The Gems of New Zealand
New Zealand is a rich country – it`s rich with nature and with its wildlife, with culture and traditions here. The country itself is a real pearl of the ocean! And now we will tell you a bit more about things that are so precious for Kiwis – the gems of New Zealand!
1. New Zealand`s nature and intact ecosystems
Can you imagine that there are more than 70 types of uncommon ecosystems in NZ? Let`s start with an explanation – what actually are naturally uncommon ecosystems? Usually those are occurring over a small area in absence of human activity and often support unique biodiversity. Also, they often are threatened. Yeah, New Zealand has so much of natural beauty to offer!
This country is so special because of its distinctive biodiversity! And behind that lies a very long history. When New Zealand separated from that one huge land mass, called the supercontinent, millions of years ago, for a long time it remained under the water. After the movement of tectonic plates some parts of the landmass appeared above the water and remained isolated, surrounded by oceans. This has allowed for unique ecosystems to develop in this land.
Here we have to mention something called Zelandia. There is a theory that New Zealand is a part of partly sunken Zealandia, a separate continent, not a chain of islands. But, as this continent is more than 90% under the water, there is a huge space for variations of this story. But please feel free to give it a search in internet!
But let`s turn back to the New Zealand`s unique biodiversity. For centuries flora and fauna was adapting to the life on this isolated island and since then some of examples can been found only here! Also, after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs and other species, New Zealand had evolved differently from other parts of the world as barely few mammals were living here. Instead birds and insects took over. And, as flora and fauna is always developing hand in hand, New Zealand has stayed as unique as it has always been. Here you can find such nature you won`t see anywhere else in the world!
2. Ponamu rock
Ponamu is a very special rock for New Zealanders and especially for Maori people that were inhabiting this area before the first European settlers came. Maori had settled the land and also had found some real gems of New Zealand – one of them – the Ponamu rock, otherwise called jade or the greenstone. Ponamu is a Maori name for the hard, durable and highly valued nephrite jade. Actually, there are several types of this stone, several colours and origins, but we will talk about the nephrite jade as it`s the most commonly known today. This gem is generally found in rivers in specific parts of New Zealand`s South Island. Why is it so precious? It`s so because Ponamu is very important in Maori culture. They had always considered this rock as a real treasure and believed that Ponamu has spiritual power. It was used in making tools like knives, scrapers and hooks. This rock was given as a gift and it was made in weapons. Ponamu had always had a practical usage as well as moral value added to it. Nowadays you will see Ponamu rock in souvenir shops all across New Zealand, but remember that since 1947 it has been illegal to export raw greenstone due to its limited supply.
As we already said, New Zealand has very special nature, it is super rich in biodiversity, and flora and fauna has developed here than in no other country. And New Zealanders cherish it. Yeah, this was a country with almost no mammals, thus no natural predators for birds and insects. So they were the ones that took over New Zealand and developed on this isolated island. Here you will find animals, birds, reptiles and bugs you cannot see in any other part of the world. And locals try to save them as much as possible, so you should too!
So these are some of the special creatures. Firstly, of course, it`s kiwi. Kiwi bird is the symbol of New Zealand. It is a flightless bird found only in this country. These unique birds include several mammal-like qualities like bones that contain marrow, their feathers are hanging loose like hair and they have whiskers! Kiwis are the only birds in the world that have nostrils at the tip of the beak and they lay one of the largest eggs in the relation of their body size.
Actually, we could write a book about special wildlife that is living in New Zealand, but let`s continue with few. There is short-tailed bat – the only native land mammal of NZ. And kea, the only alpine parrot in the world, the numbers of kea are estimated around 5000. There is New Zealand pigeon that is the biggest pigeon in the world – yeah, we saw it – it`s huuuuge! There is Hector`s dolphin – the world’s smallest dolphin species. There are several types of rare penguins and seals that live only on the coasts of NZ. And let`s not forget tuataras – the only surviving reptile species from the dinosaur era – the ones that actually survived the Ice age!
Well, the list of unique wildlife here is long. And that is a true gem of this nation!
4. Manuka honey
Yes, also Manuka honey is definitely a gem of New Zealand. Here you will see not only eatable honey, but also Manuka honey products, starting with hand creams, lip balms, candies, teas, capsules to so much more! But what is this Manuka honey? It is a very rare honey made from the nectar of the native Manuka bush, grown only in NZ. Why it is so special? Firstly, it is only made in New Zealand, and can only be made for a few weeks a year while the Manuka plant is in flower. Secondly, scientists have proven remarkable natural properties that make this exact honey more valuable than other kinds of honey. Manuka honey’s antibacterial properties are what set it apart from traditional honey. Methylglyoxal is Manuka honey’s active ingredient and likely responsible for these antibacterial effects. Methylglyoxal or MGO is a compound that is formed in the honey from Manuka nectar – as the honey ripens, the MGO content can increase. Additionally, Manuka honey has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. In fact, this honey traditionally has been used for wound healing, soothing sore throats, preventing tooth decay and improving digestive issues. On each jar of the Manuka honey, you will also see UFM or unique Manuka factor that indicates the level of the unique Manuka properties within the honey. The highest possible UMF is 28 and a jar of this wonder costs 1800 NZD. Well, this might be your cure for everything! So one thing is clear – Manuka honey is the gem of the NZ.
5. Merino and possum wool
From bees and honey to sheep and wool. Another treasure of this wonderful country is wool. Yeah, New Zealand is famous for its merino sheep and especially the wool. Actually, Merino sheep wool production started in Spain and was there for centuries before Merino sheep breed spread around the world. Merino was the first sheep breed introduced in New Zealand in large numbers, and with time sheep adapted to the unique conditions of the island and became a very distinctive type. Yes, Merino here and in other parts of the world are different! And now New Zealand`s Merino sheep wool has become famous in all the world. Why is it so good? It keeps one exceptionally warm as it traps the body heat in the air pockets around the body, the wool regulates body temperature and soaks up the moisture. Even if you will be wet, you will be warm in merino clothes! It is also odour-resistant and easy to wash. It is super-comfy and good for everyone.
And then comes the possums. Can you imagine that the possum wool is also very popular here and you will be able to find it all across New Zealand? Actually, possums are not native mammals – as we already told you earlier, the bats were the only ones before others were introduced here. Possums were brought here from Australia for fur production. But the business went down and these animals were let out in the wild. And, as there were no natural predators for possums and nobody wanted to eat them, it was just perfect environment to breed. So the number of possums reached up to 80 million (!!!!)! Let`s not forget that only 5 million people are here! Possums became a huge issue as they were in so large numbers – after eating all the leaves from the trees they went for the flightless birds and this is still a big issue today. Locals are fighting possums and it is not allowed to farm these animals anymore. Basically, the wool that you see in the store is from a wild possum that is being exterminated. As the extermination of possums plays a valuable part in the conservation of New Zealand`s forests and native wildlife, everyone is even encouraged to buy possum wool and fur. Possum fur protects against the cold, it absorbs moisture well and it is a good insulator. Actually, possum fur is even warmer and lighter than sheep wool. And possum fur is not only incredibly soft, but it also has therapeutic benefits. Some studies show also a special enzyme in this fiber that can help in preventing skin conditions like eczema. Well, if possums themselves cannot be called as a gem of New Zealand, they fur sure can!
6. Paua shell
You might have heard that no part of this country is more than 128 km from the sea. And therefore many gems of the water can be found around here! And one of them is Paua. Paua is a Maori name for three types of edible sea sails, which are usually found in shallow coastal waters along rocky shorelines. These snails feed on seaweed and people in New Zealand feed from them. Even if there are catch limits for Paua, it`s still possible to find these snails sold in the restaurants. But these days most Paua meat is exported to Asia, where it has always been regarded as one of the supreme delicacies.
But more popular than the snail itself is its shell. You will find the shells of the snails used in arts and crafts as they are just so beautiful, shining from greenish to purple and blue shades. Each shell is different in its patterns and colour tonings. In Maori culture these shells are the symbolic eyes of ancestors that gaze down from the night sky. It is a real ocean gem and is also appreciated as a cultural treasure. They say that by purchasing a piece of Paua shell jewelry you are increasing the value of this resource and helping ensure that it continues to be managed in a sustainable way.
7. Maori culture
Maori are indigenous people of New Zealand that settled here hundreds of years before European settlers arrived. It is believed that the first Maori arrived on this island 1250 AD and 1300 AD from eastern Polynesia. Only in 17th century Europeans made first contact with Maori people. After that came missionaries and even escaped convicts and their relationships with Maori people weren`t healthy at all. Europeans brought diseases to which the Maori had no immunity. Numbers of Maori people died, but there still were those who continued using their unique language, who kept telling distinctive mythology, and making unique art that had developed in isolation for centuries. Now Maori language is an official language of New Zealand, along with English and sign language. And their heritage is now highly appreciated. Maori have special weapons made from the greenstone we talked about earlier. Maori have a distinct form of tattooing called Ta Moko that in their culture marked the passage from childhood to adulthood. Maori Haka dance is a traditional vigorous group dance, usually involving a chant. Maori jewelry is unique and beautiful, it includes jade carvings, bone carvings, and Paua shell jewelry. Around 15% of New Zealand’s total population are Maori, so if you are here, remember that this is the culture you should learn about!
8. All Blacks
If you haven`t heard anything about things mentioned above, you still might have heard about All Blacks rugby team. This is New Zealand`s national rugby team that represents New Zealand in men’s rugby union. Well, let`s start with the fact that rugby is the country’s national sport. And this team is super good in that. All Blacks has won the last two Rugby World Cups, in 2011 and 2015, as well as the inaugural tournament in 1987. They have won 10 of 16 Tri-Nations trophies, six of seven Rugby Championships contested, and have most recently have held the Bledisloe Cup for 16 years (2003-2018) All Blacks have been claimed the World Rugby’s Team of the Year title on seven consecutive occasions from 2010-2016. Yeah, the already sound too cool to be true! All Blacks are the most successful international men’s rugby side of all-time with a winning percentage of 77.41% over 580 Tests (1903-2019). And these guys are also known for their Haka dance. In August 2005, before the Tri Nations Test match against South Africa at Carisbrook, for the first time All Blacks performed ‘Kapa O Pango’, a new Haka for and about the All Blacks. Look it up in the internet – since then it`s called the best Haka ever. The same as the team – the best rugby team in the world, and a true gem of New Zealand!
9. Wine and craft beer
And then come the beverages. Yes, some of them can actually be called the gem of New Zealand as well. New Zealand is famous for its wine, especially Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and more recently also the dense, concentrated Pinot Noir from Marlborough and Central Otago. Amazingly, almost 90% of total production is exported, mostly to the United States, Britain and Australia, reaching a record of 1.66 billion NZD in export revenue in 2017. Yes, now you know why it is a true treasure here. Wine making and vine growing dates back to colonial times and since then the Marlborough is the largest wine-producing region in the country, but Hawkes Bay is the oldest. Two-thirds of New Zealand wine production is white.
But if you are a beer lover – it is there for you as well! Leading craft beer brands are Emerson’s that comes from Dunedin, Harrington’s that comes from Christchurch, Tuatara beer from Kapiti Coast and Epic from Auckland. And beer is also sent to Kiwi neighbors Australians, and eighty-five per cent of the hop crop is exported, most of it to the US. Many hop cultivars are unique to New Zealand, having been developed locally, therefore very special.
Everything that grows in New Zealand has a special and pure environment, so you can be sure that the products that come from here are also safe, good and tasty. Cheers!
10. Lord of the Rings
And last, but not least, Lord of the Rings. This movie was made in New Zealand! Let`s start with some facts about the movie itself. It is so special because the entire feature film trilogy has been filmed all at once with the same director and cast, making it one of the longest and most massive productions in movie-making history. “New Zealand is the best country in the world to shoot this film, because of the variety of locations we have”, with this sentence the beginning of something spectacular started. We already talked about the nature in New Zealand, so you might not even question the film-maker decision to shoot the movie here. Where else in the world can one find such a diversity? Hills of Matamata became Hobbiton, while the volcanic region of Mt. Ruapehu transformed into the fiery Mt. Doom, and Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital, was the setting for numerous scenes including the Eregion Hills and the Pillars of Argonath. Well, while we have been living in Queenstown, every day felt like a movie scene – it is just so spectacular here!
Around 2000 people were employed during the production of the Lord of the Rings. It was filmed over 274 days, using 350 purpose-built sets in more than 150 locations all over New Zealand. And filming was quite challenging – e.g. for scenes in national parks the plants were uprooted to make room for the set, temporarily housed in custom-made nurseries, and after replanted. In Queenstown, the site of battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings, up to 1100 people were on set each day, so to protect plants, a massive amount of red carpet was laid. And after all that effort more than 120 thousand people have said that this movie is the main reason for them to visit New Zealand! This has become massive.
And this movie affected New Zealand in general. Now New Zealand is the only country in the world with the rights to put Hobbit-related images on its currency. And they even have an official wizard in the country! New Zealand also broadcasted the first weather report in Elvish language in 2012. And why not – this is a home to the Lord of the Rings movies, so everything is possible here!
And as for all of the gems in the world – appreciate them, respect them and take care of them!