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Farm families

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Early European settlers in New Zealand often lived in great isolation in the countryside. Men outnumbered women at first but slowly rural families became the norm. People living away from towns had to be strongly self-reliant, and women and children played an important part in the day-to-day ...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Game birds

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Waiting for dogs to flush pheasants or quail, climbing a ridge before dawn to shoot Canada geese – New Zealand hunters target 14 species of game bird, both native and introduced.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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European exploration

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

When Europeans arrived in New Zealand, most of the country was already known to Māori. Yet throughout the 19th century, a number of European men set out on journeys of exploration. Missionaries, gold miners, farmers, scientists – many endured great hardship in their travels. They discovered ...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Geomorphology – a history

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

When James Cook and his crew first saw New Zealand, in 1769, they probably believed the land had been shaped by the biblical Great Flood. But why was this dramatic landscape so different from England? A century later, science had begun to find the answers – in particular, it had become clear ...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Lakes

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Mirror-like waters reflecting snow-capped mountains – a classic snapshot of New Zealand’s natural beauty. The hundreds of lakes are jewels in the country’s crown, treasured as fertile wetlands, rare habitats, tranquil fishing spots and swimming holes.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Ferns and lycophytes

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Dominant in native bush, and important traditionally to Māori for food and medicine, ferns have also become pervasive as a symbol of New Zealand identity. The fern motif is featured in commercial logos, creative design, and on national sports team jerseys. Ferns are a distinctive part of the ...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Lichens

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Even if you never venture into the bush, you will have noticed lichens. In the city they grow encrusted on just about anything – tree bark, roof tiles, asphalt and glass. A lichen is actually a combination of at least two organisms – a fungus and a photosynthesising alga or cyanobacterium. It...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Liverworts and hornworts

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Often overlooked or mistaken for mosses, liverworts and hornworts grow from New Zealand’s coasts to alpine zones, but most luxuriantly in rainforest. If you take a closer look, you’ll find an intriguing world of shapes and colours.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Lizards

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

There are two types of lizard in New Zealand: skinks and geckos. Those most commonly seen are small and dull-coloured. But this belies some unique adaptations to a temperate climate, and a great diversity – new species are being discovered all the time.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Freshwater fish

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

The cigar-shaped mudfish can survive for months out of water, hidden in river debris. Some whitebait can climb up steep waterfalls, and they have no scales. New Zealand’s freshwater fish are few but fascinating – and also very shy. Lurking in small streams, they are seldom seen.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Ngārara – reptiles

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

To Māori, reptiles were the descendants of Punga – the ugly god whose progeny were repulsive. Lizards and tuatara were feared as bringers of bad luck, and stories tell of hideous giant reptiles that captured women and married them. However reptiles were also seen as kaitiaki (guardians).

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Tuatara

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Tuatara have changed little since they lived alongside dinosaurs, over 220 million years ago. But these living fossils now survive in the wild only on New Zealand’s nearshore islands – where attempts are being made to ensure they don’t, like the dinosaurs, become extinct.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Whitebait and whitebaiting

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

In spring, if you peer into a river near its mouth, you may see translucent ribbons of tiny fish swimming upstream. What are they, and where are they going? It was only in the 1960s that scientists discovered they are actually juveniles of five species of native fish, heading inland from the sea...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Insects – overview

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

New Zealand teems with thousands of different insects. The country’s isolation and temperate climate have given rise to a distinctive insect fauna. More than 90% of species can be found nowhere else, and many have evolved remarkably differently from their relatives overseas.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Ants

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

New Zealand has only 11 known native species of ant – by comparison, Australia has about 1,200. The most common is the southern ant, which gathers and stores plant seeds. But the most bothersome are not natives. The white-footed ant invades houses in search of food, and the aggressive Argentine...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Beetles

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Around one third of all the world’s animals are beetles, and in New Zealand there are thousands of species. They are sturdy little creatures with hardened wings, and come in a myriad of shapes and sizes – from the outlandish giraffe beetle with its elongated head, to the familiar, tiny house ...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Butterflies and moths

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Butterflies remind us of summer, freedom and happiness; moths are mythologised as creatures of the night. Essentially, however, there are no important differences between the two. New Zealand has a higher rate of unique butterfly and moth species than anywhere else. But you won’t see them ...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Cicadas

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

The hot days and balmy nights of summer wouldn’t be the same without the chirruping of cicadas. It’s the males that make all that noise – they are often visible on lamp posts and tree trunks. But they have actually spent most of their lives in the dark, deep underground.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Birds of prey

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

New Zealand’s three native birds of prey are impressive hunters. The New Zealand falcon seizes other birds in mid-air, at speeds of up to 200 kilometres an hour. The Australasian harrier circles high on thermal currents, looking for prey, and the morepork flies almost silently as it hunts in ...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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Search and rescue

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Under clear skies, two trampers set off for a short walk in the hills. The weather turns stormy, and by evening they still haven’t returned. Who do you turn to? Search and rescue – teams of police and skilled volunteers who work to find the victims of treacherous weather, rugged terrain, and ...

Ministry for Culture and Heritage