The World Is Squared: Episode 6 – Midsummer in Midwinter

by Daniel on March 22, 2015

Hullo again … delayed by a frankly inexcusable three weeks, this episode brings together some of the things I noticed and wrote notes on while in New Zealand. It’s the longest one so far, and might have been a lot longer if I hadn’t just despaired of ever doing it justice. I don’t think I’m ever going to fall for a country as hard as I fell for Greece, but man, New Zealand is very nice. Next episode will cover Polynesia …

(PS: Attentive readers may note that the word “Maori” is consistently misspelt. This is because I don’t know how to do the flat line accent over the a. Sorry)

1. Anglosphere populations

We went to New Zealand via a short two week stay in Australia, where we were mainly going to visit our friend Andy. He is a professional singer and works mainly in directing operas at the Sydney Opera House – this is of course ridiculous, rather like going to London because you have a mate who is a Beefeater. We stayed in one of Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, a name which presumably means nothing to 90% of readers, but which carries an iconic significance to the small part of the globe which follows Rugby League. Eastern Suburbs were the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the game in the 1980s when I was growing and (not having really followed League all that much for twenty years) I was heartily disappointed to discover that they had changed their name to “Sydney Roosters”, presumably out of an erroneous belief that it sounded cooler. It was out near Botany Bay, a perfectly respectable place where the salt of the Aussie middle class resided – builders, plumbers, opera directors, that sort of person.

I also met up with John Band in a pub roughly antipodeal from the one I first met him. This place was a curious sight to me, as it looked more like a betting shop with a bar in it, something which would of course be totally illegal in the UK. Apparently, until really quite recently, there was only one kind of liquor license in New South Wales – the “hotel licence”, which allowed you to open, as a sort of portfolio within a smallish geographical area, a hotel, a pub, a betting shop and two bottle-shops. Other than that, it was “clubs” (servicemens’ and rugby, for example) which tended to be the hubs for drinking and gambling. Australia leads the world in fruit machine technology, and also in problem gambling, and I wonder how much of the money ever really makes its way to returned servicemen or to rugby players.

All of which is somewhat introductory to my theory. Which is that across the world, every large English-speaking country has a nearby, smaller and slightly nicer English-speaking population, like a little brother that people can feel good about when the bigger version has pissed them off. So America has Canada, Britain has Ireland and Australia has New Zealand. It sometimes even works in fractal fashion – North Island of New Zealand has South Island. You can actually use this presumable accident of geography to your own advantage as a consumer of political news, because the smaller population acts as a noise filter for the larger one. What I mean is that, for example, any piece of British news which doesn’t make it into the Irish press is probably the sort of chatter and noise that you always tell yourself to ignore; similarly for American and Australian news that doesn’t make it into the Canadian and New Zealand media respectively.

Another thing that Anglosphere countries tend to go in for is somewhat oversized main cities. Auckland is 31 per cent of the total population – the rest of New Zealand consists of slightly more than three million people, spread out over a pair of islands roughly the size of Great Britain. After spending fifteen years travelling the world on the basis of seeing nothing but the central business district of the main commercial city, my trip to New Zealand was quite odd in that I spent two and a half months there and didn’t visit Auckland once, other than to pick up and drop off hire cars.

2. Maori and Welsh

We were staying in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, in a town which has a significantly larger Maori population than the New Zealand average – about 40% of the population of Whaktane, and 60% of the kids at the school where my children attended for a month. I’ve always been fascinated by the Maori – mainly from seeing them rampaging against Wales and the Lions in test matches, but also in the idea of them as a native population that not only survived European colonisation, but fought them to an honourable peace and even managed to get a legally binding treaty out of them. I read quite a bit about it all while I was there.

The history of the process leading up to the Treaty of Waitangi can be told in several different ways; as far as I can tell there are at least three narratives about how it came to be signed.

One of them is the “unconquerable heroic Maori” version, under which the Maori were the one native population who white settlers couldn’t defeat in battle, so they sued for peace (and then tricked them out of their land). It’s certainly true that from a military point of view, the Maori had a lot of advantages relative to many Australian and American native tribes. For one thing, they weren’t nomads or hunter-gatherers, and so they had been able to support a dedicated warrior class for a long time. For another, that warrior class was a very successful example of its kind – they were kind of like the Vikings of the South Sea. And finally, they had access to jade and obsidian, meaning that their “stone age” weapons were considerably more effective than the median; a stone axe that you see in museums back home is a pretty hopeless thing, but a Maori war axe is much more obviously something that could take a limb off. All these things certainly made a war of conquest and extinction against the Maori a much more difficult proposition than it might otherwise have been. On the other hand, the actual results of the various small wars and the virtual extermination of the King movement make me think that if the Europeans had really put their minds to it, they could have forced a much worse outcome.

Another version of history, apparently often popular with people who want to undermine Treaty rights, is the “willing submission”. This is, in my opinion, far too close to a Just-So-Stories version of Hobbes’ Leviathan to be plausible, but the idea is that the Maori realised that, with the beginnings of trade with the European empires, and consequent introduction of firearms and steel weapons to their culture, they were in genuine danger of fighting each other to extinction unless they handed over sovereignty to a wise and benevolent outside ruler. It’s definitely true that the so-called “Musket Wars” had an astonishing effect on the Maori population, but not all Maori nations were involved in them, and the timing, as far as I can tell, doesn’t really match up to the Treaty process.

Finally, there’s the “domestic humanitarian” explanation. Basically, the period leading up to 1840 was a high-water mark for humanitarian and abolitionist movements in British politics. Popular and political opinion regarded what had happened to the Australian Aborgines as an appalling disaster (and, of course, a considerable political embarrassment when one was trying to moralise at the Americans about slavery), and there was widespread support in the Foreign Office for trying not to do things so badly this time round. On this view of history, the colonists were offering the Maori a much better deal than any other tribal population was getting (and, they kept emphasising, a much better deal than, say, the Tahitians were getting from France – the threat of pulling out and leaving New Zealand to another colonist was made a few times). On this view of history, the big advantage the Maori had was that they were basically a single people – although composed of a variety of national and genealogical groups, they had a single language, established political and trading relationships and generally formed much more of a coherent community than other tribal populations of the colonial era. It was possible to get a critical mass of Maori leaders together in a single hall and make a deal with them, just at the point in history when this was thought to be the right thing to do.

I think there are bits and pieces of truth scattered through all of these answers to the question of “why did New Zealand end up with a treaty rather than a genocide?”. Also, it seems to be the case that a lot of chiefs simply took the view that the game was up, and that having spent their entire history living by the sword, they had now come up against a superior military force (the records contain several statements by Maori leaders to the effect that within four or five generations, Aotearoa would be a white country). Conquest and displacement of the existing population was a common phenomenon already. One of the interesting things about Waitangi Tribunal jurisprudence on the allocation of land rights to iwi is that, for a lot of its purposes, the clock stopped on February 6, 1840 – if your people were, at that time, hiding in the forests having been driven off your ancestral lands during that particular episode of the Musket Wars, then the basic position is tough luck.

As you can tell, I read quite a lot about the history of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the thought that kept on coming back to me was that this must have been exactly how things progressed during the English conquest of Wales back in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A basically tribal society, with lots of small princedoms led by local hard men, largely but imperfectly converted by Christian missionaries. Lots of little alliances with the expansionary foreign power, aimed at gaining immediate advantage in a local power struggle, but losing sight of the larger process of which they were a part. Sporadic episodes of brutality to make it clear where the superior military might was. And an eventual recognition that it was time to join the winning side and get the best deal you can, coupled with a recognition on the part of the conqueror that the population had to be given some concessions as they were otherwise capable of being more trouble than they were worth.

There are dozens of such analogies between the Maori and the Welsh, even down to the shared love of opera arias and rugby football. The New Zealand educational system often sends teachers on exchange visits, as Wales is at the cutting edge in terms of managing bilingual education in a minority language. It sounds at this point as if I’m just descending into whimsy, but there’s actually a serious message. Because, although one doesn’t want to underestimate the problems of the Maori population – and they were evident, all the poorest outlying towns seemed to be majority Maori, and whenever you saw someone on the street who was clearly poor and not in good physical condition, they were also – it’s also clear that they’re surviving and finding a role in modern New Zealand society in a way in which you just don’t see Australian aborigines and Native Americans doing. And the distinction here seems very important to me.

How does a basically tribal society adapt to a modern industrial lifestyle? That, in my view, is a really important question for the world at the moment, as it’s the key to the Afghanistan conflict, among other things. The Pashtun tribes who make life so difficult for any and all occupiers of that territory are not stupid, and they are aware of what happened to the Khoi-San, the Native Americans, the Aborigines, and more or less any tribal society that has ever adopted any position other than one of strictly “no compromise, no retreat, nothing except trade in firearms and textiles” with respect to the modern world. Economic development in that region is more or less impossible if it has to be attempted in the context of a society which is basically the largest surviving tribal society in existence and wants to stay that way. For that reason, if no other, I think it’s a good idea for the rest of us to look at New Zealand and see if there’s anything to learn.

3. Fruit and flightless birds

The landscape has an extraordinary …generous quality to it. The desert in Jordan carried the constant fear of death to the unwary, and the fertility of Sri Lanka also had a sinister quality to it, as if something was going to start growing on you if you sat still for too long. And Australia, even in the temperate zones, is such an extraordinary collection of poisonous and hazarodus things (one episode of Peppa Pig has been banned by the ABC, as it involves Peppa learning that Friendly Mr Spider is nothing to be scared of, a message which is wholly inappropriate to teach Australian kids). But New Zealand – the countryside seems to be acting as if it is trying to kill you by throwing fruit at you. The native bush seems to be full of not much except edible plants and slow-moving flightless birds. Lush green forests which bloom red in the summer, fern roots, buckets of shellfish – the Maori canoes must have thought they had landed in paradise. Even the glaciers are pretty cuddly-looking by Swiss standards; we didn’t get right up into the Southern Alps, but we went up to the Franz Joseph glacier, and, while any glacier anywhere in the world is a pretty awe inspiring sight, it didn’t seem to me to have that palpable sense of death about it that you get at the Aiguille du Midi, for example.

The bush and vegetation is pretty scenic in itself, although in my opinion it’s better seen from the road, or across a valley. In this opinion I apparently strongly disagree with the Department of Conservation, whose principles for the planning of walking trails pretty much define the phrase “unable to see the wood for the trees”. It is fun to walk through ancient rain-forest and duck under massive tree-fern branches pretending to be David Attenborough, but when you’ve taken a ten mile hike along something advertised as a “coastal path” and see the sea four times in four hours, you do begin to start humming “here we go round the native bush, the native bush, the native bush” with an increasingly desperate timbre. I am, on the other hand, on sound historical grounds in holding my own view – historians reckon that the Maori settlers destroyed about half of the native forest that existed before they arrived (mainly by burning it down to facilitate the hunting of the ostrich-like moa, now extinct), and that the European settlers destroyed about half of the remaining half.

4. The agriculture cluster

The key to understanding the economy of New Zealand is that it’s an industry cluster, and the industry in question is agriculture. Or, and this might be a bit more controversial, the industry in question is agriculture marketing, the most perfect example of which being the way in which the Chinese gooseberry was renamed the “kiwifruit” and production ramped up exponentially to meet US and European demand. At some point, if they can transport them without bruising, I’d guess that they’ll have a go at doing the same thing with the Feijoa, a kind of South American guava that’s very popular domestically. Marketing isn’t looked down on as a frivolous activity for people not clever enough to do science in New Zealand, as far as I can see – farmers, if they want to enjoy middle-class incomes, have to be very aware about the difference between the stuff that comes out of the ground or off the animal, and the sort of thing that people want to see in their shops.

They are really very snappy about working out what the world wants and how to give it to them. Australian wine starts selling in the UK? Bang – New Zealand plants a load of vines. The Marlborough region develops a brand premium for Sauvignon? Bish bosh, ship truckloads of chardonnay grapes from Hawke’s Bay down to Marlborough and you can sell Marlborough Chardonnay too. Craft beer, did someone say? New Zealand agriculture is on the case, digging up the less successful vineyards and ramping up on a dozen new specialty varieties of hops. It is one of the few agricultural industries in the world which has basically no subsidies or tariff protections, and as a result they are just so much sharper and more responsive; it’s a perfect example for anyone wanting to talk about X-inefficiency in their economics class.

What’s interesting is that the general level of awareness of agricultural matters, and of the trends and fashions in global foodstuffs, is very widespread and very detailed. Over a barbecue, my brother-in-law asked me why I thought it might be that Europeans were prepared to pay such big money for manuka honey these days, and mentioned that a friend of a friend had been putting in more beehives. He had no real personal interest in apiary as far as I could see – he has a good job helping to keep the dairy giant Fonterra’s vast logistics chain of tanker trucks moving. It’s just the sort of thing that one makes conversation about in New Zealand, same as I might, six months earlier, have asked someone at a similar party what they thought about house prices. House prices are a common topic of conversation too, by the way, it’s not a totally alien culture.

You get a sense of magnitude though, in the processing plants, rather than the pastures and fields themselves. One field of cows looks quite like another. And although if asked, you’d realise that if you’ve been driving for two hours past nothing but fields of cows, you don’t really get a sense that there is a hell of a lot of milk being produced here. Then you drive through a town like Edgecumbe, past something which looks for all the world like an oil refinery, and realise that it is in fact a dairy, the size of an oil refinery. Four million litres of milk go through that particular plant every day (one litre for every New Zealander), and it’s not even one of the top three Fonterra plants. A lot of the milk is converted into powder, which is sold to the Asian market. This was my first clue that I might be heading into some interesting economics – at the duty-free shop in Auckland Airport, one of the things that they pile up high next to the scent and booze is great big tubs of infant formula.

5. On the road again

We took a camper van around the country for a month, in between the New Year and the first day of school for the kids. The countryside is just as stunning as everyone says it is, if you stick to the coastal highways, and even the brownish agricultural towns in the middle of the flat plains are actually not without interest. Eketahuna, a dot on Highway 2 on the way down to Wellington, sticks in my mind. It’s a hell of a dull looking place, with a big agricultural store, a really quite baroquely horrible-looking rough hotel, and a load of grassland for miles around. But even in the middle of this town there was a rather nice little cafe, which was making the fair old effort with home made quiche and nice coffee, and we spent a pleasant lunchtime there (it’s called “Addiction” if you’re ever passing through), having a refreshing lunch and leafing through the papers and magazines.

Our main goal was the Interislander ferry, though, to travel as far south on the South Island as we could, consistent with making it back in time for the start of term. It’s an astonishing boat journey – even if the top deck is closed out in the Cook Strait so you can’t whale-watch, as it was for us, the voyage through the Queen Charlotte Sounds is the sort of thing that people spend serious money on scenic trips for. We did actually take a scenic boat trip around them a few days later, with an informative tourist-boat captain who pointed out which of the green hills were native bush and which were forestry plantations. Once you’ve had it pointed out, it’s easy to recognise the combed-hair appearance of managed forestry, which they’re trying to phase out in the Sounds in the interest of conservation and restoration. They’re also gradually trying to exterminate rats and possums, islet by islet, in order to restore an environment in which kiwi and other flightless, harmless birds can thrive. Almost the most interesting thing about the trip, though, was the captain himself – I had simply seen him as a fairly average-looking, slightly stocky white guy, but he concluded the trip by welcoming us all to Te Pounamu in the name of his people, Te Ati Awa. It’s actually a lot harder than one might think to tell who’s a Maori and who isn’t; the huge guy with long hair and tattooed arms might be a South Sea Islander, while down in the South Island (due to interaction with Norwegian whalers) there are apparently blond-haired, blue eyed Maori.

Once we had stopped oohing and aahing over Picton (which took a while), we headed off down the west coast. The scenery gets even more dramatic on the highway down here – we didn’t see a single motorcycle gang, which amazed me because if I lived there and had a motorbike I am pretty sure I’d do nothing but ride it up and down between Nelson and Greymouth. The highways have the same sinuous curves that you get in the Alps, with granite cliffs on your left and pounding waves on your right (vice versa when you’re going north again, I suppose). We were lucky with the weather, but even so there were one or two days when a big wind got up and the sea really showed you what it could do – onto a lee shore as well, on the day when we passed Punakaiki and Rapahoe Bay, in the area where the opening scenes of “The Luminaries” take place.

6. The biggest event in New Zealand history

I read four or five non-fiction books by local authors while travelling around and in spare moments – two histories of the Treaty of Waitangi, a book about gangs, a corporate history of the dairy company Fonterra, and a book about what the hell “manuka honey” was and why it was so expensive. There was one historical event which was mentioned in all of them. That was …a short break is provided here for readers to have a guess …. the entry of the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community in 1972. Not something which had occurred to me either, to be honest, but when you think about it, it’s fairly obvious that this would have been a cataclysmic event; the UK represented 80% of New Zealand’s export earnings at the time, and they were effectively told that they were being given five years’ notice to find alternative customers for their agricultural produce, as the Commonwealth system of tariff preference was wound down and the UK joined the land of milk lakes and grain mountains. In actual fact, and largely thanks to some pretty well-executed and desperate diplomacy, New Zealand got a pretty generous system of transitional arrangements, but from 1972 the country had clearly been put on notice that the clock was ticking, and that it was going to need to think about the future as a genuinely independent country rather than a far away part of England. The political and economic repercussions were felt throughout more or less the entirety of New Zealand society, as far as I could tell.

It’s because of the need to find a way in the post-EEC world, of course, that New Zealand ended up making such an outsize contribution to the trade agreements, basically running the Cairns Group throughout the GATT process and providing the WTO with its first chief executive. They got a lot of what they wanted, in the end – ther countries tended to be well-disposed to Kiwis as, being a small and remote country, they had few oppportunities to make enemies in other fields which carried over into the sphere of trade policy. It must also have helped, of course, that this was a vital life-and-death matter for the New Zealand economy, while it was somewhat lower down the agenda for everyone else. This meant that the average calibre of the New Zealand diplomats assigned to the task would be much higher – while the negotiation of agricultural subsidy and trade agreements is a pretty humdrum matter for the civil services of most countries, for New Zealand in the 1980s it was the ultimate high-flyer post, almost literally tasked with the job of keeping their country in the developed world.

As one can guess, the story had a happy ending, based on New Zealand’s development of Asian markets to replace the lost UK one, and the country’s emergence as the Saudi Arabia of milk. This was so successful that a load of sheep pasture, and even forestry land, was converted to dairy pasture. This left me a bit worried that things were getting too concentrated, and you could see on the television news that the precipitous drop in the global price of milk was beginning to worry people. But New Zealand is unlikely to lose market share. I grew up in North Wales, with a couple of farmers in my extended family, and as a result, I was always very much aware of how difficult it was to make a living out of sheep and cows. One of the things that originally got me interested in the subject of economics was asking the question “How come they’re able to send lamb and butter all the way from New Zealand and still sell it cheaper than Wales?”, and never being very satisfied with the answer.

When you get there, though, and if you’ve done an economics degree in the meantime, the answer is obvious, and it’s to do with opportunity cost. The two islands of New Zealand are roughly the same area as Great Britain, with somewhat less than a tenth of the population. The price of farmland in New Zealand isn’t being set by the alternative value of building a housing estate, or a hotel, or a factory, or basically anything. It’s cheap, and it rents even cheaper. And this is both a big and a sustainable comparative advantage. There are surprisingly few places in the world which are as thinly populated as New Zealand, but which are nonetheless as rich in high quality temperate-climate agricultural land.

7. Free range kids

We’d been worrying a little bit about the effect on our kids of taking them on our round the world trip – out of school for a year, and taken away from their friends and forced into the company of Mum and Dad all the time. The elongated stop in New Zealand was meant to help with that – they could see their cousins for a while, and we also arranged to enrol them in the local middle school (and our little one in an infants’ school a few miles away). I have to say, it was a spectacular success. Part of the whole purpose of bringing the children round the world – god knows, it wasn’t the sheer joy of home-schooling – was to let them see that different ways of doing things are possible, and the way that children live in New Zealand really contrasted with how things were in London.

The kids have much more independence, and a much more outdoor lifestyle. When there isn’t so much traffic on the roads and there’s more empty space, they can play in it. My ten-year-old nephew was able to go out alone into the bush to look after his father’s possum traps (it’s considered civically responsible to take care of a few traps in the local bush, because possums and rats eat kiwi eggs). After school, kids would arrange to meet up, parent’s absent, and “jump off the wharf”. (Jumping off things is actually the national sport, as far as I can tell – it doesn’t get as much TV coverage as rugby, but has many more participants. In the course of a fifteen minute lift I gave to a hitch-hiker who had missed his bus back home from one of the higher local wharves, I was given a pretty comprehensive run down of all the tall objects with bodies of water beneath them in the surrounding district. There’s a sign on the bridge over the Whakatane River saying “Do not jump off this bridge”, but I don’t know why they bothered).

On enrolling our five-year old at her infants’ school we were pretty much immediately handed a piece of paper with details of the two-day camp that the tots would be going on. It’s a totally different world.

8. Radio radio

We drove around a lot, and so got quite used to commercial radio – there is actually a pretty good Radio 4 equivalent from the state broadcaster, but I find something like that quite difficult to listen to in the car, and so we were mainly listening to the pop and phone-in stations. And … my God, they are bad. Not just the usual badness that you expect from middle-of-the-day talk radio (ask me about the problems that have shown up in the construction of the Auckland convention centre, I’m an expert by now), but simply in the technical abilities of the people in the studios. Constant bursts of dead air, presenters who can’t stop umming and ahhing, obscenities broadcast at three in the afternoon, and DJ links which defied belief (I heard one character segueing from a pretty tragic story about conflicts in Whitney Houston’s family over the brain-death of her nice, into “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, with a remark that this was in some way appropriate to the problems of the Houston family. You could hear the conviction draining out of his voice, as he realised that this wasn’t sounding as good on air as it had when he was scribbling it on the back of a cigarette packet).

I don’t know what’s going on here. The obvious excuse would be that it’s a small media market, and so anybody who is capable of reading out a link without stumbling has gone to seek a better career in Australia. I don’t think this can be right though. For one thing, this problem doesn’t appear to affect print media; not only are there two decent quality national newspapers, even small towns have reasonable quality local papers. For another, it’s not all that small a media market – New Zealand has almost exactly the same population as Ireland, and there are definitely people with peak-hour slots on commercial stations in New Zealand who would not be considered ready for hospital radio in Ireland.

What I think is going on is a combination of two factors. First, as I mentioned, the state owned broadcaster doesn’t directly compete with commercial radio – it runs two stations, one of which is in depth news and the other of which is classical music. But a consequence of that is that the state owned broadcaster doesn’t indirectly subsidise commercial stations either – there’s no direct pipeline by which people who have been trained up by RNZ can walk straight into a commercial competitor and do exactly the same job. The role played by the BBC in providing human capital to the independent media industry in the UK is very important, and the same thing doesn’t seem to be happening in New Zealand.

The other driving factor is that broadcast media, more than any other industry, makes and is made by its consumers. As it happens, more or less anywhere I go in the English speaking world (and indeed, outside it if there are subtitles), I tend to be pretty appalled by the technical quality of the local output. But that’s because I grew up in and live in the world’s single most competitive media market. It’s very hard to grow up in that kind of market, even at its fringes out in Wales, without picking up a lot of background knowledge. The UK is a media-industry cluster, just in the way that New Zealand is an agriculture-industry cluster, and a big part of that in both cases is that knowledge of the industry isn’t confined to the people who are in it; it’s part of the everyday conversation. Alfred Marshall noticed this characteristic of industry clusters – “The mysteries of the trade become no mysteries; but are as it were in the air, and children learn many of them unconsciously. Good work is rightly appreciated, inventions and improvements in machinery, in processes and the general organization of the business have their merits promptly discussed”. The biggest asset of the British and Irish media industries is their educated consumer base, and that’s the thing that’s hardest to transplant somewhere else. I think this is the big benefit of the profusion of media-studies courses in British education – it’s not so much that all their graduates are going on to jobs in the media, it’s more that they will always be educated and critical consumers.

There is one area where New Zealand media seem to be very good at what they do, and it’s one that is likely to get more and more relevant. They’re very good at aggregation. Looking through the Bay of Plenty Times, I was struck by the fact that it had roughly as much international news as, say, the Observer, and wondered how they did it. The answer was pretty clear as the articles were all atrributed to the international newspapers from where they had been clipped. Presumably the fees for doing so were pretty reasonable, as there is little likelihood of cannibalisation of the New York Times’ circulation by a newspaper in New Zealand. But the general magpie instinct – the media equivalent of the proverbial “number 8 wire solution” – was in evidence across the media. I actually got interviewed myself on RNZ one weekend (on the rather excellent Kim Hill news magazine show), as the producer had put the word out on his grapevine that he needed talking heads for the HSBC tax story, and a mate told him I was passing through. In a world in which geographical boundaries are becoming less important in the media world, I suspect that people who have learned their trade in the New Zealand media will be showing up more and more elsewhere in the Anglosphere, although I would also guess that the same porous borders and global competition will be pretty much the death of RadioLIVE and Bayrock FM.

9. Thut uccent

It was interesting to see how my kids picked up the local accent in a month at school; my son didn’t at all, but the eldest daughter actually uttered the sentence, “Flup the swutch, ey?” to me towards the end of our time there. We made friends with some Swiss people who admitted they had a hard time with the Kiwi way with vowels (you’d never realise there were so many contexts when it’s ambiguous if someone is referring to a pen or a pin). The sentence that sticks in my mind was from a discussion on the radio, in which a beautifully-spoken presenter enunciated “But reverse sexism is just as dismissive”, with all the consonants as clear as a bell and all the vowels identical.

I also spent a small amount of time in Napier looking for a wine store which was in “the IM Pei building”. I was quite enthusiastic about seeing how the French-Japanese modernist had dealt with the placement of one of his glass structures in the context of Napier’s historical streets (the town was demolished by an earthquake and rebuilt just at the peak of the art-deco boom). But in fact, the person who gave me the directions was referring to the former local headquarters of the insurance company, AMP.

10. Man mountains

I saw the first one on the aeroplane from Sydney – an absolutely huge Maori guy, with tattoos all over his arms, bulging out in all directions from his Chicago Bulls vest. “Oh hey, here we go”, I thought, and pointed him out to my son, who was worrying a little bit about whether he would be made to play rugby against a class of junior All Blacks and consequently flattened. In fact, the unfeasible-giant body type isn’t really any more common among the Maori population than the comparable rugby player build is in the valley of South Wales, but it’s very noticeable when you see it, and it’s definitely genetic rather than a result of exercise and diet and/or steroid abuse – there were quite a few kids at the school who were close to a multiple of the size of their classmates.

11. Driving a camper van into Mordor

I spent about half of our holiday doing Ian McKellen impressions and saying things like “one does not just take a car ferry …into Mordor”, until, and indeed after, the family told me to stop. We did actually go through the Land of Mordor – it was filmed in the Mount Tongariro national park, which provides plenty of geothermal atmospherics, along with one of the comparatively few genuinely forbidding pieces of landscape in New Zealand. If you make your way through it, and past the proving grounds for the New Zealand army, you get to Lake Taupo, and some of the nicest geothermal spas you’ll find. We took the camper van through Mordor twice, because we liked it so much. I really don’t understand why Frodo had such a hard time finding the way, by the way – the road system is very easy to understand, you just pick a numbered highway and stick to it, rolling along for hours while occasionally boggling at the size of a Fonterra milk-tanker road train.

The New Zealand tourism industry does potentially have a bit of a problem with “Peak Hobbit”. Now that the Lord of the Rings films have all been made, and The Hobbit’s narrative thread has been stretched out as far as it can realistically go, there is something of an issue with the development of further sword and sorcery epics to set there. The Estate of JRR Tolkien are cutting up rough about further licensing deals, having decided that they didn’t get enough out of the first six films. And, possibly more of a problem, the quality drop-off between the two novels that have already been filmed and the remaining Tolkien canon is one that rivals the Crack of Doom itself. Nobody wants to see “The Silmarillion Part One: Endless Genealogical Blah About Elves”, let alone its sequels “Now Was He The Grandfather Or The Great Grandfather Who Owned That Piece Of Jewellery” or “The Great Battle, But First Let’s Get This Ancestry And Marriage Thing Nailed Down Once And For All”.

I think they’ll be all right. The tourist industry has definitely gone chips-in on Hobbitry – the natural history museum in Wellington’s foyer is dominated by a massive orc, which occasioned two thoughts in me – first, that this was not strictly a natural history exhibit, and second that it probably says something about the state of race relations that nobody has seen fit to make a big deal out of the fact that the villains of the film are big tattooed wielders of spears and stone axes with (to my mind) recognisably Polynesian facial features. But I think that after more than a decade plus of Hobbitry, they’ve built up a sufficient base of satisfied customers to keep people returning via word of mouth. Also, the film franchise has managed to build its own mini-cluster of special effects and stunt-work companies (building on the national love of jumping off things). The nature of the trilogy and its budget was that it was able to provide a reliable enough stream of work to make it worth people’s while investing in capital and in building up local businesses, and now they’re able to pitch for work on international films unrelated to hobbits.

12. Land of a hundred gangs

Another way in which members of a basically tribal culture can adapt to a modern industrial society, of course, is by forming motorcycle gangs. And quite a few Maori have taken up this solution, meaning that New Zealand has significantly more gangs per head of population than almost anywhere on earth. They aren’t all motorbike gangs by any means – the two biggest gangs in New Zealand are the Mongrel Mob, and Black Power, both of which are street gangs – but unusually, even the non-cycle based gangs copy the fahsion of wearing denim jackets with patches on them. And the patch-wearing gangs aren’t exclusively Maori, although the white membership seems to be pretty small these days, outside the explicitly racist gangs. But in the area where I was staying, the costumed avengers seemed to all be Maori. As far as I could see, Whakatane was mainly a town of Black Power Outbackz, while some of the surrounding towns (particularly Kawerau, a big sawmill and logging centre) were Mongrel Mob. This apparently caused some problems, as the main funeral parlour for the surrounding region is in the centre of town, right in the centre of gang territory, and so is a focus for occasional fights. Gang central is on one of the shopping streets, down from the schools, where I would occasionally hang around over a beer and watch the world go by, waiting to pick up the kids. I was later told that this was a brave thing to do, although it didn’t feel like that. I presume that the Turf Tavern got more lively in the evening, but in mid afternoon, it’s “no gang insignia” policy was largely respected, and although there were often a few tough looking lads there, they were generally asleep.

One doesn’t want to glamourise these people. Although they have some embroidery on their denims and they are in and out of each other’s houses and business more than your average collection of deadbeats and thugs, they’re not exactly the Sopranos or the Sons of Anarchy. Successive investigations into the role of the patched gangs in drug dealing and organised crime have tended to find that they are really quite weak on the crucial dimension of organisation (Jarrod Gilbert’s book, “Patched” contains a hilarious description from a narcotics squad agent of the panic engendered at an alleged Mongrel Mob drug market when he showed up on a trial basis and tried to buy an ounce. He ended up being directed half way across town to the house of someone who wasn’t even a gang member). In general, their criminal activities are confined to domestic violence, occasional brawls with other gangs, and smashing up pubs. It always takes a surprisingly small crew of arseholes to create a disproportionate public nuisance; even in a smallish market town of 15,000 people, less than two dozen such types can be a real menace if they’re all mates of one another. And obviously, the family life is never great, and this seems to be how the gangs reproduce themselves; reading through the history books strongly suggested to me that this phenomenon has a lot to do with breakdowns in traditional extended family life as a result of urbanisation, but somewhat mare to do with institutional failures of the care home system. And when you give a kid a name like “Wicked Chains” and encourage him to get a large and visible tattoo of a criminal insignia before he’s fifteen, you can be pretty sure that kid is going to find it easier not to leave the underclass behind.

My sister, who we were visiting, has been in charge of the emergency room in the town’s hospital for several years now, and so sees a lot more of the gang members than most. Although the perspective of an ER doctor is likely to see fewer of the skilled motorcyclists, moderate drinkers and happy marriages of any community than the true population mean, she seemed to regard her “regular customers” with a sort of exasperated affection, as long as they behaved themselves while waiting in her emergency room. Which they did, by and large – my sister learned her trade in Liverpool, and has never been in the habit of tolerating any nonsense. If she could change anything about the culture that produces people like Wicked Chains (I have changed names out of respect for the confidentiality of my sister’s patients, but the guy’s real name was no less alarming), it would be that it would please her greatly if they could discover a concept of machismo which was consistent with getting your wounds treated when they happened, rather than waiting a few weeks for serious complications to set in.

13.By the sea

The letter combination “Wh” in Maori is pronounced with a sharp exhalation, somewhere between the way that that Father Ted pronounces “what?”, the way that English people try to deal with the Welsh double-L in “Llanelli” and a straightforward letter F. It’s certainly close enough to the F sound for t-shirts saying “Where the Whak is Whakatane?” to be pretty big sellers locally. It’s very proud of its status as the “Sunshine Capital of New Zealand”, and I actually heard the competition for this title being commentated on by two local radio presenters as if it were a race (“we’ve slipped behind by a few hours, but Queenstown would really need to be a long way ahead of us at this stage, because they get very cloudy winters down there”).

It’s also home to Ohope Beach, which proclaims itself “New Zealand’s Best Loved Beach”, and although I haven’t fact checked the fieldwork, the claim is credible. It’s a sweeping ten kilometres of pale sand, with a nice level, reasonably safe surf break at one end. The waves come in at roughly head height and break in an orderly fashion; swimming is hard work, if exhilarating, but playing in the waves is absolutely joyous. The active maritime volcano at White Island puffs out smoke every day, and you can look at it as you run along the beach in the early morning. I used to love doing this; the sea, the hills, the sand and the beach-houses set back about fifty metres so they don’t crowd you. I would jog along and wish the oyster-catchers good luck as they dug in the sand.



Thomas Lumley 03.22.15 at 5:08 am

On the talk-radio issue: I think you’re right about the standard in NZ, but I’m interested that Britain is good. I haven’t listened to much British radio, but I remember it being described in David Lodge’s Changing Places as one of the areas where Birmingham was hilariously inferior to Berkeley. Did it improve at some point, or is this a point where you and David Lodge don’t see eye to eye?


Daniel 03.22.15 at 5:21 am

It changed with a lot of deregulation in the late 80s I think.


nick s 03.22.15 at 5:32 am

I actually got interviewed myself on RNZ one weekend (on the rather excellent Kim Hill news magazine show), as the producer had put the word out on his grapevine that he needed talking heads for the HSBC tax story, and a mate told him I was passing through.

I remember a story from about a decade ago of someone from the US who arrived in, I think, Wellington, and within a month had gigs on a government website team (milk exports), a local commercial radio station and TV2. It was mostly a case of making people aware that you were around and saying ‘yiss’ to everything when asked.


JM Hatch 03.22.15 at 5:47 am

Just be careful about what’s for dinner when you get invited over for a bite.


Doctor Science 03.22.15 at 5:54 am

What is “the care home system”? Mr Google isn’t helping.


Jonathan Lundell 03.22.15 at 5:57 am

About ‘Māori’: on a Mac, hold the ‘a’ key down until it offers you a choice of diacritical marks. On Windows or Linux I dunno, except copy & paste from the Wikipedia article, I guess…


john b 03.22.15 at 7:15 am

Doctor Science: it’s foster care for children whose parents are unable to look after them.


Daniel 03.22.15 at 8:12 am

I remember a story from about a decade ago of someone from the US who arrived in, I think, Wellington, and within a month had gigs on a government website team (milk exports), a local commercial radio station and TV2. It was mostly a case of making people aware that you were around and saying ‘yiss’ to everything when asked.

I can totes believe this – it’s the natural counterweight to the brain drain (which is a real problem, and which is among the many things I didn’t get around to writing about – something like a quarter of all New-Zealand eduated doctors leave the country, to be replaced by people like my sister).

Another thing I really wanted to point out was the thing I really liked most about New Zealand culture – although the newspapers and broadcast media ritualistically decry the “tall poppy syndrome”, they are actually touchingly proud of any of their lot who makes it overseas. It’s a really nice, open system compared to London – my main experience of this was with my children’s school but really, they were so nice (as far as I can tell, Whakatane Intermediate might be one of the best junior high schools in the English speaking world)


TheSophist 03.22.15 at 8:19 am

I’d like to add just a little to DD’s usual excellence. Hobbiton. I was there. Today. Now I kinda sorta understand the medieval pilgrims who schlepped half way across Europe to touch a piece of the true cross or some such. This was about as close to an ecstatic religious experience as I will ever have.

It’s done perfectly. The tours are superb, with knowledgeable guides who know both the books and the films. The whole place is as beautiful as you could imagine it to be, and shows over and over again the incredible detail that went in to the films.

I was there with a group of AZ high schoolers, most of whom are enrolled in my Lotr class. Two of them said that today was the best day of their lives. I know how they feel. Tears were shed, but not all tears are an evil.

We also did the weta workshop tour in Wellington a few days ago. Also a wonderful experience. The tour guide liked our group so much that at the end of the tour she let us take photographs with Sting (the real one – well,one of the thirty real ones) with the trolls (the real ones) in front of the workshop.


dsquared 03.22.15 at 8:29 am

Oh amazing! If you’re going through the Bay of Plenty I can thoroughly recommend the Mataatua heritage centre in Whakatane – it was really surprisingly moving.


bad Jim 03.22.15 at 9:10 am

You’re going to go to hell just for that “AMP” gag. I used to have an Aussie sister-in-law, so I get it, but ouch.

I think I said before that you’re a pretty good dad. I’m happy to retain that opinion.


dsquared 03.22.15 at 9:16 am

It’s not a joke I promise! I just conflated two real events. AMP sponsored the local weather forecast and I genuinely did mishear it as IM Pei. And there is a rather good wine shop in the old AMP building in Napier.


dbk 03.22.15 at 9:19 am

“…because if I lived there and had a motorbike, I am pretty sure I’d do nothing but ride it up and down between Nelson and Greymouth.”

The moment I read that, I recalled a travel program I’d caught by accident about someone doing just that. Spectacular scenery. And after a bit of searching:

Really, really fascinating. Thanks!


dsquared 03.22.15 at 9:20 am

BTW, while I’m making confessions, sharp eyed readers will have noticed that although Botany Bay is on the eastern side of Sydney and it’s a suburb, it’s not one of the fabled Eastern Suburbs and is in fact solidly in South Sydney Rabbitohs country.


Nick 03.22.15 at 9:35 am

It’s interesting that this is the second time in about as many days as I’ve heard an anecdote about international sales of milk powder. Apparently, the closest Tesco to the University of Essex has put a two-box limit on sales of it because so many Chinese students are buying it to send home.


Val 03.22.15 at 10:51 am

I like this post a lot, but this –
” it’s also clear that they’re [Māori] surviving and finding a role in modern New Zealand society in a way in which you just don’t see Australian aborigines and Native Americans doing. And the distinction here seems very important to me.”

It’s over simplified – you don’t see Australian Indigenous peoples doing that in a sense because proportionately there are far fewer of them compared to Māori, but they are – you just have to know where to look. You probably know something about Indigenous art, and maybe music, but you might be interested to look at @IndigenousX on Twitter, for example.


Ronan(rf) 03.22.15 at 11:21 am

I lived there for a bit and loved the accent as well “going for a pint of puss, bru?” “Some fush and chips”
Admittedly they just straight up didn’t understand me a lot of the time


PlutoniumKun 03.22.15 at 11:24 am

@15, those limits apply pretty much anywhere in Europe so far as I know. Here in Dublin all the shops have 2 to 6 tub limits on baby milk powder (the same limits apply to online purchases). Chinese people simply don’t trust their own shops/suppliers, there have been too many scandals over fake products. When I box up and send powder to my friend in Guangxi in the GPO in Dublin I regularly find myself with Chinese people on each side, assiduously boxing and packing similar crates full of Actimil. Even the fact that shipping costs almost double the retail price of the powder, its still cheaper for them than to source from ‘reliable’ sites within China (i.e. western owned and controlled suppliers). Although for some reason which I find baffling, UK manufactured baby bottles are apparently cheaper to buy in China than they are in Boots.


William Burns 03.22.15 at 11:55 am

I remember when I was last in England in the 1990s I was still getting New Zealand butter with my breakfast.


RandomAfrican 03.22.15 at 12:53 pm

Nigeria has Ghana


Luke 03.22.15 at 1:01 pm

Vowels – I used to work in an open plan office with a rubbish computer system called SICS, and a New Zealander called Stephanie, or Stiphanie as she became known.

“God I hate sex,” all the English heard her proclaim loudly one day, when SICS had crashed yet again.

Apropos of nothing much, I understand that NZ, South Island in particular, has some of the best trout fishing in the world – small numbers of very large difficult to catch fish. That gets them some wealthy US tourists

I am enjoying this travelogue, btw.


Sumana Harihareswara 03.22.15 at 1:02 pm

I smiled pretty wide at the “I.M. Pei” confusion, and then burst out loud laughing with

until, and indeed after, the family told me to stop

And I loved the ending, on the beach.

I’d love to know more about how the New Zealand educational system or tenor is striking your children; do they like it?


William Timberman 03.22.15 at 2:27 pm

Brilliant as ever, if not more so. I do hope these become a book at some point, so I can have them all in one place, and return to them whenever I feel the need to get completely lost in something much more satisfying — and much less scary — than the shock, awe, and bloody-minded complacency of our real lives in the 21st century.


adam.smith 03.22.15 at 2:59 pm

while we’re at vowel stories. I think the first time I met a New Zealander was some peace studies graduate student (she had just come to the US) and was talking about her work in Indonesia with the “indios” and the “indio community” — which struck me both as rather culturally insensitive and geographically odd until I realized it was in fact the “NGOs” and “NGO community” she was talking about (the vowels being hard enough, it was the emphasis on the first syllable — EN-gee-oh — that really did me in).

Not sure if this would have happened to a native speaker–I guess not–but I empathize with your Swiss neighbors.


James Wimberley 03.22.15 at 5:03 pm

Adding to Jonathan Lundell in #6. In Windows XP you can do this:
Start>All Programs> Accessories>System Tools>Character Map, then select and copy-paste. Laborious but it works. The suggested ALT+nnnn direct method for the required letter does not work for me. Thus: Māori.


Doctor Science 03.22.15 at 5:17 pm

I am confused by the large sales of milk powder to Asian markets. Aren’t almost all Asians lactose-intolerant?


marcel proust 03.22.15 at 6:13 pm

doctor science: I suspect you are thinking of adult lactose-intolerance. How would (East) Asian children have survived on the veldt if they were lactose intolerant?


Doctor Science 03.22.15 at 6:28 pm

Breastfeeding (or, these days, infant formula). I confess I don’t know much about lactose intolerance, so I assumed there wasn’t that big of a window between infant formula and the development of intolerance. I also was under the impression that the Chinese find milk-drinking kind of disgusting — “like drinking snot”, I recall.


Kumbel 03.22.15 at 7:38 pm

You didn’t go to see the real “glooper” in Wellington (


sourcreamus 03.22.15 at 9:11 pm

WAG on why the Maori got such a good treaty. In the US the Indians were less outfought than outbred. Generous treaties were negotiated and then abrogated as soon as new settlers needed the Indian’s land. Indian tribes needed huge amounts of land because of economy depended on following nomadic buffalo herds. A war would happen where the Indian tribes would be outmanned by the US army and end up having to surrender.
It sounds like there were never enough New Zealanders to fill up New Zealand and so they didn’t need the Maori’s land, they just wanted not to have to fight the Maoris anymore.


Conrad 03.22.15 at 9:54 pm

Here’s a link to the Kim Hill interview – appalling phone line and all.


Matt 03.22.15 at 10:33 pm

Did you get to Christchurch at all? I found it quite interesting to see the ways it’s (still) trying to come back from the devastating earthquakes from some years back. They people were very nice, though I was in general very disappointed by the quality of the lamb you could get. I suppose that’s not a huge surprise, though, in some ways.


DCA 03.22.15 at 11:01 pm

Another vowel story (American ears): being told to go visit the prune farm near Taupo, which used geothermal water. After some puzzlement about why prunes would need hot water (or why this would be interesting), I realized it was the prawn farm.

@Matt(29): the best lamb (or whatever) gets labelled “export grade”: another sign of the NZ awareness that they had better produce stuff that someone overseas wants, or else.


Matt 03.22.15 at 11:05 pm

DCA – yes, I soon figured that was likely. (It seemed to be so for the wine, too, which was a bit disappointing, though I didn’t try as much as I would have liked – fairly average stuff was more expensive than better NZ wine in the US, which was also a surprise.) I would expect that it’s possible to find better local stuff, but probably it would take more time than I had, or care than I wanted to give.


Kaleberg 03.22.15 at 11:21 pm

New Zealand is also a big venison exporter. If you’ve eaten venison in England (or much of Europe for that matter), odds are it was imported from NZ. Apparently, deer were introduced for game hunting, but soon came a nuisance. After Vietnam there were lots of trained helicopter pilots and sharpshooters, so NZ decided to work down its deer population and export it as meat. (I’ve had some; it’s quite good.) When the wild population was under control, they started capturing deer using nets from helicopters and set up deer farms. For a great, only in New Zealand, book on this, check out Andrew Grant’s ‘Hawks’. It’s a true men’s novel in the old fashioned style, set in the exciting world of shooting deer from helicopters.

New Zealanders are always thinking about new ways to market agricultural products. We bought Merino Mink sweaters which were part wool, part possum hair, and wonderfully warm. In other words, possums beware.

All told, we were pretty impressed with New Zealand on our visit. We were on the South Island and were amused to see a lot places where the series Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess were shot. Of course, by then the Lord of the Rings had been released. Our tour guide thought it was hilarious when people asked him to take them to where Boromir died. Let’s face it. It’s a pretty photogenic country.


Dave Heasman 03.22.15 at 11:46 pm

Anchor butter no longer boasts that it’s from New Zealand. Very quiet about the change.


run_wabbit_run 03.23.15 at 12:05 am

On the popularity of infant formula among the Chinese, this has to do with the Sanlu scandal , where a number babies died of kidney failure as a result of tainted milk powder. It was initially suppressed by the Beijing government during the run up to the Beijing Olympics, but it was exposed by the joint venturer in Sanlu – which was none other than Fonterra of New Zealand. Sanlu had attempted to cover up the scandal, but the board member from Fonterra had refused to sign off on the falsified documents and minutes. Eventually the New Zealanders forced a response by having the NZ ambassador raise the issue publically with the Chinese. The provincial tabloid news programs soon seized the issue and stirred up much outrage with pictures of dead babies with bloated head.

As a result of this , anyone in China who can get their hands on imported milk powder are doing it. To this day, there are people acting as mules smuggling milk powder from Hong Kong to Shenzhen daily on tourist visas.


dsquared 03.23.15 at 12:09 am

It’s a true men’s novel in the old fashioned style, set in the exciting world of shooting deer from helicopters.

I was impressed to see that not only did the local supermarket stock “NZ Pighunter, the magazine for New Zealand’s 25,000 pig hunters”, it also stocked the competing pig hunter magazine, ” Boar Hunter NZ”.


Doctor Science 03.23.15 at 12:34 am

I’m pretty sure it was in the ’80s that NZ deer farming grew to the point where they could make a real industry of collecting antler velvet for the traditional Chinese medicine market. I wouldn’t be surprised if the export value of the antlers & velvet was equal to or greater than the value of NZ venison.


Gregory Scott 03.23.15 at 12:40 am

On lactose intolerance: Most humans lose the ability to digest—on their own—lactose at some point after infancy. That is, they cease to produce the lactose-digesting enzyme lactase. As a result of separate mutations, two populations, one in Europe and the other in East Africa, produce lactase throughout their lives. Other peoples lose this ability. However. There are gut bacteria that can digest lactose. “Lactose-intolerant” populations that consume a lot of dairy get by with a little help from their (microscopic) friends. In old China, adults never consumed dairy and nobody had the requisite gut bacteria. By and large, the modern generation there has it.


Conrad 03.23.15 at 12:46 am

Not even close, last year’s 16 million tonnes of venison exported brought in NZ$ 180 million, while the 201 thousand tonnes of velvet only fetched $28 million. SOurce:


Ian 03.23.15 at 12:50 am

Thanks dsquared, this is a really nice piece. It’s a pleasure (“rare pleasure” sounds pompous but would be accurate) to see a visitor engaging with NZ with real curiosity and intelligence. Some things to quibble with of course – you’re a bit starry-eyed about the media – but also a lot of helpful perspectives, at least for this (non-resident) NZer.

So where are all the other NZ commenters? I’d have expected to see dozens of NZers weighing in with “if you want a bush walk with good ocean views, everyone knows you go to X.” Instead there seems to be only me. And I’m using all five vowels, so I’m probably a fake.


ChrisB 03.23.15 at 12:54 am

For foreign drivers (for old foreign drivers) he UK equivalent of saying things like “one does not just take a car ferry …into Mordor”, until, and indeed after, the family tells you to stop is “Time has passed by Old [Balham]: so shall we.”


Matt 03.23.15 at 1:56 am

…part wool, part possum hair…

I can testify that this does, in fact, make a quite nice fabric, soft and warm.

One of my few disappointments on my trip there was that I really wanted to see the southern stars, but there was a slight haze, and significant light pollution in Christchurch (especially for a city of it’s quite small size), and so the stars were hardly visible to me at all. Too bad.


Ray Lopez 03.23.15 at 3:40 am

“Another thing that Anglosphere countries tend to go in for is somewhat oversized main cities. Auckland is 31 per cent of the total population” — all over the world the general rule of thumb is that about one-third of the population lives in or around the largest city. Rent seeking from government and/or networking are the usual reasons. Examples: Greece, Thailand, Philippines, Korea, Japan. Exceptions are the USA.


Michelle 03.23.15 at 7:19 am

Kia ora Daniel. I enjoyed reading what you wrote, it’s interesting to see an outsider’s view of NZ. Next month I leave for Europe on a travelling scholarship to research bilingualism and biculturalism in libraries. I will be travelling in Wales, both North and South, to see how the Welsh language renaissance is being worked, and the impact it has on library services. Welsh is at least compulsory in Wales – while all schools teach some Maori, it’s not compulsory and opposed by many pakeha. Like a previous poster, I’d love to hear how your kids got on at school in Whakatane..


Chris 03.23.15 at 7:53 am

Great article about NZ. Being a lifetime resident of the southern island, it’s refreshing to read about my place through a visitors eyes. As you point out, its appeal as a destination is the lack of population, which has the “one degree of separation” for those who live here. This has the effect that one does not openly “dis” others as you may be talking to a relative! Your statement on gangs is also interesting, and true. One gang in Huntley provides a “free lunch service” for students at the school who do not come from affluent circumstances. To finish with, you mentioned the one area of which we are most proud having lived remotely sometimes during times when goods and services from the wider world were sparse: I refer to “no 8 wire mentality”.
To me this is summed up as a well meaning creativity where our citizens invariably own a shed full of stuff, that we use to solve our day to day problems with little or no knowledge of a commercially built device. This is best seen in Burt Munro’s biking story, and an even funnier article is NZ’s response to the war effort machinery by way of the Semple Tank. (Read about it in Wikipedia). Even we laughed at ourselves with that one.


Daniel 03.23.15 at 8:26 am

One gang in Huntley provides a “free lunch service” for students at the school who do not come from affluent circumstances.

Oh drat, another of the things I forgot to mention! Yes, there are a few examples of this (some Black Power chapters managed to get government recognition for themselves as employment training organisations). As far as I can see, as the gang members get older, they either grow up a bit (and start becoming useful members of society), or destroy themselves with drugs, usually metamphetamine.


reason 03.23.15 at 8:45 am

The sentence that sticks in my mind was from a discussion on the radio, in which a beautifully-spoken presenter enunciated “But reverse sexism is just as dismissive”, with all the consonants as clear as a bell and all the vowels identical.

Really made me chuckle – great writing.


reason 03.23.15 at 8:54 am

As a former Sydneysider, I can tell you that to a Sydneysider Eastern Suburbs doesn’t mean Roosters territory, it means old money.


reason 03.23.15 at 9:02 am

And old money probably wouldn’t let their kids play anything half as plebian as Rugby League, hence the change of name.


Alex 03.23.15 at 12:01 pm

Easts were always the swanky/flashy club, analogous to Leeds RLFC or Chelsea FC, back in the late 80s they set the world transfer record to hire Ellery Hanley, hence his nickname “Salary”. Dan was right with his first American football analogy (Dallas Cowboys), much more so than Pittsburgh.

It was the Superleague wars that caused the name change – their then management drank the club-merger kool aid, although they didn’t end up merging with anyone, and wanted to be “the Sydney club” and emphasise being the closest to downtown and playing at the national stadium and all. In a sense this just intensified their sheer Eastsness, though.

It’s an astonishing boat journey – even if the top deck is closed out in the Cook Strait so you can’t whale-watch, as it was for us, the voyage through the Queen Charlotte Sounds is the sort of thing that people spend serious money on scenic trips for

absolutely. it looks like frivolous ultra-tourism but in fact it’s just public transport.


stubydoo 03.23.15 at 12:49 pm

OK so I’m going to partly step out of my pseudononymity and fess up to being an Eastern Bay of Plenty native.

Some notes for Daniel:

– pighunting: feral pigs are the only game for the hunters to hunt in those parts. I think you can also hunt ducks on like one weekend a year. No-one ever talked to me about hunting deer – maybe they just hang out in areas too remote – hence the practice of hunting them by jumping off aircraft though that was always a South Island thing. Also bush pigs are much more exciting as they will try to attack you instead of just running away and they also can get big enough to be able to kill you. The only mammals I would ever encounter in the bush was possums – you’re supposed to get those with traps, though local teenagers used to love trying to get them with a wooden stick sharpened by a swiss army knife.

– Your neighbor: (he was a British Labour Party figure of note in the early 1990’s). He wrote a book a couple of years ago on broad sweeping themes called Myths, Politicians and Money.

– your kids may be interested to know that according to J.K. Rowling’s side project Quidditch Through the Ages, there is a professional Quidditch team based on Whale Island (they keep the muggles from snooping around there by pretending that it’s a bird sanctuary – OK that’s not actually funny, every NZ island of that size is a bird sanctuary).

– since apparently your sister works at the local hospital, you might be able to get the story of the Scotsman who chased the hepatitis out of the area in the 1980’s.

– why would anyone want to look at the sea while out for a walk? Plenty of time for that when you lie on the beach.


Michael Caton 03.23.15 at 7:09 pm

Great post. Anyone who goes to NZ and doesn’t love it has something really wrong with them. One major under-rated thing in the ag/food world: NZ’s fish. Amazing! Why isn’t it more internationally famous??!? The salmon is like a whole different animal. The fish and chips make you want to start a new religion (after going back to California I’ve been hopelessly trying to reproduce what I found there). Sure the dairy and sheep products are good but I just could not get enough fish. And of course the trail-running is without equal, not least of which because you know even in the deep wilderness you’re not going to get bitten by a rattler or eaten by a mountain lion (yes those are still small risks in North America but it’s nice not to have to worry at all). That said, seeing how the Douglas firs are taking over the slopes around Queenstown was unsettling. I found on South Island I often thought I was at a higher elevation than I really was, based on the flora, which is all descended from tropical Pacific plants that still really aren’t good at being temperate, and firs are only too happy to take over the territory. Also, kiwi road builders should come to the U.S. and teach classes on how to build AND SIGN the roads through the mountains.

On the relative success of the Maori though, I fear that something like sourcreamus’s comment above explains it – maybe the Maoris just haven’t been outbred (or out-immigrated) yet. True, nowhere else in the Anglosphere have indigenous people had a say in running things to the same degree, but the Maori translations on public signs sometimes seems a little bit like the French on signs in Western Canada. How many Maori CEOs are there? How many Maori celebrities are there not in rugby or the arts? When will there be the first self-ID’ing Maori PM? It’s a bit forward for a Yank to ask these questions given that these same measures for Native American success in the U.S. are unfortunately much more of an indictment, but it makes the point that even where the native people have done the best, there are still markers of marginality.


bill benzon 03.23.15 at 7:35 pm

I’m interested in the remarks on ‘free-range’ kids. In the past year or three I’ve read several articles on free-range kids, mostly on how free-range kids are increasingly/mostly a thing of the past. But I’ve not really seen numbers on this.

I was raised free-range, as were all my childhood friends. I lived in a suburban neighborhood that bordered on rural regions (e.g. a couple of hundred yards up the road there was a small wheat field). We all roamed the neighborhood fairly freely and, when old enough, thought nothing of riding our bikes several miles from home or taking the bus wherever. I don’t how my city cousins, as it were, were raised at the time. But I suspect they had comparable freedom, as adjusted for a different local topography.

What interests me – and I guess this is something of tangent, so I apologize for it, Daniel – is whether or not the loss of free-range child-raising is real or is it just another ‘meme’ that’s starting to get traction.


Doug Weinfield 03.23.15 at 8:10 pm

Two months in NZ! How wonderful!

It’s the most beautiful, welcoming place I’ve ever been. Would have moved there if I could have made it work….


jackd 03.23.15 at 8:12 pm

“the IM Pei building”

A Welshman should appreciate this parallel anecdote: In Hay-on-Wye back in 1994 my wife and I were looking to buy some lunch at a market rather than a pub or restaurant, so we asked someone local. She directed us a few streets over to the ‘spa’. I thought this was an odd name for something we in the States would call a grocery, but, hey, not my dialect. When we rounded the corner to see the sign for the Spar Market I caught my mistake.

My wife was remarkably tolerant of my practicing the “ll” pronounciation as we approached the B&B near Llanrwst. I really want to go back and spend about a month hiking.


pam 03.23.15 at 10:24 pm

As an American living in NZ, much, but not all of this rings true.

I think there is a fourth possible explanation of the Treaty of Waitangi: what the Maori thought they were agreeing to and what the British thought they were agreeing to were not the same thing. I’m told (and have no source or verification) that the Maori version and English versions of the treaty do not say the same thing. I’ve heard or read that the Maori thought they were giving the British a few acres along the coast for fishing villages and didn’t expect boat loads of immigrants to arrive and try to grab all the best farm land.

In addition to agriculture and tourism, there is a very healthy IT industry here.

You did not discuss the immigration issue in NZ. A very large number of Kiwis (the people, not the bird) live outside NZ. Wages in Australia are said to be 20% higher and if you want to be a big fish in your field, all the ponds in NZ are too small. NZ is fairly welcoming of immigrants. For many the life style — the outdoors and the fact that you can be successful by working 40 hours a week instead of 60 or 80 is attractive.

Being a small country does have its oddities and advantages as well as disadvantages. Everyone you go in NZ you run into someone you know — there just aren’t that many people here. The banking system is far more efficient that in the US. (It probably helps that there are only 6 or 8 banks). EFT-POS is used for almost all payments. We were startled to learn that our bank wouldn’t give us checks. I go on-line to pay bills – both from businesses (utilities) and from individuals (whether the piano tuner or the friend who bought the theater tickets). There is a level of trust here that is missing in the US: the piano tuner leaves without being paid because he trusts me to go on line to make the payment; the swimming pool attendant is willing to hold my wallet and phone behind the counter; the shuttle van driver tells me I should not pay for the one way to town, but pay the round trip when he picks me up three days later.

Its a great place to live, but very far from everywhere else. Shanghai is closer to London than to Wellington NZ.


Emma 03.23.15 at 10:49 pm

Yeah, pin vs pen is a pain. I lived in Australia with a Kiwi accent. When you paid with a credit card and the salesperson asked “pin or pen?”, you quickly learned to reply with either “I’ll sign for it” or “I’ll key my pin number in” to avoid the inevitable confusion in the vowel sounds. Also while most could ask for a pen, I had to ask for a “pen to write with” (often while also mimicking a writing action).


martin schafer 03.23.15 at 11:40 pm

I would like to take issue with ” Nobody wants to see “The Silmarillion Part One: Endless Genealogical Blah About Elves”, let alone its sequels “Now Was He The Grandfather Or The Great Grandfather Who Owned That Piece Of Jewellery” or “The Great Battle, But First Let’s Get This Ancestry And Marriage Thing Nailed Down Once And For All”.”

The Silmarillion doesn’t work as a novel the way LOTR does but it is a rich source for possible movies. The fragmentary nature actually makes it easier to grab something and flesh it out.

I’ve always thought there was a powerful potential trilogy. First movie Morgoth stealing the silmarils. Feanor’s children including Galadriel setting off in pursuit. The burning of the ships. Ending with Fingolfin’s duel with Morgoth. Second movie Beren and Luthien. Penetrating Thangorodrim. Bewitching Sauron. Escaping with one Silmaril. Third movie Earendil the Mariner reaching the uttermost west and bringing back the host of the Valar to overthrow Morgoth, when all seemed darkest.


rdb 03.24.15 at 2:48 am

ABC TV Landline episode on Manuka honey Liquid Gold


PhoenicianRomans 03.24.15 at 3:33 am

I am confused by the large sales of milk powder to Asian markets. Aren’t almost all Asians lactose-intolerant?

As I vaguely recall from my childhood as a NZer (i.e. from about 40 years ago), there was one incident where a large amount of milk powder was made into some pretty tasteless biscuits for emergency relief to Africa – and wound up being quietly distributed in NZ schools when someone informed the NZ government that the Africans in need were adult lactose-intolerant.

Regarding the treaty, I recommend this book as extremely readable –

Regarding deer, the export value of venison in 2014 was about NZ$180 million, of velvet was about $28 million. Supplying Chinese medicine is a long tradition – back in the 1870s (and up to the 1950s), we supplied Wood ear fungus (or Jew’s Ear fungus in non-PC times) as “Taranaki Wool”.

And we won’t mention the Invercargill mayor who became quite rich boiling penguins for oil.

Regarding a Maori PM – the most prominent candidate, a national figure in politics and one-time Cabinet Minister of the National Party (think prominent committe head in the Republicans or Tories), would be a nightmare as PM. He’d sorta be like an undead and unkillable version of a mediocre Republican hack if the Republican party got its power from the support of the elderly rather than oil companies.

And three other points:
– It’s a pity you didn’t run into kea while you were here – they’re always fun.
– I’m sick to death of hobbits by now.
– Kiwis don’t have an accent. The rest of you foreign buggers have accents.


PhoenicianRomans 03.24.15 at 3:57 am

Oh yeah – regarding Manuka honey – BEWARE!

Apparently there’s about twice as much “Manuka honey” being sold overseas as NZ actually exports.


bad Jim 03.24.15 at 4:03 am

bill benzon, the “free range kid” is a very real issue, at least for the American middle class. Like most of those in the baby boomer cohort I spent much of my childhood in unstructured pursuits free of adult supervision. In Maryland we played in the woods bordering our tract; in California we explored the chaparral. I walked to school alone from the age of 6. A younger friend walked to school in El Salvador during the civil war when there were dead bodies in the streets. (It’s impossible to top her stories.)

It’s different now. Recently a family in Silver Spring, Maryland was investigated by Child Protective Services for letting their 10- and 6-year old children walk home together without adult accompaniment. The founder of Free Range Kids drew outrage because she let her 9-year-old son take a solo ride on the New York subway. Not only are kids always supervised, but at least for upper-middle-class kids nearly all their time is structured. Perhaps the only skill not being inculcated is self-reliance.


js. 03.24.15 at 5:06 am

Aren’t almost all Asians lactose-intolerant?

I was about to react to this, being all like: well, my kind of Asians, i.e. South Asians, aren’t almost all lactose intolerant. But then I was like, let’s hit up BFF Google… Which is telling me 90% of South Asians are lactose intolerant!? Seriously, the majority of Indians I know are downing milk and ice cream like there’s no tomorrow. Ok, that’s an exaggeration but I know very few South Asian types who avoid dairy—and as it happens, I know a lot! Meanwhile, I’m wondering if I am intolerant? I feel like I don’t even understand what “lactose intolerance” means anymore.


Peter T 03.24.15 at 5:52 am

“Asian” means something different in Australia and NZ – it refers to South-East and East Asia only. As in “She’s off on a trip to Asia”: could be China, Japan, Vietnam; it would not be India or the Middle East. Since curds and cheese are staples of Indian cooking, I would be surprised if adult lactose intolerance were as high as 90%, and my google says it’s only 20% for India.


chris y 03.24.15 at 11:50 am

you’d never realise there were so many contexts when it’s ambiguous if someone is referring to a pen or a pin

This must make it much easier to lace your discourse with puns.


sanbikinoraion 03.24.15 at 3:29 pm

Certainly the Maori guide we had at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds was quite vehement about the content of the treaty differing between the English version and the Maori version.

Note that the Maori version was written by an English pastor, who had himself (IIRC) encoded the Maori language into a written form; most Maori who signed the document probably couldn’t read it and so had to rely on what the English told them it said.

These days, a legal contract written and negotiated like that wouldn’t hold up in any Western court!


js. 03.24.15 at 3:38 pm

Hm. Was trying to respond to Peter T but getting modded (possibly because of link with the “90% of South Asians” info). Anyway, re 66, I understand and agree.


dsquared 03.24.15 at 7:21 pm

The treaty translation issue was covered very well in the books I read and it’s not quite as the commenters above suggest. Remember that 1840 was nearly a hundred years after first contact; not only were nearly all the chiefs literate, lots of them spoke English. Nonetheless, there was a serious misunderstanding over one major legal concept.

The English version of the treaty made it clear a) that the Maori would give up sovereignty over New Zealand, but b) that they retained all their property rights. The second part was important to the settlers too, as it meant that Maori who were selling land would be able to transfer valid property titles – there was a very big problem with respect to speculators from New South Wales who had been doing land deals with Maori who were not necessarily in a position to sell huge tracts of land, and expecting the skeleton NZ administration to enforce their claims.

However, the missionary who translated the treaty decided to use the word “rangatiratanga” where the English text said “property [in land, forestry, etc]”. This turned out to be a bad mistake. Although the word has a sense of ” ownership of land”, its main meaning is “the state of being a chief, chiefness”. So lots of chiefs signed the treaty on the basis that their rangatiratanga was being guaranteed, in the belief that they would remain sovereign – the Maori text used ” kawanatanga” to translate “sovereignty”, which has more of a sense of governance (although it’s the word used in the Maori translation of the bible to describe Roman rule over the holy land, and nobody seemed to notice this in the preceding fifty years).

The Maori definitely knew that the deal applied to the whole of Aotearoa – there’s no sense at all in which it was limited to just a few geographical areas, and even the Ngati Awa, the local iwi in Whakatane, regarded themselves as being bound by it as early as 1880, despite (my kids were told this about a dozen times in the first term) never having signed it.

The big problems grew up over a) application of pakeha laws and courts to Maori and b) the sovereign state’s right to compulsorily purchase land for things like roads. And as New Zealand started being recognised as a colony on its own, as opposed to an offshore part of NSW, there was a strong local political movement to just renege on it and do the Maoris over. The humanitarian movement had kind of peaked in 1840.


Hindu Friend 03.24.15 at 10:15 pm

The delicacy with which Maori practices of slavery, cannibalism, torture, infanticide, etc. are passed over by all the commentors is telling. No, they had a noble culture, until those icky Britishers arrived.


floopmeister 03.25.15 at 12:02 am

I Love NZ – it’s close proximity is one of the nicest things about being Australian. :)

We have spent the last two winters in ‘Rota-Vegas’ (Rotorua) ibn the North island – lake Taupo and the redwoods mountain bike park in Rotorua.

Simply STUNNING place for riding. Also has what is apparently the only redwood stand of any size outside California:


Peter Hoar 03.25.15 at 12:56 am

Plaudits to Hindu Friend (71) for a tone perfect imitation of New Zealand redneckery. You precisely nail the willful ignorance and passive/aggressive resentment so beloved by talkback callers, Kiwiblog commentators and the pursed lipped, gimlet-eyed followers of John Ansell. ‘Kiwi, not Iwi’ – isn’t that right HF?


Peter T 03.25.15 at 1:51 am

I recall one letter (I think to The Guardian) in response to one of the usual tedious “cannibalism is an imperialist myth” debates. A New Zealander wrote in to say that no, it definitely was not a myth. His shipwrecked grandfather had watched from a headland refuge as less fortunate survivors were killed, cooked and eaten on the sands below. And he had this not only from his grandfather, but from his grandmother – who was among the diners on the beach.

Did she tell him before or after the wedding?


sanbikinoraion 03.25.15 at 10:41 am

The delicacy with which Maori practices of slavery, cannibalism, torture, infanticide, etc. are passed over by all the commentors is telling. No, they had a noble culture, until those icky Britishers arrived.

Those icky Britishers with their practices of slavery, invasion, gunboat diplomacy, reneging on treaties… no, they had a noble culture, until they encountered those icky Maori.


PhoenicianRomans 03.26.15 at 1:24 am

I will point out here that the Renaissance and early modern English and Europeans also practised cannibalism, fading away in the 18th century, but with instances surviving into Victorian England.


ZM 03.26.15 at 3:24 am

Regarding the Waitangi Treaty — there is a Tribunal formed in 1975 to investigate incidents that broke the conditions of the treaty in the past and present a while ago. The journalist and historian Rachel Buchanan (who I had a Russian lit subject with once upon a time) has suggested the records created by the Tribunal can challenge the traditional archives which have often been curated to support the colonial project:

“Writing about India, Bernard Cohn has argued that the establishment and maintenance of European nation states ‘depended upon determining, codifying, controlling and representing the past’. The documentation required to do this forms the bulk of colonial archives. Colonial history emanated from archives and, as Antoinette Burton has observed, in times of threat, history returns to the archive to reassert its authority as a scientific, objective, empirical source of knowledge.

Oral testimonies have generated the most commentary because they slot into a large body of scholarship concerned with indigenous oral history and memory. In a recent analysis of the historical problems posed by the tribunal’s work, Miranda Johnson has argued that Maori oral testimonies are more than a supplement to fill gaps in the documentary archive. Rather, they ‘displace the central legitimacy of the written documentary record, and require us to rethink the boundaries of the archive.’

By collecting the family and tribal histories and songs that Maori claimants have chosen to share, the tribunal has made the private public. In the process the colonial archive has been expanded, democratised and decolonised. The histories embedded in waiata (songs), in whakapapa (geneaology) and in the names of people, places and buildings have always been performed on marae (Maori meeting places) in te reo Maori.

The [Taranaki] report [one of over 90 reports produced by the Tribunal] represents the invasion and sacking of Parihaka as the central catastrophe in a catastrophic site. The invasion ‘must rank with the most heinous action of any government, in any country, in the last century. For decades, even to this day, it has had devastating effects on race relations’.

The intensity of the tribunal’s narrative of loss is demonstrated by the controversial use of the word ‘holocaust’ in connection with Taranaki. The report concludes with statements that reveal how the tribunal’s understanding of colonisation sits between what might be called academic historical perspectives – colonisation is an event that happened in the nineteenth-century past – and a more subaltern view – colonisation is an event that has never stopped happening. The report’s conclusion said:

A gravamen is Latin word connected with biblical history. It is ‘the part of an accusation which weighs most heavily against the accused; the burden or substantial part of a charge or complaint.’

Muru is plunder and raupatu is the word Maori use to describe the confiscation of land although in Taranaki these words have slightly different meanings: muru describes land confiscated in war and raupatu describes land confiscated through perpetual leases.

For Taranaki Maori, the tribunal asserts, raupatu describes their ‘marginalisation by the organs of the State, for on this view, they were never conquered by the sword but were taken by the pen’.”

(Decolonising the Archives: The Work of New Zealand’s Waiting Tribunal]


ZM 03.26.15 at 3:26 am

I somehow deleted the quote from the Tribunal’s report that should have been between paragraphs 6 and 7:

“As a quantam, the gravamen of our report has been to say that the Taranaki claims are likely to be the largest in the country. The graphic muru of most of Taranaki and the raupatu without ending describe the holocaust of Taranaki history and the denigration of the founding peoples in a continuum from 1840 to present”


Michael Caton 03.26.15 at 10:30 pm

Another comparison in terms of native-population integration is NZ versus Mexico.
Both have large native population with large degree of admixture and integration. The irony is this: NZ is very vocal about its integration, but the language and culture don’t seem to be doing as well as in Mexico. Mexico doesn’t think about it and in fact “Indian” is explicitly a low-status association, but the reality is that the languages and cultures have survived better and native genes have penetrated far more corners of the country.

Besides the colonizing country, a huge difference between NZ and MX is TIME. Mexico was colonized 3 centuries earlier, by an essentially still-medieval country, and had a bigger population with a large capital (its peak population wasn’t surpassed in population in the Americas until the early 1800s by Philadelphia). There was no humanitarianism to interefere with the conquistadors’ agenda (although the Black Legend is the idea that our picture of the Spanish today is maybe a little bloodier than the reality). People in NZ seem not to like to talk about Maori warfare practices, but no one in Mexico pretends the Aztecs didn’t enjoy the occasional human heart.

Possibly as a result of the earlier contact there is more admixture between natives and Europeans in Mexico, although again there’s a difference. In NZ I heard otherwise culturally white folks volunteering their ancestry by mentioning their Maori grandfather. But ask an average Mexican, who by looks is clearly not of pure-blooded Spanish descent, what percent native he is, and you’re often likely to make him a little prickly.

Also, language prevalence differs. There are still large communities in Mexico today where the native language is the predominant one. Hundreds of thousands of people still speak some descendant of Aztec (Nahuatl) as their first language, and it’s not hard to run across. There are lots of other languages too like the Mayan languages. Despite NZ’s attempt at fairness (on roadsigns), I didn’t hear that much Maori. And oddly I’ve seen almost no signage in Mexico in the local languages. Pre-Columbian Mexico was an amazingly diverse place (how many language familes?) You might say the relatively poor performance of Maori, over even less time in contact with European invaders, is a sign of Maori integration in the larger culture. Sure you can keep your language, if you don’t mind this happening by being isolated and poor because of difficult geography and poor infrastructure development!

Keas are indeed awesome and my favorite example of tropical Pacific organisms adapting to NZ, although at the Milford Sound tunnel I caught myself waving my rental keys at them like other idiot tourists, and managed to come to my senses before I was relieved of them in a feathery manner.

Thanks to PhoenicianRomans for the info about the closest thing to Maori PM candidate. And I’m sorry to tell you P.R., my revelation that kiwis do have an accent occurred in the valley just the other side of that tunnel from Milford sound. I had a great conversation with a photographer bloke while going on a little slog in that valley and that was the moment the difference between kiwis and ozzies finally clicked in my yank ears.


matt 03.27.15 at 6:36 pm

There’s one key factor you miss in discussing the relative political and demographic success of the Maori: western diseases. (I’ve haven’t been able to read through all of the comments; perhaps someone has already made the same point.) Native Americans suffered between 70 to 90 percent mortality early upon or even before coming into large scale contact with settler populations from such diseases as small pox, measles and influenza. The Pilgrims at Plymouth, for example, occupied already abandoned Wampanoag dwellings during their first winter there. Similarly, Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs was enabled by a crippling smallpox epidemic. Most Polynesian peoples, via intermittent contact with Asian populations, had partial or substantial immunity to these largely hoof-borne diseases.

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