Story: Perceptions of the landscape
The first Europeans in New Zealand found its landscapes desolate and forbidding – unless they could be used for farming, gold mining or timber. ‘A mountain here is only beautiful if it has good grass on it … if it is good for sheep, it is beautiful, magnificent, and all the rest; if not, it is not worth looking at,’ wrote Samuel Butler in 1863. Later, unspoilt lakes, forests and snowy peaks became central to the notion of ‘beautiful New Zealand’.
Full story by Jock Phillips
Main image: Framing the landscape
The Short Story
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Land was very important to Māori. In Māori tradition, the North Island was Te Ika-a-Māui, a fish caught by Māui. New Zealand was called Aotearoa – the land of the long white cloud. Māori told stories about how the land was shaped, and the places their ancestors had lived.
The first Europeans
The first Europeans in New Zealand looked at the landscape to see how it could be used. British explorer James Cook and his crew saw good soil for growing plants, rivers for fishing, and trees th at could be cut down for timber. But they thought the mountains of the South Island were ‘nothing but barren rocks’.
In the 19th century, British people were encouraged to move to New Zealand. When they arrived, they wanted to make money from the land – by farming, gold mining or timber milling.
New Zealand was much wilder and more isolated than the English countryside. Many settlers found it desolate and lonely. They planted English trees to help them feel at home, and cut down native forests to clear land for farming.
Missionaries and artists
Some missionaries admired New Zealand’s rugged landscapes as the work of God. Artists also valued the land’s beauty, and painted the mountains, lakes and waterfalls.
Tourism and scenery
From the late 19th century, overseas tourists visited New Zealand to see the geothermal area near Rotorua, the lakes of the South Island, and the Southern Alps. Guidebooks were written, with photos of beautiful scenery. New Zealanders became proud of their scenic landscapes.
The Scenery Preservation Act, passed in 1903, protected areas of important natural scenery.
Mid-20th-century writers and artists
From the 1930s, writers and artists worked to make a New Zealand culture that did not borrow from British culture. The country’s wild landscapes helped them define their identity.
Saving the bush
After the 1960s, more people came to think that the bush was important. There were campaigns to save forests and other wild areas from being destroyed.
Movies such as The lord of the rings have been made in New Zealand, because the scenery is so varied and dramatic.