Making the Big Decision


We have established that New Zealand is not just another part of Australia. It is also as far away from England as you can go without finding yourself on the way back again! It is 1,600 kilometres east of Australia and it consists of two major islands, the North Island and the South Island, plus a number of smaller islands, with a total land area of 270,500 square kilometres. It has a population of approximately 4 million people and 46 million sheep, that is about 12 sheep per head of population!

The islands of New Zealand have been ethnically and culturally connected to Polynesia for at least 1,000 years. Less than 200 years ago, its population and cultural heritage was wholly that of Polynesia, but now New Zealand is dominated by cultural traditions that are mainly European, emanating especially from Great Britain.

Some four-fifths of New Zealanders are of European origin, predominantly from the British Isles, but also including people from the Netherlands, former Yugoslavia, Germany and other nations. The indigenous Maori population make up the next largest group of the population, about 9.6%. The third main ethnic group is the Pacific Island Polynesians who make up about 6%. New Zealand has a high standard of education and its qualifications are recognised internationally. Professor Marie Clay from Auckland University is well known for her remedial reading observations and recommendations.

The birds and the bees

One of the main factors in influencing me to make New Zealand my home was the fact that there are hardly any creepy crawlies here! There are no snakes or crocodiles. We do have one spider which is poisonous – the Katipo. I have never seen one although I do know that they can sometimes be found in decaying logs, so I just stay away from dead wood!

Twenty years ago there were no wasps here but there are now. We get mosquitoes, especially in the north of the North Island, and there are flies, but not in the horrendous numbers they have in Australia. Yes, we do have sharks in our waters and there have been a few attacks on swimmers.

First impressions

When you first arrive you will be enchanted by the gaily painted houses, which are mainly of wooden construction with tin roofs. You will be surprised at the spaciousness of everything, and even on a busy day on Queen Street, Auckland, you can still walk in reasonable comfort. You may notice the seemingly small selection of goods in the shops, and possibly be told, when enquiring for something, that they are waiting for the next shipment!

Bare knees

New Zealand lifestyle is very casual. Shorts and shirts for the men and sundresses for the women are the norm during the summer. I found it strange to see butchers wearing shorts, knee socks and an apron! When I went to see the doctor, I had to try not to smile when he came around from his desk as he too was wearing shorts!


Does the water really go down the plughole in the opposite direction?

Yes, it does, all due to the earth's rotation and the fact that New Zealand is in the Antipodes.

Is sheep the only meat available in New Zealand?

No, even though sheep do outnumber people 12 to 1!

Is New Zealand sub-tropical?

In the north of the North Island it is.

Do the women wear grass skirts?

Definitely no! The women are very fashion conscious.

Has New Zealand ever been a penal colony?

No, but we have our fair share of criminals.

Do the trees grow twice as fast as anywhere else?

Yes, certain species do, because the growth doesn't stop during the winter.


What are you looking for?

  • A smaller population?
  • A better climate?
  • Long stretches of white sandy beaches?
  • Clear blue skies?
  • Freedom from terrorism?
  • Nuclear free country?

Yes, you will find all these here, and there are still good opportunities for hard-working people who are adaptable to new lifestyles and traditions.

The beaches, especially from the Bay of Plenty in the North Island northwards, are spectacular with clean white sand and clear blue sea – you could be forgiven for thinking you were on a desert island. But the summers can be hot and dangerous. New Zealand now has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. We are constantly being reminded of the 'burntime' each day, and children in schools wear sunhats and everyone is urged to 'cover up' in the sun. Protective sun creams are essential. So think of these very real dangers if the climate is the main reason for your intended move.

John Burnett and his wife and family came to New Zealand from Surrey, England in the late 1960s. John and his wife were both schoolteachers. They bought their own home and soon acquired two cars and a boat for weekend pleasure trips. When the children left home John and his wife bought a new home with a view of the Pacific Ocean, and now they lead a much to be admired lifestyle.

Peter Spencer and his wife Joan and two boys arrived in New Zealand in 1989; Peter was an engineer. They were able to buy some land and start building their own home, but before it was finished they were so homesick for England they sold up and went back to Birmingham.

Jim and Sheila Murray-Hamilton came to New Zealand from England in 1990. They have set up a very successful fashion business in Wellington and say they love New Zealand because there is still a lot to offer here. Jim grew up in Scotland and Sheila grew up in Wolverhampton, England.

A non-nuclear region

In 1987 the New Zealand Government, at the time being the Labour Party led by David Lange, informed the American Government that we would no longer allow nuclear-powered ships in our waters, and this is still the case. New Zealand is proud to be a nuclear-free country, and after the Chernobyl type disasters this makes New Zealand appear a very attractive haven.

A pollution-free land?

Not quite: we do have water pollution. In the Hauraki Gulf, which is around the Auckland area, swimmers have been warned not to swim in certain areas because of pollution. Some parts of the Bay of Plenty, also in the North Island, have been declared unfit for swimmers, due to some degree of farm pollution pouring into the inner Tauranga Harbour.

Air pollution is also a problem in the Christchurch area, which is in the South Island. This is caused by open fires in the winter which create horrendous smogs which exceed the international safety standards.

In 1993 a natural phenomenon occurred which caused a type of pollution to our shellfish industry. An algae bloom caused a toxin infection to bivalves, which are shellfish with two shells i.e. scallops, oysters and mussels. When the toxin disappeared, and the shellfish had been washed clean by several clear tidal flows, they were inspected and declared fit for human consumption once more. In September 2005 a gelatinous type of algae was discovered in Port Littleton, South Island, and some rivers were also found to be contaminated. Steps are being taken to eliminate this undesirable substance.


Weather varieties

The climate varies from sub-tropical in the far north to the almost continental in the mountainous areas of the South Island. However, because of the oceanic surroundings the climate is not extreme. There are, of course, always the exceptions. In 1991 there were three major floods and the worst affected regions were Westland and Otago in the South Island, and Wairarapa in the North Island.

The Westland flood was the worst in 30 years, and many people had to be evacuated from their homes. The total rainfall for January 1991 was the highest in 125 years. In the Wairarapa heavy rain caused severe flooding during 8-11 March when two rivers burst their banks. Stock losses were severe.

Greenhouse gases

New Zealand, with its large forested areas, low population and hydro-electric power generation, was believed to be a carbon dioxide sink, but testing has revealed that New Zealand is a net producer. This production has been associated with the high consumption of fossil fuels and gradual deforestation. New Zealand's emissions of carbon dioxide are twice the world average per capita.

We also have higher than average methane emissions: eight times the world average per capita. Most sources of methane have been identified, but there is still debate about how much can be attributed to each separate source. Amazingly enough, most is produced by micro-organisms working in the guts of such animals as sheep and cattle and with 46 million sheep alone, that is a lot of gas!

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions

The level of seismic activity in New Zealand is moderate compared with other countries lying in the almost continuous belt of earthquake activity around the rim of the Pacific. A shock of Richter magnitude 6 or above happens on average about once a year, and a shock of magnitude 7 or above once in ten years, with a shock of magnitude 8 perhaps once a century.

There were two earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater in 1990 and six exceeding 5.5. And in 1991 there were two earthquakes exceeding magnitude 6. The largest one in September was felt from the top of the North Island to the middle of the South Island.

In September 1995 Mount Ruapehu, in the centre of the North Island, erupted sending spectacular lava flows which ran like black streaks down the snow-clad mountain, disrupting the winter ski season. In June 1996 another spectacular fireworks display occurred, once again spoiling the ski season momentarily – the ash clouds disrupted air traffic across the centre of the North Island and carried inches of dust across the vineyards of Hawkes Bay.


We also get freak cold snaps, and in 1991 the Shotover River near Queenstown in the South Island froze over for the first time in a hundred years. Heavy snow also contributed to frequent avalanches on major ski fields and caused loss of life on Mount Ruapehu in the North Island. The Milford road in the South Island was closed for two weeks 6-20 August due to an avalanche risk.


Occasionally we experience tornadoes, and sometimes there is building damage and people get injured. On 14 April 1991 a band of thunderstorms passed over Auckland in the North Island leaving behind a trail of damage, and a man was critically hurt. Tornadoes were also seen in the Bay of Plenty on 30 April 1991.1 actually saw a garage roof lifted and blown across the road.

The seasons

  • Spring – September to November
  • Summer – December to February
  • Autumn – March to May
  • Winter – June to August


Latitude – 33° to 53° south
Longitude – 162° to 173° west
Total area – 26.9 million hectares
Farms – 14.4 million hectares
Forest – 8.1 million hectares
National parks – 2.3 million hectares
Highest mountain – Mount Cook, South Island, 3,764m
Population – 3.8 million (North Island, 2.8 million) (South Island 1 million) (approx)
Capital – Wellington, South Island



According to Department of Statistics figures, out of a total population of 4 million people, approximately 75% are New Zealand European, 10% New Zealand Maori, 6% Pacific Island Polynesian, 1.5% Chinese, 2% Asian, 1% Indian. (These groups do not total 100%. Some people are counted in two or more ethnic groups.)

Latest population growth figures

Statistics New Zealand stated that New Zealand's population grew by 70,000 (or 1.8%) during the June 2003 year compared with an increase of 58,000 (1.5%) in the June 2002 year. Three-fifths of the growth was due to a net migration gain, and two-fifths due to natural increase. The average age was approximately 33.9 years compared with 33.6 in 1997.


The majority of Maori live in the north of the North Island, from Hamilton and the Bay of Plenty northwards. Today there is no true Maori, as intermarriage has diluted the race.

The modern Maori is well represented in the workforce, particularly in Government departments. The Maori, people are represented by the Ministry of Maori Affairs which was formed on 1 July 1989. This Ministry provides a Maori perspective in policy making.

There are five Maori seats in Parliament, and as a result of the MMP (Multi Member Representation) voting system, Maori are now represented in a number of other electorates.

The language

The number of native speakers of Maori has been declining over the last hundred years in the face of strong competition from English, but in recent decades there has been a renewal of interest in the language on the part of the Kohanga Reo (Maori Language Pre-School Movement) and more recently the Kura Kaupapa Maori (Maori Language Immersion Primary Schools).

Many Maori radio programmes have now been established as well as Maori television programmes.

The Maori Queen

1991 marked the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu as the Maori Queen and leader of the Kingitangi movement. She is the first woman to head the movement. Te Atairangikaahu belongs to the Waikato Confederation of Tribes and is a direct descendent of the famous Waikato leader Te Puea Herangi.

Maori legends

Maori legends abound, and one in particular tells of the formation of the North Island. Maui is said to have fished up the North Island of New Zealand – Te Ika a Maui – from his great canoe, the South Island. Maui and his brothers struggled with a large fish, beating and slashing it so that it writhed in agony creating the hills and valleys. When the fish died it became a great land where previously there had been nothing but the ocean.

The southern part of the North Island is said to be the head of the fish – Te upoko a te Ika. Wellington Harbour is the mouth of the fish – Te Waha o te Ika, and Lake Wairarapa the eye of the fish – Te Whatu o te Ika.

When the fish was hauled up, the mouth formed a lake separated from the sea by a barrier of land. This lake trapped two taniwha – sea monsters – named Ngake and Whaitaitai. Ngake didn't like being trapped so he smashed his way through to the open sea. The wreckage he left created the entrance to the harbour.

Whaitaitai decided he would go out to sea as well, but on the way he got stuck in the shallow water as the tide went out. He remained there for two centuries, being revived by the tide washing in and out and preventing him from drying out.

In 1460 there was a great earthquake and Whaitaitai was uplifted and died, becoming the present day Miramar Peninsula. His soul, or wairua, left him in the form of a bird called Te keo and flew to a nearby hill and wept. The hill was thus called 'Tangi te keo', although the European name for it is Mount Victoria.



Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, and it is nestled at the southern end of the North Island. It appears to be sprouting out from the creases of the many hills, like a plant searching for a hold. It has been the capital of New Zealand since 1865. It has a fine deep harbour which is said to be one of the most picturesque in the world. The population totals approximately 400,000.

Wellington is renowned as being the 'Windy City' with gusts of wind over 60 kilometres per hour. It has an average of 199 windy days per year. The climate fluctuates between 7 degrees Celsius and a high of approximately 23 degrees Celsius. The city is also reputed to have one restaurant for every day of the year!

Wellington is the world's most southern capital, and it is the only capital in the 'Roaring Forties' latitude. Nearly all Wellingtonians live within 3km of the sea, and Wellington Airport is the busiest in the South Pacific.

Wellington is the National Headquarters for the National Museum, Art Gallery, National Archives, National Library, New Zealand School of Dance, Royal New Zealand Ballet Company, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand Drama School and government departments. A splendid new Museum of New Zealand opened in 1998, offering New Zealanders the very latest in technology and presentation.

Separated by Cook Strait, Wellington is the major connecting link with the South Island. You can catch the ferry at the Ferry Terminal, the cost being approximately $59 per adult and $35 per child one way in summer. Cars cost approximately $190 one way.


Auckland is the second major city in the North Island, and it is New Zealand's largest urban centre with more than one-quarter of the national total population in a region of 5,580 square kilometres. The population totals 1.3 million. It is the largest Polynesian centre in the world. Auckland is considered to be the commercial centre of New Zealand, and is also known as 'The City of Sails' because of the huge number of sailing craft moored in and around its waters. It has a superb coastline on each side of this narrow neck of land, with Waitemata Harbour on the east side and the Manukau Harbour on the west. The city's most scenic drive follows a coastal route, with views out to Rangitoto Island, the volcanic cone that is so much a part of Auckland.

The Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf have a big influence on Auckland's leisure time. Auckland's Anniversary Day on 27 January brings out yachts for one of the largest one-day regattas in the world. The climate is close to sub-tropical but it is classified as a warm temperate which reaches an average of 23 degrees Celsius in the summer and around 15 degrees Celsius in the winter.


Hamilton is New Zealand's largest inland city and fifth largest urban area with a population of approximately 166,128. It is conveniently situated in the centre of the North Island, and is one of the richest pastoral farming regions of the world. Cambridge, which lies on the outskirts of Hamilton and is a 15-minute drive from the city, is world renowned for its horse breeding. Hamilton is a drive of approximately 90 minutes from Auckland. The Waikato River runs through the centre of Hamilton – this is the longest river in New Zealand.

Within a radius of 150 kilometres of Hamilton there are more than 2.3 million people, that is over 60% of New Zealand's total population. It is located on four State Highways and has the biggest railway junction in New Zealand.

There are enormous recreational opportunities within Hamilton and the immediate surroundings. Trout fishing, sailing, wind surfing and water skiing are available on the region's rivers and lakes. World-class rowing facilities are available at Lake Karapiro, a 20-minute drive from Hamilton.

Winters can be cold, with an average temperature of 13 degrees Celsius during the day and an occasional low of 0 degrees Celsius during the night. Summer days can be long, warm and sunny, with temperatures around 20 to 25 degrees Celsius. There is abundant rainfall, between 800 and 1,500mm per year. Rain falls throughout the year, with more falling in the winter.

New Plymouth

Around a thousand years ago, a giant flightless bird moved through virgin indigenous forests and browsed at the edge of vast flax swamps of a still active volcanic cone. This was the scene discovered in about the llth century by the first settlers to the Taranaki areas who stalked the large bird for food, called it the Moa, and harvested the flax to make clothing.

The Moa is now extinct, but its cousin the Kiwi, a much smaller flightless bird, still frequents remaining forest areas. Much of the forest was cleared for farming by European settlers who began arriving in the 1840s. Small townships sprang up, the first being New Plymouth, which became a city in 1948 and is the main servicing centre for the province of Taranaki.

New Plymouth is situated on the west coast of the North Island, and is dominated by the majestic Mount Egmont/Taranaki, which stands 2,518m high and is only 32 kilometres south of the city. The life and climate of New Plymouth seems to be dominated by this fabulous mountain, which some days can remain hidden from view by strange large clouds gathered around its peak, and yet the rest of the skies can be clear.

New Plymouth was made affluent by the exploitation of oil and gas reserves. The local oil industry is said to be one of the oldest established in the world. There are lots of attractions for its 68,000 residents in the form of seven golf courses, rivers, lakes and beaches. The summer temperature averages 17-20 degrees Celsius, and in the winter 10 degrees Celsius.


Cathedral City, Garden City of the Plains, English City – the most English city outside England. These are all phrases to describe the capital of Canterbury in the South Island. The Botanic Gardens bordered by the gentle flowing Avon River are said to be among the best in the world.

When English settlers arrived in 1850 on the 'First Four Ships' they began building their city, and the English influence is still seen today. It was designed as a model Anglican settlement, a clean geometric grid of a city laid over wild swamp and scrubby plainsland. By the late 1890s the English immigrants had already turned it into a tree studded, neo-gothic re-creation of 'home'.

Christchurch is at the centre of New Zealand's third most populous area after Auckland and Wellington, with a population of 334,107. The metropolitan areas sprawl over the Canterbury Plains and lower Northern Plains. It is linked to its seaport at Lyttleton Harbour, 11 kilometres south of the city centre by rail and tunnel. It also has an International Airport, as Christchurch is the gateway to the Southern Alps and Queenstown, which is a very busy tourist attraction. It is also the base for Antarctic expeditions, and it is here that you can get a real taste of the Antarctic by visiting the International Antarctic Centre.

Christchurch is very flat and a very popular form of transport is by bicycle. There are eight skifields to choose from within two hours' drive of the city, including the internationally renowned slopes of Mount Hutt.

Located 43 degrees south of the Equator, Christchurch has an unpredictable climate, with a summer temperature of around 25 degrees and a winter temperature of approximately 9 degrees Celsius, but these temperatures can fluctuate at any time of the year, and it is not unknown for Christchurch to experience a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius in the winter!


Dunedin, capital of the province of Otago, is located at the head of Otago Harbour on the lower east coast of the South Island. It was founded in 1848 by Scottish migrants and is a four-hour drive to Christchurch and a comfortable four-hour drive to the Alpine resort of Queenstown. It is the second largest urban area in the South Island, after Christchurch, and has a population of around 107,088.

Dunedin is the coldest of the main centres. The summer temperature is around 19 degrees Celsius, and a minimum of 2.5 degrees Celsius in the winter. Its rainfall is spread throughout the year.

Culture mingles side by side with recreation in Dunedin. Amongst the city's parks and playing areas should be mentioned Carisbrook Park, scene of many important cricket and rugby games. The nearby beaches of St Clair and St Kilda attract thousands of bathers in the summer. The southern Lakes District is just three hours' drive away, and from there the inspiring grandeur of Fiordland and South Westland a mere stone's throw away.


Invercargill is the southernmost city in the British Commonwealth. It was founded on the shores of the Waihopai River estuary in 1856. Legendary whaler and farmer Johnny Jones is said to have bought a huge block of land which included Invercargill from the Maori and the price he is said to have paid was 12 muskets and a whaleboat!

The first inhabitant is said to have been John Kelly, an Irishman who saw a business possibility as a boatman ferrying new settlers ashore from the vessels that brought them to New Zealand. Invercargill attracted a large number of Scottish immigrants, and the Scottish street names bear witness to this.

Invercargill is very flat and symmetrically laid out, and has a population of approximately 52,000. It is the capital of the province of Southland. The giant aluminium smelter at Bluff plays a very important part in the economic life of Invercargill. The province also produces wool, wheat, barley, beef and the deer farmed in the area produce velvet. The temperature is approximately 18 degrees Celsius in the summer, with a winter temperature of approximately 7 degrees Celsius.

Minnie Dean

The most infamous character in the history of Invercargill was Minnie Dean. She was Minnie McCulloch and a widow when she arrived in Invercargill in 1868. She was only 21 years of age and she had two daughters from her first marriage. It was said that she was the niece of the first European woman to live in the town.

Within four years she had married Charles Dean. After 14 years they were still childless and her two other daughters had grown up and presumably moved away. They adopted Mary Cameron and bought a house on 20 acres.

Minnie set herself up as a 'baby farmer'. Victorian attitudes meant that unmarried mothers were sinful and babies were hastily given for adoption. Minnie adopted children outright, or kept them until foster homes could be found. At times there were as many as ten children including babies a few months old in the small three-roomed house.

Mary Cameron, her adopted daughter, found work as a dressmaker and was out of the house during the day; her husband also worked during the day. She would tell them that adoptive parents had been found for several of the children, as they left and were replaced by 'new' ones. The truth was, Minnie disposed of some of the children to make room for more. It is said that she killed some of them with laudanum, and buried them in her garden.

The trial was closely followed throughout New Zealand, and particularly in Invercargill. Minnie said that dozens of 'her' children were in foster homes, but she couldn't say where as she had never kept records. Minnie was sentenced to death. She was hanged at 8a.m. on 12 August 1895 protesting her innocence. She was 47 years old. Minnie Dean was the only woman ever to be hanged in New Zealand.