New Zealand Footnotes

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Maori name for New Zealand, generally translated as "Land of the Long White Cloud." Some would like to see this replace "New Zealand" as our country's official name in world affairs. Others argue that few enough people know where New Zealand is or who we are without confusing them even further. If you address mail from overseas to Aotearoa you'd be well advised to put "New Zealand" after it in brackets.


Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand. It's located on an isthmus toward the northern end of the North Island. The city centre is small but it has a large suburban sprawl that has gradually swallowed up smaller nearby towns and cities. Counting all the suburbs the population is in the vicinity of a million, a sizeable chunk of NZ's three-point-something million people. With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Tasman Sea on the other, Auckland has high humidity and changeable, unpredictable weather. In winter there are frosts, but it never snows in Auckland.

Auckland, "the city of sails," is currently the home of the America's Cup. :-)

Maoris and Pacific Islanders make up a considerable portion of Auckland's population. Kiwi legend has it that Auckland is in fact "the largest Polynesian city" in the world. That is, the Polynesian population of Auckland is greater than that of any other city in the world. This sounds eminently plausible but I've never actually looked into verifying it.

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Christchurch is the biggest city in the South Island, with a population of about 300,000. It's located on the Canterbury plains, making much of it utterly flat, which is popular with its many cyclists. In summer a hot, dry wind---the Nor'wester---blows down from the Southern Alps, frequently making it hotter than Auckland (but with zero humidity), despite being nearly 800 kilometres closer to the South Pole. In winter, the hills near the city get snow, but the city, down near sea level, often goes a whole winter without more than a little slush.

The river Avon runs placidly through the middle of Christchurch, and at the centre of town is Cathedral Square. Christchurch is home to NZ's most celebrated eccentric, The Wizard, who managed to get himself officially declared a work of art. The Wizard got his start orating in Cathedral Square.

NZ's most celebrated scientist, Nobel Prize winner and "splitter of the atom" Ernest Rutherford, did his undergraduate studies at Canterbury University in Christchurch.

Flats and flatting

In NZ the word "flat" can be synonymous to "apartment". A "block of flats" would typically be a single building composed of about 4 units, but maybe many more, each unit possibly capable of housing a small family. Each of those units would be called a "flat".

But to go "flatting" doesn't only mean living in a block of flats. More commonly it refers to the practice of several people (usually young, especially students) sharing a house. They would call each other "flatmates", a term I find much better than the standard American one, "roommates". ("Roommates", it seems to me, should be sharing the same room (i.e., sharing a bedroom), but it's commonly also used when I would use "flatmate". In my experience the logical term, "housemate", is hardly ever used in America.)

Arrangements vary, but the usual one in a student flat is for the rent and other bills to be split equitably, everyone putting an equal amount of money into the kitty for food and other groceries, and there being a roster of duties such as specific cleaning tasks. In particular, many nights of the week one person cooks for everyone else. (In the 4-person flats I lived in, this cooking duty applied to Mondays through Thursdays, with everyone fending for themselves at the weekends.) In my limited experience a cooking roster of that sort is much less common in group living in America.

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The islands of NZ

The two main islands of New Zealand are "the North Island" and "the South Island." The South Island is slightly larger in area, while the North Island has more people. On maps and in foreign news reports and so on, the islands are generally called "North Island" or "South Island," but in my experience NZers invariably include the "the."

The Maori name for the North Island is Te Ika a Maui---"the Fish of Maui." In Maori mythology the demi-god Maui caught a huge fish, using a magic hook made of the jawbone of an ancestress and baited with his own blood, and that fish became the North Island. A Maori name for the South Island is Te Wai Pounamu---"the Jade Water." The South Island was a major source of greenstone (the Kiwi word for jade or pounamu), which the Maoris valued for making into ornaments and weapons. I say "a" name, because I've also heard the South Island given the name "the Canoe of Maui." (I don't have the Maori of that at hand, however. I guess it'd be Te Waka a Maui.) If you look at a map of NZ with enough imagination you can see the fish and the canoe. Erich von Daniken take note.

There are hundreds of smaller islands in New Zealand, making up a tiny percentage of the total land area and population, but doing wonders for the amount of ocean we control within our 200-mile zone. The biggest is Stewart Island, just south of the South Island, followed by Great Barrier Island, which helps shelter Auckland's Hauraki Gulf. Other notables are Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf, the volcanically active White Island in the Bay of Plenty, and the Chatham Islands about 600 kilometres off-shore to the East. In terms of isolation, the Chatham islands are to NZ as NZ is to the world.

And as an Aucklander I have to mention Rangitoto Island, also in the Hauraki Gulf. Its distinctive silhouette can be seen from many locations in Auckland. "Rangitoto" means "bleeding sky"---it erupted five or six hundred years ago, around the time Maoris were settling the Auckland Isthmus.

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Kauri is a native tree of New Zealand. (Pronounced, approx, "COW-ree". I welcome improvements on this pronunciation guide. E-mail me at In early colonial times kauri was the basis of two industries, timber and kauri gum, particularly in Northland, the northernmost region of the North Island. Kauris grow for hundreds of years and were prized for their timber (by makers of giant canoes and also Pakeha builders) because of their very strong wood and their massive, straight trunks with no branches below the crown. The biggest specimens are comparable to (but I think somewhat smaller than) Californian Redwoods. I'm pretty sure they're a protected species today. A grove of giant kauris is one of the tourist stops in Northland.

A coin in a commemorative set issued a few years ago featured both the oak and the kauri, neatly symbolising NZ's two main cultural forebears.


The native people of Aotearoa. Also, their language, which is one of New Zealand's two official languages.

"Maori" is pronounced approximately as follows: The "M" and "r" are just as in english. The "a" is long, like the "a" in "father." The "o" is short, and roughly as in "ore". The "i" is short and rhymes with "bee." The "o" sound is commonly dropped, but I believe that is incorrect.

The Maori arrived in New Zealand from Polynesia several hundred years before Europeans. Tradition has it that they travelled to NZ in seven great voyaging canoes, and the various tribes trace their ancestry to specific canoes.

After suffering a great decline in numbers due to disease and war when the Europeans arrived, Maoris today number about 10% of the NZ population. This number is growing rapidly, due in part to the frequency of interracial marriage and the practice of allowing anyone with any Maori blood to identify themselves as Maori. In this sense Maoris are projected to be in the majority by 2050. (I don't have the precise figure at hand but I'm sure it was earlier than 2050.)

I'll add links to pages covering Maori culture, current political concerns, and so on as soon as I find them. As a 9-year expatriate Pakeha my coverage of those would be too amateurish by half.


"Pakeha" is the Maori word for the white settlers of New Zealand. (Pronounced, approx, PAA-kay-ha or PAA-kee-ha.) It has come to denote, roughly, white New Zealanders. (I am not a linguist; I'm just reporting what it means to me.)

Some would argue the word is synonymous with "caucasian," i.e., denoting any white-skinned person, whether that person has any connection to NZ or not. Indeed, it's fair to say that's the original meaning of the word and it's still one of its meanings in Maori, if not its primary meaning. But it doesn't match the meaning I absorbed from actual usage as a part of "Kiwi english."

Some consider "Pakeha" to be an insult, but I think that's a mistake. It only becomes a pejorative term through tone of voice or context. Personally, I'm proud to be a Pakeha, in the sense that this term connects me to the land of my and my parents' birth even though none of my ancestors arrived on the seven voyaging canoes. The word fills a gap in the language. To say that I am a Kiwi or a New Zealander tells you less than saying I'm a Pakeha.

To me there is a subtle distinction between "white New Zealander" and "Pakeha." The former, to my mind, emphasizes an alignment with all whites in the world, and incidentally uses their language and words. The latter, being a word native to Aotearoa and in common use by both Maori and Pakeha fits me much better.

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