Rhian Pritchard lets us in on the beauty of travelling around New Zealand and what she found out about the island of so many mysteries.

New Zealand is a holiday destination that has a lot to offer to those who love history, stories and the wilderness, just as much as I do. I have recently spent just over a month in New Zealand – Aotearoa or The Land of the Long White Cloud – and I can honestly say that the money I invested in this trip was justified by the wonderful experience that I had.

There were many moments when I couldn’t believe where I was; I’ve stood at the foot of volcanoes; touched glaciers; witnessed the destruction caused by earthquakes and avalanches; sailed through Fjords with dolphins dancing at the bow, and stared out across turquoise waters with my toes buried in golden sands, as the setting sun turned the sky pink and orange over the ocean.

Day 3 Champagne Pool
The Champagne Pool, an idyllic place in the North Island of New Zealand. © Rhian Pritchard

The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, the land was explored by them long before European settlers came; their stories reflect their deep knowledge and connection to the landscape. The Māori name for the North Island is ‘Te Ika-a-Maui’, the ‘fish of Maui’. The shape of the island resembles a giant fish, which the demi-god Maui (some may recognise the name from Disney’s Moana) pulled from the ocean. He overturned his Canoe, or ‘waka’, in the process and this became the South Island. The spine of mountains running along it is the underside of the waka.

It is a country shaped by some of nature’s strongest forces; the island and its valleys have been carved out by ice and fire, creating one of the most spectacular and diverse natural landscapes in the world. It is perhaps unsurprising that its dramatic scenery has made it the perfect location for major films like the Lord of the Rings (Hobbiton is now one of the country’s biggest tourist destinations – and yes, I was there too).

Day 21 6M Jump
Rhian doing a 6 metre jump into Torrent River Canyon, Abel Tasman National Park, South Island. © Abel Tasman Canyons

However, the film industry isn’t the only source of stories. Everywhere I went, I learnt more about New Zealand from local tales and legends than any guide-book could have told me.

There is a strong awareness in New Zealand for the necessity of the conservation of its natural wonders and indigenous heritage. The Department of Conservation is fighting to preserve the indigenous wildlife and the government is pushing to acknowledge and embrace the history and culture of the island.

The Māori have lived in the country for centuries. Their culture, though not so evident at first, is embedded everywhere: their customary greeting ‘Kia Ora’ has been adopted by Kiwis all over the country; their war dance, the Haka, is synonymous with New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team; the national symbol of the silver fern is of Māori origin and was used to navigate through the bush at night.

But there are also many historical references to the later arrival of the Europeans. For example, the Abel Tasman, on the South Island, is a coastal national park that was named after the famous Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, who was the first European to explore New Zealand. It was established by the strength and determination of one
woman – Pérrine Moncrieff.

New Zealand is a country of stories, shaped by its culture and landscape.The South Island greets you with its majestic scenery, its fjords and wilderness; the North Island with its warmer climate, golden beaches, and the cosmopolitan life of Auckland and Wellington. I can still hear the sounds, smell the air, and dream of southern skies. If you’ve heard the 100% Pure New Zealand advert, it’s just like Sam Neill’s calm and lulling voice promises:

“somewhere like nowhere you’ve ever seen … this place, where wonder grows.”

Words by Rhian Pritchard
Featured image: “Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel Peninsula, North Island.” © Rhian Pritchard

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