Impressions of New Zealand's North Island
No, New Zealand is not some sort of extension to Australia, as it is sometimes perceived by Europeans. Why should it, this Pacific islands country is at a solid 3000km distance! By the way, coming from Europe, when you travel further than New Zealand, you are getting closer to home again.... Auckland and Christchurch, the main cities on the two long-stretched islands, are a full 24 hours of effective flight away from Brussels, London or Paris. The atmosphere of Kiwi isolation is therefore hardly surprising, even if the footprint of British colonial history is undeniable and omnipresent. Yet, just like New Zealand is not Australia, it is not England either. The country does effectively have its very own identity, with a laid-back feel of frontier life, close to nature, not in a struggle with it, but in a refreshing, respectful and gentle harmony.
The North Island very much also betrays New Zealand's belonging to Polynesia, just like Fiji, Hawaii or Tahiti. The Polynesian link is courageously sustained by the Maori culture which in recent decades seeks to rebound from a gloomy past of marginalisation. There is far more to today's Maori life than the Haka warriors dance which the entire globe knows from the All Blacks rugby team. The names of villages and cities we visit or transit speak for themselves, as do the Maori communities we encounter and the settlements which have developed since precolonial times near the geothermal sources of hot water, steam, sulphur and volcanic materials spread all over the island. The past of the North Island may have a future again, as inhabitants seem to collectively and proudly embrace their land's Maori identity.
Before visiting the place of your choice:
When the British took possession of New Zealand in 1840 they initially established their capital in the Northern regions of the North Island, in Auckland. Soon they realised that Port Nicholson, as Wellington was then still called, was a better option, more centrally situated, within reach also of the South Island. But settlement of Port Nicholson had started on the wrong footing. Hasty and hardly regular English land purchases from the local Maori, who denied that they had sold their land, led to struggle and conflict. In 1865 Wellington was promoted to the colony's capital and the city has been developing steadily ever since, but in its own way: more laid back than Auckland, less populous, modern and spirited but with a touch of provincial simplicity, fairly unassuming, very much to the scale of man, not a city in which the individual is lost. 'The beehive' of 1964 is the new parliament building and one of the special landmarks of the city, fitting well in the harmonious mix of neoclassical colonial and modern architecture. The 'Te Pa Tongarewa' is one of the most interesting museums of New Zealand, focused on the country's indigenous and colonial culture, hosting also a magnificent exhibition on the involvement of New Zealand in the First World War at Gallipoli. Visiting Wellington on February 6th, New Zealand's National Day, Waitangi Day, is a dreamt opportunity to merge into the relaxed masses of New Zealanders who come and participate in the festivities. And of course, the Haka performances cannot fail to be part of that, old and young, Maoris and Pahekas, the white New Zealanders alike, they all are drawn into the trance of the iconic Haka, the intimidation dance of warriors. Impressing it certainly is! And intimidating too, I'm almost certain that for the school kids on the stage today it's part of their 'don't-mess-with-me' anti-bullying strategy tomorrow!