New Zealand! The land that time and Risk boards had forgotten! The University’s Exchange Programme did not forget about it, however, because here I am! I’ll dedicate this inaugural post to what I believe to be the country’s greatest treasure to offer to it’s own people and to the rest of the world: its nature. Auckland, the city that I’m based in for the next year, is the largest city in New Zealand, with the metropolitan area housing about a third of the country’s population. Given the size of the country, that seems like an absurd statistic, but it’s not difficult to imagine once one drives out of the city for about half an hour into the remote and rural countryside. Many New Zealanders regard Auckland as being “Not actually New Zealand” because all of those features that one would associate with the country’s spirit and identity not being found within the city. New Zealand’s cities lack the same internationally recognized features that other cities around the world have – it has no Sydney Opera House, no Statue of Liberty. What it does have, however, is epic fjords overlooking winding and seemingly endless glacial valleys, tropical forests and flora that hearken back to a bygone and primeval age of this planet’s history, and glowworms that illuminate a cave with such intensity that it seems as though a turquoise moon must be flooding through perforations in the cave’s ceiling. These are, of course, just a few examples of what the country at large has to offer to those that are lucky enough to be here.
A view of Milford Sound on a cloudless day – something particularly rare for the region
Of such natural treasures, the best that the area surrounding Auckland has to offer, in my opinion, is its forests both temperate and tropical. Massive ferns sprout up out of the forest floor and can stand taller than a man. Overhead canopies become so dense that they can completely block out the sun even on a perfect cloudless day. Despite the development of the country over the past couple of centuries, New Zealand is still able to maintain this wild, untamed quality about it that reminds one that forests are still indeed the dominant feature of the landscapes here. If you’re lucky, then you might be able to go out hiking in one these forests on a day free of rain, but the chances of that, especially during the Winter, are slim to none. Coming from Scotland, I didn’t think it was possible for me to move to a wetter country, but New Zealand seems to have proven me wrong. In fact, it is home to some of the wettest places on Earth, with certain areas in the South receiving well over 10 meters of rain annually. It’s a good thing that I brought my umbrella.
A rainy day on the coast – much like most days on the coast
New Zealand also goes by the name of Aotearoa, which is the name given to it by the native Maori people. This name roughly translates into ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, and is believed to have been named as such due to the cloud formations that helped Polynesian navigators first discover the country some 800 years ago. To me, it’s somewhat bizarre to think that humans have only been living on and impacting the lands of New Zealand for such a relatively brief period of time. This isolation from humanity extends to an isolation from the rest of the world, and it is this isolation that makes New Zealand’s natural environment perpetually susceptible to ruination.
One of the first things that I encountered when I arrived in the country are the strict conditions with which one must go through customs in order to enter the country. For people travelling abroad, it is incredibly easy for to unwittingly harbor all sorts of bacteria and pests which have the potential to spell disaster. As such, customs authorities are awfully strict and punitive when they find some undeclared piece of restricted goods. That banana in your carry-on? You better eat it or throw it out before you reach the border. Those dirty boots in your luggage that you forgot to declare? That’s going to be a $400 fine, should they be found. These may seem like extreme restrictions, but one doesn’t need to go far in order to see how vulnerable the flora and fauna of New Zealand are. In the greater Auckland area, many of the aforementioned hiking trails are closed due to the spread of a bacterial disease that is killing kauri trees, which are sometimes known as the “Kings of the Forest”. The spread of this disease is doubly concerning when one considers the significance of these trees to the Maori people. There is no known cure for the disease, but the best that people can do to stymie its spread, as well as the spread of any disease, is to spread awareness of the issue. New Zealand is a terrific country home to a slew of natural wonders that I’m only beginning to discover and share on this blog, and I encourage you to someday discover them as well, but if you’re going to come, be sure to wipe your feet at the door.
Tane Mahuta, the tallest (and most venerable) Kauri tree in New Zealand
I have a backlog of several stories, comments, and observations that I’ve been meaning to write on this blog, but I thought that I may as well start with what, to me, seems to be the most pressing issue as somebody coming from abroad.