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San Francisco Auckland

30th November 2011

A Lost Day in My Life and a Little New Zealand History

    Today I would experience what not many people get to do - lose one complete day of my life; mind you some heavy boozers seem to lose whole weeks! It's all a bit of an illusion really, but a necessary one. When you travel over the International Date Line from east to west, one day is automatically skipped. This is a necessary adjustment to keep the planet's dates in order. I shan't lose any sleep over it; I gained the time elsewhere in my lap around the globe.
    Air New Zealand is a great airline to travel with; plenty of leg room, the staff are friendly and courteous. I would recommend it.
    As I flew effortlessly at 11km over Polynesia, my mind shifted to a bygone era and fellow travellers, a band of seafarers and sophisticated navigators. These were the Polynesians who made the 3,000km voyage to New Zealand around a thousand years ago.
    Prior to their arrival, New Zealand had been 680 million years in the making. The islands contained no native land mammals apart from a few species of bat. However, the land was teeming with several species of moa, a flightless bird resembling a double sized ostrich which weighed up to 240kg. Other species of land dwelling birds and large sea mammals also occupied the islands.
    When the Polynesians first sighted the extended white cloud draped over a bush covered land, they named it Aotearoa - Land of the Long White Cloud. Coming from their relatively small Pacific islands, this new land, spilling over with creatures unused to being hunted, must have seemed like paradise. These original settlers rapidly spread far and wide across the north and south islands enjoying the abundant supply of natural food. Over the next century several species of bird were driven to extinction, and other species plus sea mammals almost eradicated. The settlers were forced to undergo a transitional period shifting their focus to more sustainable garden produce. Groups formed who built fortified villages, known as pa, to protect their gardens. By the 16th century a tribal system had developed.
    Many Europeans had convinced themselves that the vast northern continents needed to be counterbalanced by an as yet undiscovered southern continent, a terra australia incognita. The Dutch East India Company was keen to dominate any trade to such a continent, and in 1642 dispatched Abel Tasman to the southern oceans in search of such a land. He discovered Aotearoa, and anchored in Golden Bay at the north end of the south island. After a flare up with some native war canoes, where four of his crew were killed, he fled the islands having never landed. He named Aotearoa "Staten Landt", assuming it to be connected to Staten Island near Argentina. It was later renamed "Nieuw Zeeland" after the Dutch maritime province.
    It was 127 years before European contact was established again, when in 1769 Captain James Cook, after being sent to Tahiti to observe the passage of Venus across the sun, followed Admiralty instructions to chart the south seas. His circumnavigation of the islands dispelled the Dutch idea that this was the corner of a southern continent. After a couple of unfortunate skirmishes he managed to strike up sympathetic and constructive relations with the locals. The tribes needed to distinguish themselves collectively from these newcomers, and began calling themselves Maori ("normal") as opposed to Pakeha ("foreign"). Cook made two more visits between 1773 and 1777.
    In the 1790s, whaling ships and sealing gangs started to arrive on these shores, with missionaries appearing in the early 19th century. By the 1820s European-Maori settlements were being established, driven by trade in flax and timber. The Maori came to depend on trading flax, pigs, fruit and vegetables for muskets, and during 1818-36, the entire country was stricken with the intertribal Musket Wars.
    During the 1830s land purchase was becoming a major concern, and Edward Wakefield, a British politician, had reported that Britain was colonising New Zealand "in a most slovenly and scrambling and disgraceful manner". In an effort to bring some form of order to the land purchase system, and avoid exploitation, he helped establish the New Zealand Company. This became a joint stock company, so that the people involved would bear the costs of establishing the settlements they planned.
    The British government, in an effort to keep the French out, and responding to the anti-colonial feelings of the missionary groups, agreed to recognize the sovereignty of the Maori people and appointed William Hobson as the region's Lieutenant Governor. He worked under the authority of the British Governor of New South Wales, Australia. In 1840, Hobson, in his new role, arrived on North Island. Subsequently, Maori chieftains entered into a compact with Britain called the "Treaty of Waitangi." They ceded sovereignty to Britain's Queen Victoria while retaining territorial rights - at least on paper. I will pick that part of the story up again when I reach Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. With British sovereignty now firmly asserted, Queen Victoria signed a royal charter for New Zealand to become a Crown colony separate from New South Wales, and Hobson was sworn in as the colony's first Governor.
    With the British in charge, scores of settlers from the British Isles arrived and organized colonial settlements were built. At first the Maori welcomed them, but the inevitable conflicts over land rights brought land wars to New Zealand in 1843 and 1872. As a result, the Maori people were pushed out of their ancestral lands.
    After the New Zealand Parliament met for the first time in 1854, responsible local government was in place and eventual independence was a passionate dream. Among the first British colonies to be declared a dominion, the British colony of New Zealand became an independent (self-governing) dominion in 1907.
    Throughout the 20th century New Zealand remained a supportive member of the British Empire, fighting side-by-side in major wars, including World Wars I and II. On April 25 (ANZAC Day), New Zealand commemorates the anniversary of the landing of troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during World War I at Gallipoli, Turkey.
    As World War II came to an end, New Zealand was growing in prosperity, but endemic problems remained, especially as the indigenous Maori people moved into cities looking for work and their share of benefits. Social prejudices were now hot button issues. In a very positive recent move, seven Maori tribes signed an historic treaty with the New Zealand government, a treaty that compensates them for lands taken during the 19th century. This agreement affects more than 100,000 Maoris, and transfers almost 500,000 acres of forest land into Maori ownership.
    No doubt I would learn more as I visited the islands and museums.

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San Francisco Auckland

Uploaded from Quadrant Hotel, Auckland on 1st December at 14:58

Last updated 1.12.2011