Monday, 20 May 2013

So What Do You Think of New Zealand?

Lake Ada, Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand

For almost 150 years practically the first question asked of visitors to these fair isles has always been "So what do you think of New Zealand?" By and large, most early visitors were indeed impressed but for others the vast distance from their own homeland, the lack of familiar surroundings, the relative lack of cultural pursuits and amenities, and the absence of close friends and family obviously influenced their enjoyment of a visit "down-under". Perhaps our intense loyalty to New Zealand but also our relative insecurity as a young and sparsely populated sovereign nation, at least by European standards, has meant that we have not always appreciated - or expected - a negative response.

A shearing gang, along with the property owner and his wife,
William & Agnes Watson of "Mayfield" Heddon Bush, enjoying
a tea break. All are of Scottish or Irish descent. Taken circa 1915

My own Great Uncle, Jack Watson, and upon his arrival in New Zealand from Scotland in July 1910, wrote to his Sister in Scotland :

"Almost the first thing that strikes the new chum on his arrival is the open, free and easy nature of the people and the almost total absence of that class distinction so marked in the old country. Here everyone is alike socially; more like a member of a great family than an individual in a civil community."

So, let us now read some of the comments made by others after having visited or arrived in this far flung and loyal outpost of the [then] British Empire. Interspersed with these comments are some early postcards and photographs which portray something of the still young and emerging nation of New Zealand. All images are from my own collections.

Cranmer Square, Christchurch with the English Gothic styled
Christchurch Normal School in the background

The great drawback to New Zealand – or should I more properly say to travelling in New Zealand – comes from feeling that after crossing the world and journeying over so many thousand miles, you have not at all succeeded in getting away from England” – Anthony Trollope, English Novelist (1815-1882)

A Māori Village, Rotorua. I do believe the top-hatted
European gentleman at right is preaching to the group.
Photographer : Mr R.A. Cook, taken c.1900-1901

I am persuaded the inhabitants of New Zealand will become a great and powerful nation when once the Light of Divine Revelation begins to dawn upon them.” – Samuel Marsden, English Missionary (1764–1838)

"A Māori Wahine [woman]"

New Zealand, my Dear Father and Mother, and the natives thereof, remain much the same; savage warlike disposions [sic] are the predominant features of a New Zealander” – George Clarke, CMS Missionary and founder of the Waimate Mission (1798-1875)

The Postmaster at Paterson's Inlet Post
Office Stewart Island, the southernmost
Post Office in New Zealand, takes time
out to greet the local dogs. Note the
 "VR" [Victoria Royal] enamel sign

Well, to tell you the truth, I never was in a place where they talked more about work and did less of it” – Rudyard Kipling, English Writer (1865-1936)

"The Remarakables", as viewed from Frankton on Lake Wakatipu

The trouble with New Zealand is that it is rather too pleasing a place. There is a danger of it being over-run by the riff raff of Europe. I suggest it might be a good idea to instruct the Tourist Department to say something about the horrors of New Zealand” – George Bernard Shaw, Irish Journalist, critic and playwright (1856-1950)

The southernmost gas lamp and omnibus in the world,
South Invercargill New Zealand

I suppose they are happy. I couldn’t bear it” – Lady Diana Cooper, Viscountess Norwich, English Socialite (1892-1986)

Larnach Castle, Otago Peninsula, built 1871-1887, has 43
rooms and required 46 servants. Taken during the Castle's
 revival under the Purdie family. The building at right
is the ball room, now the castle tea rooms. c.1930's

This was my first visit and extraordinary is the only word I can find for the country and its people. Everything appears to be marvellously well done. Whether it is from a sense of conscience or perfection I don’t know” – Baroness Philippe De Rothschild, French Aristocrat (1908-1976)

A mountain & forest scene

It’s a beautiful place, you must go” – H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1900-2002)

A group attired in fancy dress during the Lacrosse
Games, Auckland. Taken circa 1901.
Photographer : Mr R.A. Cook

I thought, that if you put a selection of people from the British Isles into antipodean cool-storage for a century and a half and then opened the door, we are what would emerge” – Dame Ngaio Marsh, New Zealand Novelist (1895-1982)

Mitre Peak in the famous Milford Sound,
Fiordland, New Zealand

It appears to me, too, that the national name which New Zealand bears is a very mean and sorry name. No man ever did less for any country he discovered than the Dutchman Tasman did for New Zealand. He came, saw and left it…” – Charles Flinders Hursthouse, English writer (1812-1876).

Lower Queen Street Auckland, pre 1910

Being an old Victorian, am much more at home here than in London. You are quite natural to me, but to the English visitor born after 1900 you probably appear quaint, foreign and incredible” – George Bernard Shaw, Irish Journalist, Critic and Playwright (1856-1950)

The Kelburn Cable Car and Tea Kiosk (with fanciful towers)
overlooking the capital city of Wellington

My Dearest Mother, … You will wish to know what this place is like and I will try to describe it, though as I know of no part of England at all like it, it will not be easy to give you a clear notion of it” – Thomas Arnold, English Educationalist (1823-1900)

Washing the dishes after an outdoors summer Christmas
picnic lunch at Heddon Bush in Southland, 25 Dec 1916

You can never make New Zealand like Britain. The difference in the vegetation and seasons prevents it, and it is not to be desired. Eating plum pudding and roast goose, with thermometer 100 in the shade, simply because it is Christmas is nonsense…” – Charles Edward Douglas, Scottish Explorer, Naturalist and Surveyor (1840-1916)   

Mt. Egmont / Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand

A mountain here is only beautiful if it has good grass on it. Scenery is not scenery – it is ‘country’… If it is good for sheep it is beautiful, magnificent, and all the rest of it; if not, it is not worth looking at” – Samuel Butler, English Explorer, Sheep Farmer & Author (1835-1902)

The evidently quiet "one horse town" of Paeroa
in the Northern Waikato of the North Island

Welcome to purgatory!” – Rev James Watkin, English Wesleyan Missionary and the first European Preacher in the South Island (?-1886)

A canoe on the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia

Farewell, New Zealand! I shall never see you again, but perhaps some memory of my visit may remain… Every man looks on his own country as God’s own country if it be a free land, but the New Zealander has more reason than most…” – Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, Scottish Writer, Doctor and Spiritualist (1859-1930)

Lower Queen Street Auckland with the new Chief Post Office at left.
This building now serves as the Britomart Transport Terminal

It is apparent from reading these papers, as from a thousand other signs, that it is London which is the true capital for New Zealanders and that they derive thence their ideas, their fashions and their catchwords” – André Sigfried, French Political Scientist (1875-1959)

The famous White Terraces on Lake Rotomahana
were unfortunately  obliterated in 1886, not by
the hand of man but by the forces of nature 

I have never ceased to be thankful for two things. One is that I was born with an intense love for the beautiful in Nature, and the other that I came to New Zealand before the hand of man had spoiled most of its natural beauty” – Charles Blomfield, English Landscape Artist and Explorer (1848-1926)

Dunedin in 1859. The 'first' First Presbyterian Church
is at bottom right, being now the Dowling Street car park

I believe we were all glad to leave New Zealand. It is not a pleasant place” – Charles Darwin, English Naturalist (1809-1882)

The Boer War Memorial, Invercargill,
unveiled by the Premier, Sir Joseph Ward,
on the 3rd June 1908

This is a wonderful country – or would you call it an archipelago? ... You see a lot of beards and knee socks. And sweaters. You also see an awful lot of war memorials” – Paul Theroux, American Author (1941-)   

The suspension bridge over the Kawarau River in Central
Otago, having been built in 1880 and now used
 as a platform for bungy jumping

I had the impression that it [New Zealand] was close to Australia or Asia or somewhere, and that one went over to it on a bridge” – Mark Twain, American writer and Novelist (1830-1910)

Moray Place Dunedin and the imposing Gothic styled
First Church of Otago [Presbyterian], c.1910  

Such nice people! And the civilisation they represent, that’s nice too. Nothing very exciting or spectacular, of course… And everything in a quiet provincial way, thoroughly cosy and sensible” – Aldous Huxley, English Novelist (1894-1963)

Part of a tinted black and white panorama photograph of sheep
at "Mayfield", the property of William Watson, at Heddon Bush
in Southland, taken by RP Moore of Wellington, 1920's
[The original negative for this image is held by the
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington , Ref 30652875]  

“…Where men but talk of gold and sheep and think of sheep and gold” – William Pember Reeves, New Zealand Barrister, Journalist, Sportsman and Politician” (1857-1932)

Use of Images :

All images are from my own collection  and may be freely copied for non-commercial use provided a link is given back to this site. If you require high resolution copies of any images please contact me using the email link in the right-hand menu bar.


  1. Some great pictures there. I'm always saddened when I see pictures of the pink and white terraces that they no longer exist. There is a beautiful painting of them hanging in The Chateau at National Park.

    1. Thank you. So long since I stayed at The Chateau I don't recall that painting unfortunately. I suppose we must be thankful that the Terraces survived long enough to be immortalised in photographs and paintings but sadly they are something that cannot be recreated by the hand of man.


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