Firstly, although English is the first language of this little Pacific nation, it wasn’t actually the British who were the first Europeans to first clap eyes on what the Maori people had been calling Aotearoa, The Land of the Long White Cloud. (And yes, let’s face it, the Maori name is a little more lyrical and romantic than the English version.)
Whilst the well-known Captain Cook was the first European to land in New Zealand in the late 1700’s – on three separate expeditions no less – and make a comprehensive mapping of the coastline, it was actually the Dutch who rocked up a century or so earlier.
Now, the Dutch were seemingly well ahead of the game here, what with managing to find a relatively tiny speck of land at the end of the world. If they’d overshot it they might’ve ended up in Antarctica. However, old Abel Tasman and the boys were convinced that they were on an island off the coast of Argentina. After much muttering and a few hasty calculations, a bit of head scratching and some embarrassed looks, they figured out where they’d actually ended up. Presumably, Abel Tasman covered the awkward silence by proclaiming that this new land was to be called… Nieuw Zeeland!
Well, as you would expect, Zeeland was a province in the Netherlands. The word ‘Zeeland’ actually translates to ‘sea-land’, which was not a bad shout from the explorer Tasman – especially when you think how silly he must have been feeling after landing somewhere thousands of miles from where he intended to be. Still, he came up with a nice name and then biffed off again. He still got his name pinned to a good many locations around the area in the end, being the first bloke to the party and all. These included the Tasman Sea that divides New Zealand and Australia, and also the island of Tasmania.
When Captain Cook sailed on into town about a century later – also, amazingly, by getting completely lost and sailing into the area quite by accident – he was quick to act in the time-honoured tradition of many explorers of the day and totally disregarded the fact that he was the second bloke to discover Nieuw Zeeland. He gave it the Anglican twist and renamed it the more English-friendly New Zealand. This is, obviously, how we all know it today. It’s nice though to be aware that this name didn’t just spring out of nowhere. That it came about through the – and this is looking at in a tongue-in-cheek way – ineptitude of two excellent and brave explorers and their crew. Who would’ve thought that two such crucial landings were the results of the equivalent of poor map-reading skills?
However it happened, New Zealand or Aotearoa, is a wonderful place to visit, and on reading this guide you’ll be a little more equipped to impress the locals.