Consider a place as green as Ireland, with more sheep than people, and possessing an island culture where it seems everyone knows everyone else.
Consider a place that claims Peter Jackson as a native son, the All-Blacks rugby team as important celebrities, and will as members of the Commonwealth of Nations – still roll out the red carpet for Prince Henry who visited while we were there.
Consider a place where thermal hot springs and volcanic islands craters and major earthquakes abound.
Consider all this, and you’ve got New Zealand.
The Maori people were the first modern humans to settle this land about 600 years ago. Their legacy looms large in New Zealand today. Many if not most town names and roads (outside of the larger towns with English names such as Wellington and Christ Church) are derived from Maori names such as Waiheke, Rotorua, Taupo, Wairapa, and Rangihoua. A Maori totem is stamped on the coin of the realm. The two major museums we visited both had exhibits about the Maori culture – and we learned that they came by boat to the uninhabited island – most likely from Polynesia and had no written language. We learned from our Maori tour guide at the “Glow Worm Cave” that they also did not name living things, but used words to identify them that described their behavior.
Sustainability is an intense concern everywhere we visited (modern public transport in even small towns) and olive groves that used sheep rather than machines to prune the root shoots that need to be removed unless you want your olive tree to (re)turn into an olive bush. We saw windmill farms, hydroelectric and geothermal plants but the islands are nuclear free. Being healthy by eating well is important – olive growers have less of a problem selling EVOO here than elsewhere.
Local is recognized as being better. We were there to visit olive groves and presses – but since wherever you can grow olives you can usually grow grapes – we drank lots of wonderful wines grown on the island. Still we were told that national drink is not wine, but beer and we saw many local breweries and were told of a particularly wonderful local brew “Eight Wire Beer” – named after a product that is like duct tape in the US – used to fix just about anything that’s broken.
These islanders love to travel – and not only the grove owners and press managers that we met had traveled to the US – but the waiters and motel workers and museum guides had been as well. The spirit of adventure looms large in these islanders’ hearts. So, if we take a land as pastorally beautiful as possible, people who love their community and are yet open and adventurous, and a culture that celebrates pub life while insisting on healthy and clean living – does that not strike you as close to the Bilbo, Sam, and Frodo’s Shire as possible? By the way, immigration is welcome.
Rich’s photos can be found here: New Zealand Tourist: https://www.dropbox.com/sc/jhgnp4rm1h1el2p/AABKpJ9XOrNlwtiypFy5FrxDa