ancestry, and personal history. Traditionally men received moko on their faces, buttocks and thighs while women usually wore moko on their lips and chins. Poi is a type of dance usually performed by women who skillfully twirl one or more balls on a chord in perfect unison with the others. The striking of the ball on the hand or other parts of the body creates a rhythmic beat. The Haka is a war dance with loud chanting, foot stamping and hand slapping. The All Blacks rugby team performs their haka before every game and ecotravelers will likely see different variations at cultural performances.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park: With 23 peaks over 3,000 m (9,842 ft), Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park was the training ground for New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary before his record-setting ascent of Mt. Everest. Mountaineers regard this place as the best climbing region in Australasia, great for both experts and those who are less skilled. According to Māori legend, Aoraki and his brothers, the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father, were on a sea voyage when their canoe overturned on a reef. The brothers climbed on top of the canoe, and were turned to stone by the freezing south wind. The canoe became the South Island and the brothers became the peaks. The National Park also has a Gold Star as an International Dark Sky Reserve, a site that is committed to defending the night sky and its stars. It is a part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fiordland National Park: Fiords are u-shaped glacier carved valleys, which have been flooded by the sea, and Fiordland National Park consists of 14 of them, of which Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are the most famous. Māori legend has it that a giant stonemason called Tute Rakiwhanoa carved out the steep sided valleys with his adzes. Bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, penguins, and keas, the world’s only alpine parrot, call this place home. Some fiords can be explored by sea kayak. It is also a part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tongariro National Park: Popular with hikers and skiiers, Tongariro National Park encircles active and extinct volcanoes including Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. Glaciers are restricted to Mt Ruapehu and are all less than 1 km (0.62 mi) in length after several decades of retreat. The National Park is dotted with emerald lakes, alpine meadows and lava deposits, craters, and hot springs. Māori legend has it that the high priest Ngatoroirangi was frozen in a snowstorm while exploring Tongariro and called to Hawaiki, the traditional Polynesian homeland of the Māori, for fire. His prayer was answered when the volcano erupted. Ruapehu had a role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as Mordor and Emyn Muil.
Abel Tasman: Although it is the smallest national park in New Zealand, Abel Tasman still has plenty to do including sailing, sea kayaking, hiking, swimming and snorkeling. Crystal clear streams run down mossy valleys to the sandy beaches and the ocean. Wildlife is spectacular with tui and bellbirds, shags (cormorants), gannets, dolphins, penguins, and seals.
Egmont: More commonly known as Mt Taranaki, it is a beautifully symmetrical volcano full of waterfalls, rainforests, and mossy swamps. Māori legend has it that Taranaki once lived with the other volcanos – Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe but made flirtatious advances towards a pretty hill named Pihanga. Tongariro erupted in a jealous fury and Taranaki fled to the west, gouging out the Whanganui River on his way. Mt Taranaki lasted erupted in 1775 and there are extensive walking tracks throughout the park.
Kahurangi: Meaning “treasured possession” in Māori, Kahurangi is New Zealand’s second largest park. Much of it is untracked wilderness but the Heaphy Track covers 78 km (48 mi) of subtropical rainforest, river valley and coastland. For hundreds of years it was used by the local Maori tribes as a route to pounamu (greenstone) resources. Mt Owen and Mt Arthur are the park’s marble mountains where extensive cave systems can be found, attracting spelunkers. While hiking through beech forests, vines and shrubs, look out for giant carnivorous snails that feed on worms and grow up to a meter long (3 ft). Rock wrens, tuis, great spotted kiwis, giant wets (a flightless insect that looks a little like a grasshopper), and bellbirds can also be spotted.
Whanganui: Created to protect the northern part of the Whanganui River, Whanganui National Park is a bird-lovers paradise. There are large numbers of kereru, piwakawaka, tui, toutouwai, whio, kaka, and yellow-crowned parakeets. At night, it’s even possible to hear the call of the brown kiwi.
Bay of Islands: A subtropical region, the Bay of Islands is known for its stunning beauty and history. Just a 3 hour drive north from Auckland, it encompasses 144 islands. It’s paradise for those who love beaches and water sports. Stay at cute towns like Paihia, Russell, and Kerikeri. There is an abundance of wildlife including penguins, dolphins, marlin, whales, and gannets. In fact, the East Australian Current ends here, so if you’re into scuba diving, you’ll discover tropical fish in a cold-water climate. Shipwrecks and great visibility contribute to this area having been rated as one of the top 10 diving sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau.
Kaikoura: Picturesque Kaikoura is one of New Zealand’s leading ecotourism destinations. Rated an Earth Check Platinum award, Kaikoura is committed to protecting its unique environment. The Kaikoura Marine Management Area was developed to conserve Kaikoura’s whales, dolphins, seals, albatrosses, rock lobster, and shellfish. Experience scuba diving, fishing, or kayaking in this historic coastal town.
Milford Track: New Zealand’s most famous trail, the Milford Track meanders for 53 km (32 mi) through pristine lakes and alpine forests. It is most beautiful when it rains and the waterfalls grow in intensity as they cascade down the granite mountains ridges.
Queenstown: The adventure capital of the world, Queenstown boasts bungee jumping, skiing, mountain biking, tramping (New Zealand for hiking), sky diving, and fly fishing amongst its most popular activities. Majestic mountains surrounding the beautiful Lake Wakatipu make it appealing too. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, go within 20 minutes of the surrounding area and you’ll recognize Middle Earth.
Rotorua: You can smell Rotorua before you even arrive at the city. Sitting within the Pacific Rim of Fire, Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland of bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers, silica terraces and natural springs. The unpredictable Pohutu Grayer sprays up to 30 m (100 ft) in the air, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours. Surrounded by mountains, rivers, native forests, and fresh water lakes there’s something for everyone to enjoy. There’s world-class mountain biking trails, hiking, horseback riding, swimming, fishing, bungy jumping, luging, zorbing, ziplining, or just plain relaxing. Rotorua is home to one third of New Zealand’s Māori population, whose legends explain the geothermal activity as the gift of fire from the gods. Be sure to try a hangi feast, which is cooked in the steaming ground.
Waitangi Treaty Ground: A tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Waitangi Treaty Ground is where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed between 540 Māori chiefs and the British Crown on Feb 6, 1840. The grounds comprise of 507 hectares along the Wairoa Bay and Waitangi River. It includes the treaty house, the Whare Runanga, the Māori waka, and the historic naval flagstaff. The grounds are also park-like in structure with native birdlife, trees, and walking trails. The Treaty of Waitangi is a broad statement of principles on which the British and Māori made a political contract to found a nation state and build the government of New Zealand. As Treaty has both English and Māori documents, parts of it have been disputed. It is now common to refer to the spirit of the treaty rather than as domestic law.
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