New Zealand



From its roots as a British colony, New Zealand emerged as a mixture of British influence and its native Māori culture. With a population of just over 5 million people, New Zealand has an outsized cultural impact in the region and the world. Join Active Minds as we tell the story of the world’s sixth largest island nation as well as why its inhabits are often called kiwis.

Key Lecture Points

  • New Zealand (NZ) is an island nation, located to the east of Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. The country is composed of two main islands: the North Island which boasts volcanos and thermal springs is also more developed and populated. The South Island is wilder and less developed in part, because of the rugged mountainous terrain of the Southern Alps.
  • It wasn’t until about 800 years ago that Māori (MOW-ree) explorers began to settle the islands, making New Zealand is the last significant landmass to be settled by humans. Named Aotearoa (“the land of the long white clouds) by the Māori, Europeans made several attempts to penetrate NZ but remained unsuccessful until the 19th century.
  • The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi is widely accepted as the constitutional document that established and guides the relationship between the British Crown in New Zealand, European settlers and the Māori population.  However, as increasing numbers of Europeans inhabited the country, the Māori population was largely marginalized, suffering economic and social decline and racial discrimination.
  • In recent decades, the government has made more effort to better integrate and celebrate Māori culture through measures such as designating Māori as an official language of the country. In 2022, a Māori tribe received an official apology and millions of dollars in redress for what the government called “atrocities committed by the crown, including indiscriminate killing and massive alienation of tribal land.”
  • Dominated by diverse landscapes, pristine coastlines, sheep-grazed fields, the volcanos and subtropical kauri forests of the North Island and the snowcapped summits of the Southern Alps on the South Island, New Zealand is an explosion of natural scenery. As part of the “Ring of Fire,” a pathway across the Pacific Ocean characterized by volcanic activity and earthquakes, New Zealand also regularly contends with natural disasters like landslides and floods.
  • New Zealanders, or “Kiwis,” have a global reputation for being adventurous, friendly and practical, traits that have been mirrored in the recent tenure of prime-minister Jacinda Ardern, who became an icon for left-leaning politics and women. Ardern surprised both Kiwis and the world when she resigned her post in late 2022.
  • In recent decades, the rich culture and dramatic scenery of New Zealand have been widely featured in popular culture and media.  The success of Academy Award winning film director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit), and the use of the lush NZ landscape for the filming of the Lord of the Rings film series has contributed to a global curiosity about NZ.

Discussion Questions

  • How did the Māori experience of colonialism compare to other peoples, such as Native Americans or the Aboriginal peoples of Australia?
  • How do you think New Zealand should best honor its blend of cultures?
  • How do you see environmental challenges impacting New Zealand?
  • Have you traveled to New Zealand? What was the most memorable thing you saw or experienced?
  • Do you think living on an island also provides a different perspective?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Catton, Elizabeth. The Luminaries. Bay Back Books, 2014. 864pps.  Detailing the mid-19th-century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, the book is part ghost story, part gripping mystery.
    Click here to order
  • Duff, Alan. Once Were Warriors. Random House, 2012. 210pps. A frank portrait of the impacts of poverty on Māori culture. One of the most talked-about books ever published in New Zealand and the basis of a major New Zealand film.
  • Hulme, Keri. The Bone People: A Novel. Penguin Books, 1986. 450pps. Booker Award–winning novel about the complicated relationships between three outcasts of mixed European and Māori heritage.
    Click here to order
  • Thompson, Christina. Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story. Bloomsbury, 2009. 288pps.  Thompson tells the story of her romance and eventual marriage to a Māori man, interspersing it with a narrative history of the cultural collision between Westerners and the Māori of New Zealand.
    Click here to order