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New Zealand is one of the world’s youngest countries, geographically and culturally.
The islands emerged from the submerged continent of New Zealandia following a shift
in plate tectonics about twenty-five million years ago, and because of its volcanic
properties it has continued to evolve ever since. They were uninhabited by humans
until Eastern Polynesians made a series of migrations: the date is not certain but
they started between 700 and 2,000 years ago. These settlers developed the Maori
culture: few written records exist but it is understood that their civilisation
was based on horticulture and divided into warlike tribes. Around 1500, some tribes
migrated to the Chatham Islands, where they developed the pacifist Moriori culture,
which was wiped out by Maori invaders in 1830.
The first European explorers were Dutch sailors who visited in 1642. Put off by
the Maori, who killed several sailors, they retreated swiftly and no further visits
were made until Captian Cook reached New Zealand in 1769. He mapped the coastline
and thereafter European and American traders and whalers visited the islands regularly.
Settlement did not begin until Christian missionaries began to arrive in the early
nineteenth century. The British Government sent William Hobson to negotiate a treaty
with the Maori in 1840; this confirmed New Zealand as a colony and enshrined Maori
rights to land. The tribes people were very pleased with the colonist initially,
because they brought wealth, but as the number of settlers increased there were
clashes over land and eventually the Maori lost almost all of it. New Zealand became
an independent country in 1947.
Almost all the reasons to come to New Zealand are out of doors, and with a warm,
temperate climate it’s always a good time to visit. Whether you’re looking for adventure
or nature, or more likely a combination of both, you will find jaw-dropping experiences.
Rangitoto Island, 10 km northeast of Auckland, is a volcano formed about six hundred
years ago, a freakish land of fractured black lava, with the world's largest pohutukawa
forest clinging precariously to the crevices. Northland is a gorgeous semi-tropical
peninsula dotted with gorgeous beaches, the perfect place to swim with dolphins.
South of Auckland, Kapiti Island is home to a variety of birdlife that is home to
birdlife that has become rare or extinct on the mainland, including bush parrots,
bush canaries, bellbirds and a few of the tahake who now number only 250. On the
mainland, Waitomo is a collection of incredible grottoes lit by glow worms: it’s
possible to abseil through the caves. In the centre of North Island, Wai-O-Tapu
Thermal Wonderland combines a vast expanse of multi-hued rocks and pools, New Zealand's
largest and most impressive lake of boiling mud and the Lady Knox Geyser.
Skiers and snowboarders will want to bypass all that and head straight for South
Island. Mount Hutt in Methven is widely regarded as the best and most developed
skifield in the southern hemisphere, with a season from June to October. This is
also one of the best hot air ballooning spots in the world, with views up and down
the island. South of Christchurch, in Oamoru, you can see both yellow and blue eyed
penguins within walking distance of the town centre. Nearby, the Moeraki Boulders
lie partially submerged in the sandy beach at the tide line. Their smooth skins
hide honeycomb centres, which are revealed in some of the broken specimens. Further
south again, the Otago Peninsula is a crooked 35 km finger of pasture-land that
offers unparalleled opportunities to view marine life. Royal albatrosses, sea lions,
orca, shag, mutton birds and whales all make their homes on or around the peninsula.
Finally, for undaunted thrill seekers, bungee jumping began on Kawarau Bridge in
Queenstown – you can try it there or at a number of even higher sites around the
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