What did I learn: NEW ZEALAND

Possibly the actual location of heaven – Source

This month I got to learn more about New Zealand. This is the first country I’ve pulled for Locally Foreign that I’ve actually been to! Because of that, my dad’s connections to NZ, and me being from a closely-related country, I started with a fair amount of base knowledge. However, there was so much more that I got a chance to learn about.

I really gravitated to learning about Maori history, politics, and culture. That included the use of Aotearoa as the country’s name, the revitalization of te reo Maori, the Treaty of Waitangi and Maori law, ta moko tattoos, the haka, Maori heavy metal, and reading The Bone People. I also got to learn about the Moriori, as well as New Zealand’s own colonies: Niue, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, and previously, Samoa.

In Canada, we have an image of New Zealand as having much better relations between settlers and Indigenous people than we do. However, there is still plenty of racism against Maori (including formal complaints when te reo is used on TV) and it still doesn’t shake the reality of both Canada and New Zealand as settler colonies in the first place, with all the violence, displacement, and cultural damage that entails. But between the later arrival of Europeans, the power of the Maori during the New Zealand Wars (both weakened and honed from the previous Musket Wars), and the cultural and linguistic closeness of the iwis, it feels like Maori are in a position to advance self-determination in a way that is less readily available to other Indigenous peoples right now. The huge revival of Maori culture and language, especially in wider New Zealand society, and the Treaty of Waitangi as a living document in current law are powerful examples that the rest of the world can learn from.

I also got to learn about other bits of life in New Zealand – there’s more good podcasts than you can shake a stick at, including two great history ones, a look at New Zealand’s housing crisis, its relationship with China, or reflections on the tragedies of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings or the 2011 earthquake (and the slow work repairing its iconic ruined cathedral). I also got a chance to learn more about the unique wildlife of Aotearoa, see some of the sillier side of politics, and check out two blockbuster Kiwi films; The Piano and What We Do in the Shadows.

As for food, the biggest thing I noticed was how many dishes are contested between New Zealand and Australia. I didn’t get a chance to attempt pavlova, but alongside Anzac biscuits, Minties, and flat whites, there’s a lot of antipodean overlap and arguing over who invented what. I was shocked that “regular coffee” (aka drip coffee) is almost unheard of in NZ. I also got a giant box of snacks (1,2,3), took a crack at trying non-sauv blanc wines, warmed up to Marmite, and attempted to make Kiwi onion dip while missing an ingredient.

This month has really made me want to go back to New Zealand now as an adult – catch me on the hiking trails! Kia ora, Aotearoa!

Mt. Eden, Auckland – Source

NEW ZEALAND: Christchurch Cathedral

Drone video still taken inside the cathedral – Source

When the 2011 earthquake devastated the city of Christchurch, killing 185, several iconic buildings were also severely damaged. The Anglican cathedral’s tower and front of the building collapsed. Amazingly, the church’s artist in residence, Sue Spigel, was inside and survived.

While other buildings in Christchurch were either repaired or replaced, the cathedral was caught up in legal battles over whether to demolish parts of the building, how to repair what still stood, and how to protect the historic integrity of what was left. Because of that, the church has sat empty, open to the elements, for a decade now. This drone footage was taken before new repair attempts started in 2019 – which now seem to be underway, despite the pandemic.

A temporary church was built shortly after the earthquake to serve as the “Transitional Cathedral”, but has taken on a more endearing name of “The Cardboard Cathedral“. Here’s some neat shots of the inside – those giant structural tubes are actually cardboard.

Unrelated to the earthquake, I’m surprised the original church’s name wasn’t the Christchurch Christ Church Cathedral. “Christ Church” is an excessively common name for Anglican churches around the world – just counting cathedrals, there’s one in Oxford, Dublin, the Falklands, Tanzania, New South Wales, the Bahamas, Episcopal cathedrals in the US, and in every corner of Canada from Vancouver to New Brunswick to the Yukon to down the street from my house in Ottawa! There’s no rule that they have to be named like that; the Anglican Church is just spectacularly unoriginal in naming churches.

The cathedral in 2019 with Camilla, Prince Charles, and PM Ardern – Source


Ta Moko are traditional Maori tattoos, worn by both men and women. They have deep cultural and emotional importance, as they let you show your mana and whakapapa (roughly, your prestige and heritage), connect people to their history and identity, and are works of art and beauty. A really good bit of reporting on the revival and reclamation of ta moko:

The History of Aotearoa New Zealand podcast has an really in-depth four-part episode on Ta Moko, starting with “The Maori Quill” – how tattoos were originally chiselled before steel needles were introduced, the cultural significance, and Europeans’ reactions to ta moko. The colonial government forced Maori tattooing to stop, but it never truly died out, and has seen a huge revival in recent years.

Here’s also an excellent short video on the emotional journey and healing that comes from ta moko, focusing on moko kauae – women’s chin tattoos.

As part of the revitalization and reclamation of Maori culture, there are now a lot of high-profile people with ta moko. This includes politicians, like the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, and the co-leaders of the Maori Party, Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Just last month, Oriini Kaipara became the first newsanchor with ta moko to present primetime news:

An unfortunate quirk of history also means that many historical moko have been lost – when early photography first arrived in Aotearoa, the wet plate method of the 1850s rendered the tattoos invisible. A few years ago, a really fascinating exhibit came out where Maori leaders sat for portraits with both modern cameras and historical wet plate ones. The contrast runs deeper than just a tech problem, it makes an excellent metaphor for the erasure and revival of ta moko and Maori culture.

You can see more at the website for Puaki or at My Modern Met’s article “Portraits of People Whose Traditional Māori Tattoos Disappear in Wet Plate Photos“.


It’s been a particularly cold January here in Ottawa, with the last two weeks at -20C, so my skin needs some TLC right now. I picked up a couple a New Zealand-made face creams to give myself a little spa day. Both Lancocrème and By Nature are owned by the same company, and use some very New Zealand export products in their cosmetics – lanolin and manuka honey.

There’s been a lot of advertising spin about manuka honey as a panacea and a cure-all, but really, it’s just honey where bees have been collecting pollen from manuka plants, which gives it an unique taste. It’s not the only honey that’s flavoured by plants’ pollen, and some can be very tasty (I particularly like buckwheat honey), but it’s all just honey in the end. That being said, honey itself is a pretty good moisturizer for skin.

By Nature Mask Duo – A wash-off mask with hyaluronic acid and a texture almost like jello, it had a nice mild floral scent. It was pretty fun but a bit messy. The manuka honey sleep mask didn’t smell of honey, but went on thick and did a really amazing job moisturizing my skin overnight. I was feeling my face all through the day and it was noticeably smoother.

Lanocrème Face Creams – These are all lanolin-based face creams – lanolin being a moisturizing byproduct of wool. These three creams each use an added ingredient – vitamin E, collagen, and more manuka honey. They’re all very thick creams, though I think the honey one is thickest, and they all have mild, floral scents. They do a great job on my winter-dry skin, but they would be too heavy and oily for me in hot weather. I’m going to try taking a pot with me to apply right before going skating on the canal, I’m hoping it’ll form a frostbite barrier!

NEW ZEALAND: The Bone People by Keri Hulme

Talk about a book that leaves you with a “book hangover” – I stayed up to the small hours hooked into Keri Hulme’s The Bone People and needed to sit and think on it afterwards. This was the first novel from New Zealand to win the Booker Prize, and the first debut novel to do so. It follows the friendship between Kerewin, a tough, odd, hermit-like woman (very much modelled on Hulme herself) and the friendship thrust upon her of Simon, a strange, mute child, found after a shipwreck, and his adopted father, Joe.

It’s a heavy book, with the protagonists struggling with isolation, trauma, abuse, illness, and alcohol, and yet, it’s not one of those dark “horrible things happen on every page” novels. Terrible things do happen, and generational trauma perpetuates itself, but it’s an oddly optimistic book. The focus is on healing, and how an awkward found family of very imperfect people can muddle forward through their own pasts and own weaknesses.

There’s also a subtle metaphor on culture and background in New Zealand – Joe is Maori, Kewerin is part-Maori and disconnected from her heritage, and Simon is white, and what eventually helps each of them comes from their own histories, but also, from their relationship with each other.

NEW ZEALAND: Unique wildlife

New Zealand is famous for having incredibly unique wildlife – before the arrival of humans, there were no land mammals on Aotearoa, only seals and a few bats. Because of that and the islands’ isolation, some really amazing animals evolved there, including many flightless birds. Unfortunately, when humans arrived, hunting and introduced animals devastated a lot of these species, so many are either extinct or are severely endangered. Thankfully, there are some seriously intensive conservation efforts today, including breeding programs and efforts to eradicate introduced predators.

I fell down a Youtube hole with these little clips from various documentaries and zoos on different species. First up, of course, is the national animal – the kiwi:

There’s also the kea, a parrot that lives in the mountains of the South Island – it seems incongruous to my mind for parrots to be in the snow – I always think of them as tropical animals!

I really love little blue penguins – I remember seeing them at an aquarium in New Zealand when I went as a kid and they were just to cutest little things:

More than just birds, there’s also invertebrates like the weta, the world’s largest cricket – and a descendant of Punga, the god of ugly things:

And of course, the infamous and meme-able kakapo:

There’s also the magically stunning glowworm colonies in the Waitomo caves:

There’s also some sadly notable extinctions, like the huia:

NEW ZEALAND: Flat white and long black

A couple years ago, flat whites started popping up on coffee menus in Canada – espresso with steamed milk, like a less-milky latte. I’ve heard them described as a coffee creation from New Zealand, but apparently there is huge tension and controversy with Australia over who created and who “owns” flat whites (there’s also similar battles over pavlova and Anzac biscuits). The Kiwis now concede that the drink was created in Australia, but hold that they were ones who perfected it, and that the use of New Zealand’s high quality milk makes a better flat white. While I can’t comment on that, I did pop by my local coffee shop for a flat white to warm me up. It was very smooth with a dense foam, quite tasty, though sadly no fancy foam design.

New Zealand has a really deep coffee culture, but interestingly, it’s almost entirely espresso based – it’s nearly impossible to get a drip coffee! The closest you can get seems to be a long black – a double shot of espresso poured over hot water. It apparently comes out like a concentrated Americano.

NEW ZEALAND: The kia ora incident / Is “Pakeha” racist?

In 1984, Naida Glavish, a telephone operator at a post office in Auckland, was ordered to stop answering the phone with “kia ora”, a Maori greeting, after a complaint. The story hit the press, and eventually the post office backed down once the Prime Minister took her side. The incident spurred a national discussion on the use of te reo Maori, and became part of a larger movement to revitalize the language. Here’s a brief history:

Te reo seems to be really widespread nowadays – it’s really a success story for the revitalization of Indigenous languages. There’s a lot of media out there in te reo, it’s an official language of New Zealand (though there isn’t official bilingualism), and it’s taught in schools – though not compulsory. Maori names and words pop up in English (like Aotearoa) and kia ora seems to have become a default greeting for anyone.

However, not everyone is happy about the increasing presence of te reo – not only have people filed official complaints about the use of the language on air, the number of complaints has increased to the point where the Broadcasting Standards Authority had to issue a blanket statement last year that it would not investigate complaints of this type.

There also have been complaints about the use of the term Pakeha to describe non-Maori New Zealanders, especially those of European descent – there are misconceptions about what the term means, including myths that it means “pig skin” or that it’s intended to be a slur.

NEW ZEALAND: More podcasts

The kakapo – Source

Here’s also more podcasts – I had shared a bunch of good RNZ ones previously, the following are a mix of RNZ and independently produced shows:

History of Aotearoa New Zealand – An independently produced podcast that goes into good depth about Aotearoa’s history (for a briefer overview on the topic, check out RNZ’s history podcast). Episodes are roughly chronological and about 20 minutes, and cover a huge variety of topics – you can just dip in to any one that catches your fancy. They have a particularly good focus on Maori topics, especially pre-European contact. I caught a really interesting episode on how Maori adapted their horticulture to New Zealand’s cold climate when they first arrived from more tropical parts of Polynesia.

Kakapo Files – A series looking at conservation efforts of the endangered kakapo. The kakapo is a large, flightless parrot – probably best known for humping a cameraman’s head in a Stephen Fry nature documentary. The podcast follows the ups and downs of the 2019 breeding season, with plenty of high drama as scientists try to give the wild birds the best chance at raising a new generation.

When the Facts Change – From independent journalism site The Spinoff, When the Facts Change is a journalistic look at the intersection of business, economics, and politics. I listened to “The impossible dream of home ownership“, which interviews several different experts on the cause and damaging effects of New Zealand’s insanely overpriced housing. I was expecting to draw some parallels to Canada’s similarly overheated market, but interestingly the perceived causes are different in Aotearoa: limited supply, limited zoning, and widespread poor quality housing. (As opposed to speculation, both domestic and foreign, which is one of our banes here.) Regardless, the result is the same – younger generations are left out of the housing market, and both housing and rental prices are rising many times faster than wages.

Dietary Requirements – Another Spinoff podcast, this is a lighthearted look at food and culture. There’s a big selection of local cuisine spotlights, looks at the restaurant scene, and interviews on international food cultures. I couldn’t resist listening to Politics, poutine and quarantine (plus an earthquake), which features a Canadian journalist who had just relocated to New Zealand at the start of the pandemic. They go into quarantine food, and touch on the increasing spread of poutine globally.

Red Line – A four-part investigation by RNZ into New Zealand’s relationship with China. Many countries have to walk to line between the massive economic importance of China, versus human rights violations inside China and China’s pressure on politics and dissidents in their own country. New Zealand is in a particularly challenging spot, as it is more economically dependant on China than other Western countries. I used to spend a lot of time in China about a decade ago, and the first podcast really touches on how a lot of us back then thought that China’s rising power and wealth would also mean liberalization. We, of course, were quite wrong.

Remember When… – For some lighter fare, short little podcasts with reminiscing on millennial nostalgia from a Kiwi perspective. It was pretty fun to walk down memory lane on tamagotchis, nu-metal, and old school blogging – which I’ve never really let go of!

NEW ZEALAND: New Treaty, New Tradition by Carwyn Jones / The Waitangi Tribunal

New Treaty, New Tradition: Reconciling New Zealand and Maori Law by Maori legal scholar Carywn Jones is a deep look at how Maori law operates as its own legal system, and an argument for legal plurality as part of Indigenous self-determination. Jones argues that the Treaty of Waitangi, the foundational document between Maori and Europeans, should really be treated as two different legal systems making an agreement, like an international treaty. He looks at the reality as well, how Maori law and legal concepts are used today, but only inside the larger structure of New Zealand state law, which naturally means these concepts and laws need to be forced into the shape given for them inside English common law.

Jones also looks at the treaty settlement process through the Waitangi Tribunal, and touches on parallels with the modern treaty process in Canada, and the issues that come through having a Eurocentric process seeking a “final settlement” and moving on. It’s a dense piece of legal scholarship, but interesting, especially in comparison to how land title and treaties are handled in other settler countries like Canada. Oddly, when I took Aboriginal Law in law school, we touched on Australian and American cases, but little from New Zealand – it seems like the tribunal process can avoid the need for blockbuster Supreme Court cases.

For more information on the Waitangi Tribunal and how treaty settlements are made, I’d recommend this documentary from TVNZ – it’s in te reo Maori with English subtitles. It also touches on the weaknesses of the treaty settlement process, and how effective it is in practice.