New Zealand is a long way off the beaten track; what is the magic of this place so far removed from the busiest spots on earth? Backdrop for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand’s mesmerizing natural beauty has lured smitten tourists from across the globe, hoping to touch some of the alchemy of Middle Earth. Many find themselves spellbound not only by the landscape, but by the lifestyle of the country.
Where Your Taonga Lies
Aotearoa New Zealand is a small nation with a unique flavor of its own – its world class cities provide for a wider social audience, but they are not New Zealand’s biggest taonga, or treasure … that is the country’s multi-cultural pioneering history, and how this has shaped what it is today – its laid back, shorts-and-jandals lifestyle, its casual, welcoming friendliness and its layers of culture.
This informality doesn’t suit all tastes; visitors who find their airliner’s captain greeting them with a casual ‘g’day’ and asking the passengers to join him in wishing one of the cabin crew a happy birthday unrefined won’t like the easy-going unpretentiousness of the culture. New Zealanders – or ‘Kiwis’ – are in no way obsequious or starry-eyed, instead treating everyone with the same unaffected courtesy regardless of social status, which of course has the potential for offending those who like preferential treatment, but this doesn’t worry Kiwis, who have a practical, straightforward approach to life.
Slow Down, You’re Moving too Fast
While Auckland city and the other main centres of Wellington and Christchurch have given up much of their not so long-gone pastoral history as much in an effort to keep up with world trends as part of the unfortunate natural evolution of industrialized cities, outside these centres and even on their fringes, it is still possible to find a lifestyle mostly lost almost anywhere else in the 21st century.
Sunshine and Barbecues
Many new immigrants say they have found a better balance of work and home life than they could have had in their native lands. Apartment living is comparitively rare, while most families live in detached houses with a yard where native birds visit, especially in summer. It is the emphasis and access to the outdoors – going down to the beach with the kids, camping trips, afternoon and weekend sports, and just taking the dog for a walk on the shore or through one of the many reserves – where Aotearoa New Zealand is distinctive in the lifestyle it offers.
Schools, too, have an affinity with the outdoors and sunshine and even in the cities are equipped with large, grassy playgrounds surrounded by greenery and trees unknown in many big cities across the world, with the relatively short, mild winters not compelling a prolonged incarceration indoors.
Innovation and Achievement
Of course, comments about New Zealand’s relaxed pace of life shouldn’t be miscontrued as a lack of energy or inventiveness. The country has produced plenty of leaders in innovation and science, sports, music and film, and more, from Sir Edmund Hillary, Mount Everest pioneer, to Jean Batten, record breaking aviatrix at a time when few women knew they were capable of such achievement, and Sir Peter Jackson, who breathed incredible life into J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories.
Being a small country, the impersonal dynamics of large societies have not permeated local culture, and interactions with people in various agencies from stores to government departments still have a refreshing sense of conversation between real human beings. Along suburban streets, people may still greet one another, and neighbors wave over the fence. Children can walk to school or play with friends in the park in relative safety.
Communities vary, but gregarious people will be able to find like-minded company in community groups from theater to art or business networking, and community events such as Music and Movies in the Park. A friendly conversation may yield fruit, from new friendship to a job opportunity. New Zealand is casual like that.
Even in the central suburbs of the big cities, countryside is never more than 90 minutes away, even in peak traffic hours. Outside the city centers, life moves at an even more bucolic pace, and if that’s what blows your hair back, it is still possible to live rurally within a 60–90 minute commute of work, even closer if your work is outside the main centres, and, with two main islands to choose from, the beach never has to be far away.
With its colonial history, New Zealand is naturally multicultural, with new immigrants always welcome. The pioneering spirit endures in the can-do, no-nonsense attitude of the people.
Founded uniquely on a document which granted the native Maori the same rights and privileges as the pakeha, or incoming British citizens, the two cultures are being woven together like harakeke (flax).
Maori traditions are observed in official ceremonies and taught in schools, while the balance of traditional rights are still being worked out in politics and law. Arriving in waka (canoes) more than a millenia ago, Maori have a rich heritage of art and culture. Traditionally a hunting and gathering society, Maori culture has necessarily gone through massive adaptations, but they retain their culture through traditional and contemporary arts, which can be explored in many ways, from a visit to a marae (meeting ground), to museums and cultural exhibits to theater and television.
Aotearoa New Zealand, with its incredible beauty and varied landscape, its rich blend of cultures and laid back lifestyle, lives right up to the hype – it’s well worth a visit, but blame it on the boogie if you fall in love and can’t leave.
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