Culture of New Zealand

Traditional wood carving by the Maori people
Traditional wood carving by the Maori people

Situated in the South Pacific over two hours by air from its closest neighbor, New Zealand's culture very much reflects its geography. Settled by Maori hundreds of years ago and later colonized by the United Kingdom in the 19th century, New Zealand offers a unique mix of Maori culture, entrenched by hundreds of years of isolation, and a more modern culture reminiscent of the United Kingdom.

Because of this, visitors from other Western countries, particularly Western Europe and the United States, will find a unique combination of familiar sights and customs, and interesting history that's unique to New Zealand. Familiar brands and multimedia are found, albeit often with a twist found only in New Zealand, and occasionally in trans-Tasman neighbor Australia.

Culturally, New Zealand can be divided into several different parts, with each region representing a different nation's culture. As one of the world's last land masses to be colonized, both by Maori and by European settlers hundreds of years later, New Zealand's major settlements each have a distinct national feeling to them. Some feel Scottish, French, or Maori, while others may bring feelings of nostalgia to visitors from Britain.

Auckland, the country's largest city and its early capital, is like most other modern cities. Once an outpost for British colonial troops, the city has the largest Maori and Polynesian communities in the country due to its location. Because of this, New Zealand's early culture is very evident in the city – paintings, sculpture, and Maori heritage sites are dotted around the city and its famous harbor.

This Maori and Polynesian culture extends both north and south, effectively covering the northern half of the North Island. Further to the south, at the bottom of the North Island, is Wellington, the country's capital, and its major arts hotspot. Home of New Zealand's film industry and production company Weta Workshop, the city has produced famous films such as The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and the recent Adventures of Tintin.

Wellington, and to a lesser extent Auckland, are examples of New Zealand's cafe culture. With more cafes and restaurants per capita than New York City, Wellington shows off the country's diverse and interesting attitude to food. Immigrants from Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and Europe contribute to a fantastic assortment of dining options, making the city New Zealand's culinary capital.

Christchurch, Dunedin, and Nelson are New Zealand's major southern cities, each offering a unique look into life in New Zealand's South Island. Slower paced and relaxing, the South Island is a major source of New Zealand dairy products and agricultural production – the country's biggest economic resource. Due to the region's famous natural beauty, New Zealanders from the South Island tend to be particularly proud and protective of their country's environment.

In some ways, New Zealand's geographic isolation has affected its culture, particularly in the field of technology. Despite getting new devices as soon as they're out, New Zealanders seem concerned more with quality of life than increased efficiency – a trait that's seen in both the country's industry and its everyday life. New Zealanders aren't afraid to sacrifice time if it improves their standard of living, and visitors seeking the rush of cities like Hong Kong or Sao Paulo just won't find it here.

However, for visitors in tune with New Zealand's national spirit – relaxing, enjoying life, and taking care of their environment – the country has a great deal to offer. From natural beauty to cafe culture, New Zealand is a cultural experience that's unlikely to shock many people, but very likely to charm those looking for a great blend of relaxation, exploration, and Western familiarity.