By Fergus Cleaver
If you have a globe handy, give it a spin. (Or just open Google Maps.) Take a gander at New Zealand, if you can find it. It’s down there, south and east of Australia, beyond the great constellation of tropical atolls and islands in the South Pacific.
Truth be told, New Zealand’s cities are among the world’s most isolated major population centers. Nevertheless, their host country holds an outsize grip on the global imagination—fueled in part by the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy, much of which was filmed against an awe-inspiring Kiwi backdrop, but also by the islands’ unique, polyglot culture and friendly, laid-back lifestyle.
It’s okay to admit that you’re fascinated with New Zealand. Just don’t exaggerate how much you know about this one-of-a-kind island nation. Most non-Kiwis don’t know these five things about New Zealand, for instance. How many were on your radar?
No typo here. That’s the longest place name in the English-speaking world. Of course, it’s not English—it’s Maori, New Zealand’s dominant pre-colonial language, and it roughly translates to “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”
Um, OK. Still, Taumata (as it’s mercifully known for short) is definitely worth a visit if you’re in New Zealand. It’s a prominent hill that peaks about 300 meters above sea level, near Hawkes Bay, on the southeastern corner of New Zealand’s North Island.
2. New Zealand Has No Terrestrial Snakes
Indiana Jones would love New Zealand. The island nation is home to exactly zero species of land snake. The lack of native snakes is no doubt due to New Zealand’s geographical isolation, and the lack of introduced species is probably down to the fact that snakes didn’t survive the long transoceanic journey back in the early days of colonization. New Zealand’s fragile ecosystem is beset by plenty of other invasive species, including such “mundane” creatures as common rats and possums.
3. New Zealand Has No Native Land Mammals Except Bats
Another crazy Kiwi wildlife fact: No native land mammals except flying rats!? It’s true. In prehistoric times, New Zealand was dominated by birds and reptiles, with the sole mammalian niches filled by furry, fruit- and insect-gobbling bats. The Maori, who arrived in New Zealand centuries before Europeans, introduced the first mammals, and things got really out of hand when the Brits came to town.
4. The First Bungee Jumping Company Started in New Zealand
Not surprising, given the dramatic landscape. Next time you’re dangling off a high bridge somewhere, remember what got you there—and, hopefully, what will get you out of the situation.
5. New Zealand Has More Golf Courses Per Capita Than Anywhere Else
New Zealand is often thought of as an adventure sports destination, and that’s undoubtedly true. But it’s also an unheralded golf mecca. The country has more than 400 courses—a huge number in a land with fewer than 4.5 million permanent inhabitants. The good news is that there’s less competition for tee times here.