Honestly, New Zealand DOES Have History

“New Zealand doesn’t have any history.”

Do you know how many times I’ve heard that since moving here?

“New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled; it’s too young for anything interesting to have happened.”

It’s not just immigrants that say it. It’s a sentiment shared by many born-and-bred New Zealanders. It’s repeated so often that people simply believe it.

I did.

1024px-bayeux_tapestry_scene57_harold_deathWhen I moved here, I bemoaned the lack of interesting history and – perhaps as an act of homesickness – began to obsess over British history.

I watched every documentary and read every book I could get my hands on. The Britons, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, the Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Georgians, the Victorians… and then, at the twentieth century, I lost interest.

I scoffed at New Zealand’s comparatively pathetic past.

School didn’t help.

Maori Chief with Facial Tattoo from the 18th CenturyThe way New Zealand history is taught in schools seriously needs overhauling. Every year, we got the same old sanitised version of how the Treaty of Waitangi went down, the mythologised version of what happened with the ANZACs at Gallipoli, and… well… not much else. (I remember doing something about Victorian colonists’ journeys to New Zealand at primary school, and something about the Maori migration route through the Pacific in Year Nine Social Studies.) We were practically taught to believe that New Zealand history was boring. Even when I got to Seventh Form, my History teacher said, “Well, we can either do the New Zealand module or the Tudors and Stuarts module, and the New Zealand module is boring as f**k.” (He may not have used those exact words.)

One of the reasons I didn’t do History at university was I didn’t want to have to slog through all the New Zealand stuff before I could get to the interesting stuff. I kind of regret that now. (Except not really, because I did Classical Studies instead, which I absolutely adored.)

Then I started writing this blog.

I was no longer just living in New Zealand – I was analysing it. Really thinking about it. Whenever I visited somewhere, I wasn’t just looking at it and going, “Oh, that’s nice,” I was actually making an effort to learn about it.

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Rotorua Museum

I remember – it was nearly three years ago, before Tim and I went to Europe – I visited Rotorua with my parents. We’d been to Rotorua many times before. We’d even been to Rotorua Museum many times before. But never before I had engaged with Rotorua’s history quite so dramatically. I was fascinated.

It was honestly a turning point in my life. I came back from Rotorua renewed, with a newfound appreciation for New Zealand history. I wanted to find out more.

The Stone Store, Kerikeri

If you’re one of my regular readers, you might have noticed a certain obsession with New Zealand history of late. Now, whenever I hear someone parroting the view that New Zealand doesn’t have any history, I excitedly reel off a list of places they can visit. I even wrote an article about it on my new website, trippla.nz, where I provide holiday inspiration in the form of New Zealand travel itineraries. The article is called A Magical History Tour of the North Island, and you should definitely check out at least some of the places I mention.

Of course New Zealand has history! Maori people have been living here for a thousand years, give or take three hundred. Yes, it’s all oral history (and a bit of archaeology) until the Europeans arrive, but that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. And the Europeans arriving unleashes a whole host of “interesting” historical events! Perhaps one of the reasons New Zealand history isn’t taught in detail is quite simply white guilt.

Over the years I’ve heard a few people, mostly older white New Zealanders, say things like, “Leave the past where it is. We don’t want to be stirring up old grievances,” and, “We should be promoting unity, not pointing the finger.”

Richmond Cottage, New Plymouth

Richmond Cottage, New Plymouth

Don’t you just hate it when people can’t separate history and politics? What’s wrong with looking at the simple facts, saying, “This is what happened,” and learning from it, instead of getting angry and trying to deny it when, really, it had nothing to do with anyone alive today? I mean come on! Everyone was a dick to each other in the past. Oh, hell, not just in the past – everyone’s a dick to each other today – just look at the world!

And, yes, people use history to suit their own purposes all the time. That’s why you have to look at multiple histories of the same events, told by different people, to get a balanced idea of what really happened.

Temple Cottage, Kihikihi

Temple Cottage. Kihikihi

New Zealand may not have any medieval castles, but it’s got hill forts. Its history includes war, discovery, hardship, bravery, natural disasters, social triumphs, cannibalism, frontier towns, true love, miracles… (Well, okay, the last two are from The Princess Bride, but you get the point.) Plenty of interesting historical events have happened in New Zealand, despite its relative youth as a country. Obviously nowhere near as many as somewhere like England or China, but enough that New Zealand’s history shouldn’t be scoffed at.

Although I may still scoff at it as a joke sometimes. I am English, after all.

Lion vs. Kiwi, the National Animals of England and New Zealand

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Springtime for Hamilton Gardens

There’s always something going on at the Hamilton Gardens. The weekend before last there was a model railway exhibition. I wouldn’t have gone to it myself, but my parents were visiting and my dad’s obsessed with trains. His own model railway takes up nearly half a double garage, and he’s started another one in a shed. (Mum wasn’t keen on him building one around the top of their lounge.)

Model Railway

Some of the layouts were quite interesting. I especially enjoyed seeing the ones set in Germany and Austria. They reminded me of my real train journey through Europe. My dad’s layout is based on our hometown in England. Mostly. He’s added a few quirky touches, such as a 1960s police box (or TARDIS) and zombies emerging from a graveyard. It’s really good, actually. The Victorian terraced houses make me nostalgic.

I didn’t find the model railway exhibition nearly as interesting as the gardens themselves, though. I know I go to the gardens a lot, but seeing them in the springtime is something special. I couldn’t resist taking these photos of the Italian Renaissance Garden

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

When my dad finally emerged from the exhibition, he wanted to do some geocaching. It’s another obsession of his, albeit a recent one. There were a few hidden caches around the gardens. In one there was a trackable coin that had been all over the world. I followed him with my mum and partner, catching Pokémon on my phone as I went. I wonder if we’ll ever walk around the gardens normally again!

Cute Animals and Hay Fever

Ducklings

“That’s how we know it’s spring,” Tim said as I tried not to sneeze on a duckling. “Cute animals and hay fever.”

I backed away, drawing out one of my carefully rationed tissues. Pollen filled the air like fairy dust, glistening as it swirled around the trees at the Taitua Arboretum. To be fair it wasn’t just hay fever – I was (and still am) fighting off a bad cold.

We were at the arboretum because my parents were visiting. We’d been before, but until now we’d never seen it bathed in sunlight. It was a little bit magical.

arboretum

Fluffy, yellow chicks flurried about in the undergrowth. (We couldn’t believe how many chickens there were, actually!) Fantails flitted coquettishly along the branches. Tui serenaded us from above, ducklings begged us for food, and geese drifted towards us. (Tim has a history with geese; perhaps they sensed this as they drifted away again quite quickly.)

fantail2

I felt like a mucus-laden Disney princess. We even found fairy doors on a couple of tree trunks.

doorintrunk

The most magical sight, however, was this.

sunonwater

The photograph doesn’t really capture it, of course: the golden beams of sunlight filtering through the branches; the branches bowing to kiss the surface of the pond; floating leaves forming an illuminated path to the far bank, upon which sits a bench in a sheltered clearing… All rather inviting.

stonecircle

The Taitua Arboretum is a lovely, peaceful place to go for a walk that I imagine would be great for kids. I look forward to visiting it next season. Hopefully I’ll be able to breathe properly then!

The Cult of New Zealand Infallible – healthy patriotism or sinister brainwashing?

POMS AWAY!

Here’s a story from when I first moved to New Zealand. I’m interested to know what people think about it. Am I making something out of nothing, or is it representative of an underlying issue in Kiwi culture?

First of all, let me say that I love New Zealand. I love living here; I want to grow old here. I genuinely believe that it’s one of the best countries in the world in which to live.

Last week, I had an article published on the New Zealand news site Stuff:

‘Bring a Plate’: Settling into life in New Zealand

In it, I share some of the experiences I had moving to New Zealand at the age of ten, in (what I hope comes across as) a light-heartedly humorous manner. I also state that fifteen years on, as I never lost my English accent, I’m still seen as an outsider…

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The Auckland Botanic Gardens

Auckland Botanic Gardens

Sunday morning. Grey rain stippled the windows. So much for meeting Tim’s family at the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

We tried to think of somewhere else we could go in South Auckland. Somewhere undercover that wasn’t a shopping centre. Easier said than done. We came up with Butterfly Creek and Spookers – can you think of any more?

Auckland Botanic Gardens

We ended up walking around the gardens anyway. It was great. The rain slowed to a drizzle before stopping entirely. We even got some sunshine. That’s the thing about New Zealand weather: the whole ‘four seasons in one day’ thing can work in your favour!

Auckland Botanic Gardens

The Auckland Botanic Gardens are very different to the Hamilton Gardens. They’ve got more room for starters. I definitely prefer the Hamilton Gardens, because each garden is like its own little world, but the Auckland Botanic Gardens have many cool elements to recommend them.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I liked the edible garden, especially as the café made use of the produce from it. (The café’s food was actually really nice.) I also liked the African garden. The simple conical sculptures – evocative of termite mounds – looked awesome. My favourite garden was possibly the Potter Children’s Garden.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

There’s a Potter Children’s Garden in Hamilton too – at Parana Park, but the one in Auckland is quite distinct. It didn’t have as many ‘playground’ elements, but was more educational. It had a jungle section and a Maori section, for example, as well as an interactive sundial.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

The gardens are very wheelchair friendly, which was good for us with Tim’s grandma. You can borrow mobility scooters from the Visitor Centre for free. The whole place is free to enter too. It’s only about twenty minutes from the airport, so keep it in mind if you’re ever touring New Zealand.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

In case you couldn’t tell, I like visiting gardens. Maybe because I’m English. I wrote an article on NZ Top List called 10 Quite Nice Gardens to Visit in New Zealand. (Because, being English, I also tend towards understatement.) You could also check out my articles about Tupare and Te Puna Quarry Park. Just sayin’.