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Over my years on the road, several times I have found myself circling back to the Land of the Long White Cloud (a common nickname and translation for Aotearoa, the Maori name for the country). New Zealand is a country best known to some as Middle Earth (yet another fun fact and a nickname given by Tolkien fans), and the lush landscape does the name justice. The three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in New Zealand are among the prettiest spots in the country, although it would be impossible to actually choose a favorite—Tongariro National Park and Te Wahipounamu are both recognized for their stand-out natural beauty as well as the cultural significance of the latter to the Maori people.
Over my visites, I’ve driven the North and South Islands and explored many hidden pockets of the country. Given how much New Zealand offers curious travelers, it’s time for the next installment of 8 Facts You Might Not Have Known: New Zealand facts edition.
1. New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote.
Women in New Zealand (then a British colony) were granted the right to vote on September 19, 1893 and voted in the first election on November 28, 1893. Universal suffrage did not occur in the United Kingdom until 1928 and in the United States until 1920.
Bonus Fact: The Isle of Man gave women who owned property the right to vote in 1881, beating New Zealand by two years, but not fully counted since it was not universal voting rights for all women on the island at the time.
2. Nowhere in New Zealand is more than 128 km (80 miles) from the sea.
The country is an island (two to be precise), and rather long and slender. As a result, you’re never more than an hour or two from the sea, no matter where you choose to travel in New Zealand. You could be skiing in the Southern Alps and splashing in the ocean in the same day.
3. New Zealand has the world’s longest English language place name.
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu is a Maori word for a hill locatex on the North Island of the country. Roughly translated it means, “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”
It’s locally known as Taumata, but the long form of the word is in the official register. The longest non-English place name is the traditional name for Bangkok, Thailand—another series contender, read our Fascinating Facts About Thailand. The video below is not only fascinating, but he also pronounces the place for you to hear just how long it sounds spoken out loud!
4. New Zealand has the world’s largest hot water spring.
Frying Pan Lake near Rotorua is the world’s largest hot water spring, it reaches a temperature of 200°C at its deepest point. The area around Rotorua is actually the second largest geothermal area in the world after Yellowstone National Park.
5. New Zealand has the southernmost vineyards in the world.
The vineyards of Central Otago, New Zealand are the southern most vineyards in the world, located at 45° South.
To give you a comparison, the northernmost vineyard is at 61° North in Finland, and the Bordeaux region in France is at approximately 45° North. New Zealand wines are famous around the world, especially the white wines.
6. New Zealand contains more bookstores and golf courses per head of population than any other country.
To be snarky, the abundance of bookstores is probably due to the poor internet you’ll find in New Zealand—OK, maybe not, but it could be why so many have remained even once the internet took hold.
The golf courses is probably due to the good weather and available land. That being said, I can’t think of a great Kiwi golfer off the top of my head!
7. New Zealand has 10 sheep for every one person.
In line with the stereotypes you’ve heard about New Zealand, they actually do have way more sheep than people. The ratio used to be much more lopsided, but a growing population and a shrinking agriculture bases now has it down to a modest 10-to-1 ratio. Let’s hope the sheep never get organized.
8. New Zealand is home to the world’s only flightless parrot, the Kakapo, as well as the only alpine parrot in the world, the Kea.
Last time I was in the country, I heard stories about the Kea and how they can take cars apart. They will literally land on cars and start dismantling the antenna, windshield wipers, hood ornaments, and anything they can get their beak on—it’s uncommonly good at the task!
Recommended Resources And Readings:
And if you’re keen to learn more fascinating facts about New Zealand’s rich history, culture, and landscape, here are our favorite reads.
Best Books About New Zealand:
- Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story: A truly fascinating book about the collision of cultures when the Maori and explorers collided, told from the eyes of a woman who married into the Maori culture.
- The Maori: The History and Legacy of New Zealand’s Indigenous People: Starting with Captain James Cook’s historic expedition, this looks at first encounters with the Maori and the unique history of the indigenous people of New Zealand.
- A Short History of New Zealand: A great read for when you want all the pertinent facts and details about New Zealand’s history concisely described and presented in an immensely readable format.