Observations on New Zealand

New Zealand is a total contrast to Vietnam my last stopping point. It is dramatically beautiful with space and peace. It is a land of snow capped mountains, national parks ,gorges, deep blue rivers, long coastal beaches and intensive agriculture. Gone is the frenetic scramble for a living and the ever present scooter that is the life in Vietnam.

The population is only 4.4 million of which 1.4 million live in Auckland – only 1.4 million in South Island. Space is not at a premium. Only 12% of the population is declared as Maori in origin. The Maori race is descended from the Polynesian Islands centred on the Cook Islands. They arrived in the 1200`s whilst the Europeans did not arrive in any volumes until 1840 and they were Scottish Presbyterian and free settlers. No convicts were ever sent to New Zealand. Captain Cook first surveyed the country in the 1760`s, but land was not officially declared British until the Waitangi agreement with the Maori`s in 1842. This treaty is presently being unravelled and state land is being handed back to the Maoris on terms which appear to be acceptable to the country. Revenues raised are being ploughed back into health care and education for the Maori disadvantaged. Other countries could do with following this example.

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New Zealand is relatively new in terms of the Earth`s development scale. It’s volcanic in formation, although only the North Island`s volcanoe are still active. Of course as recent events in Christchurch have demonstrated both islands lie on tectonic plates. This last earthquake lifted the mountains in the surrounding area by 14 cms in one go – now that is frightening. Of course the other side to this is that the country has been given an enormous gift by nature. It has endless access to Geo-thermal and Hydro-electric power, and this is green power. One such generating plant at the Huka Falls produces 16% of the total country`s electricity needs.

In the 1960`s Edward Heath (the lying toad) took Britain into the European Union and in passing destroyed the country`s fishing industry. He also, in the same process, cut the throats of the Australian and New Zealand agriculture industry. In the late fifties when I was on a Merchant Navy freezer boat we, along with countless other ships, brought back to Britain from N.Z. full cargoes of lamb carcasses, butter ,cheese and apples. Well, this trade virtually disappeared overnight. However N.Z. over time has very successively redirected their efforts into supplying China and other Asean countries with dairy products, fish, timber and tourism. Unfortunately Britain is still stuck with the European Union.

Rural landscape. New Zealand, 2006It is eye opening to drive through the farming communities. It gives the impression of green golf links whether the land be flat or hilly. As one of the farmers said to us “we farm the grass”. The dairy industry is huge and the cows are kept in high density herds moving from paddock to paddock like mowing machines. The milk is turned mainly into powdered milk before being shipped out. Even the sheep are kept in a similar high density fashion. However where there used to be over 60 million sheep there are now only 40 million. One of the draw-backs of rearing dairy herds is that on average half the calves will be bull calves which are reluctant to give milk. In the UK these are normally killed at birth, not so here, where they have their credentials adjusted and then are reared for two years before being slaughtered for ‘bull beef’ and sold to McDonalds. As the farmer said N.Z. was gifted with liquid gold (rain) which makes the grass grow and feeds the animals for free. It’s a similar story with the Forestry industry where the plantations are not so much managed but manicured. The tree trunks are huge and devoid of side branches and so give un-knotted wood. Massive lorry tractors pulling two full trailers move these huge trunks to the ports.

Driving on the roads is sheer bliss. You can drive for ten minutes, sometimes longer, without seeing another car. Mr Cameroon, Mr Clogg and Mr Millipede please note four weeks driving and not a pothole. Mind you the police are quite keen that you keep to their 100km speed limit. Even if you are the only car on the road except for the police car coming the other way it is not advisable to give him a cheerful wave. Their cars are fitted with forward looking radar and they love to hand out a 160 dollar fine to ageing tourists!

Not everything in N.Z. is wonderful. On the West Coast of South Island they have ‘sand flies’. These things bite and leave you with seven days of itching torment. Captain Cook was asked by Joseph Banks the naturalist on his boat to name these pests so he is reputed to have said lets call them “little black biting b…..ds”. Banks declined this name and they agreed to call them sand flies, even though there was no sand around. After a couple of weeks on the West coast I am sure that Cook was correct the first time.

New Zealand would seem to have a bright future. As the middle classes in China, India and the Asean countries continue to expand then the demand for N.Z products can only increase. Already these people are coming over to tour in coach loads and the hotel and guest house businesses are booming. New Zealand is friendly with all and keeps a politically low profile – importantly its immigration is tightly controlled. As long as the Liquid Gold continues to fall then this has to be a place to look for investments.