We arrived home safely about 9 p.m. last night (Thursday, August 24, 2000 Houston time), 28 hours after waking on the same date in the distinctly “Scottish” town of Dunedin on the South Island of predominately “British” New Zealand. New Zealand is an extraordinarily beautiful Pacific country composed of two major islands, situated 1200 miles southeast of Australia. Explorers launch out from NZ to Antarctica and the South Pole. If you imagine England and Scotland 125% larger, inverted in the South Pacific, you won’t be far wrong. Or think of California, reduced by 25%, then stretched thinner to extend from Mexico to Canada. New Zealand is situated about the same distance south of the Equator as the USA is north, which makes August its final month of winter, with weather somewhat matching our entire west coast except upside down.
Although relatively small, and obnoxiously overshadowed by its distant neighbor Australia, New Zealand has numerous claims to fame. It was the birthplace of novelist Katherine Mansfield and of movie actor Russell Crowe, and it is still the homeland of explorer Sir Edmund Hillary. New Zealand yachtsmen beat the USA to capture the current America’s Cup racing trophy. Golfer Tiger Woods’ caddy, Steve Williams, is a native New Zealander. The black sand beaches in “The Piano” were filmed on New Zealand’s North Island; its South Island mountains have been chosen as the site for a series of movies based on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. New Zealand is homeland to kiwi fruit and the flightless kiwi bird (the people also call themselves “Kiwis”) and the home of Cadbury chocolate. New Testament scholar E. M. Blaiklock is a New Zealander, as is theologian Murray J. Harris.
New Zealand’s first known inhabitants were the 14th century Maoris, who presumably traveled there by dugout canoes from Polynesia, some 2,000 miles away. They named the thin, lengthy islands Aotearoa — “the Land of the Long White Cloud.” Dutch explorer Abel Tasman arrived in 1642 and called it “Nieuw Zeeland,” after a province in Holland. British Captain James Cook came still later, and New Zealand soon was colonized by immigrants from England.