New Zealand: Magic place at the end of the world
Mountain ranges, valleys, rainforests, swamp landscapes, geysers, volcanoes and a unique biodiversity – New Zealand's nature is simply breathtaking. Learn more in our blog article.
Movie director Peter Jackson has chosen his home country New Zealand for a good reason to make the novel “The Lord of the rings” into a movie. Long, snow-covered mountain ridges, green valleys, thick ancient forests, dark moorlands, gigantic glaciers, geysers, glowing volcanoes and a great biodiversity take the viewer back into a land before our time.
By looking at the map one can find the two islands of New Zealand in the corner far to the right. There is almost no other place on earth with a greater distance to Europe than New Zealand. It’s no surprise that New Zealand is also sometimes referred to as the end of the world.
Around 80 million years ago New Zealand got separated from the supercontinent Gondwana which is older than all the other continents. Today New Zealand can neither geographically nor culturally be clearly assigned to another continent. The insular state in the South Pacific is totally isolated and covers an area of 268.680 km².
New Zealand is divided into two islands by the Cook street which is 23 km wide at its most narrow point. Next to the two main islands there are around 700 small islands, like the Great Barrier Reef Island or Waiheke Island. The main island, North Island, has a denser population than the South Island. Around ¾ of the country’s whole population live on North Island which is also where the capital Wellington and the biggest city Auckland are located.
Especially the South Island is characterized by long mountain ranges, deep valleys, ragged coastlines, thick rainforest and wide fjords. On North Island you can find extensive hilly landscapes, white beaches and a so-called volcanic plateau in the centre.
The scenery was mainly formed by glaciers from different ice age periods and by the two continental plates, the Australian and the pacific plate. Both plates glide alongside, but also towards each other. When they first collided millions of years ago, the plates overlapped each other and upfolded the earth’s crust which is today called the alpine fault – a mountain range crossing New Zealand from north to south and is divided into the Southern Alpes on the South Island and the High Plateau on the North Island.
The steady movement of the plates causes volcanic activity and earth quakes. The inhabitants of North Island live with the fact that the earth might shake several times a day. The last severe earthquake occurred in February 2011 close to the city of Christchurch on South Island, causing many deaths and high material damage.
The early isolation of the island is an explanation for the endemic flora and fauna. Around 85% of the plants of New Zealand can only be found here. There are only three species of bats which can be found elsewhere, but naturally no land-living mammals. Therefore, birds like the kiwi or the kakapo have taken ecological niches which are usually captured by mammals: They are not able to fly and only move by walking. When New Zealand was discovered by Europeans in 1642, they brought cats, dogs and rats which still threaten the kiwi and kakapo populations today.
Thanks to a wide range of conservation projects the existing populations of kiwi and kakapo could be stabilized, but both species will be affected by the environmental changes that the climate change will be causing in the future.
The long history of the indigenous population of New Zealand, the Maori, and their culture is very special. Around 14,6 % of the whole population are Maori and their thousand-year old traditions can be experienced on both islands of New Zealand. Minority rights apply in New Zealand and have benefited towards the integration of the Maori into the rest of the population. A still very popular symbol of the Maori is a very detailed face tattoo, which shows the social rank and authority as well as personal characteristics.
When visiting New Zealand, for example as part of a volunteer experience with Natucate, you should plan to visit different parts of both islands to get an impression of the cultural and natural diversity of this fascinating place.