New Zealand is full of amazing natural beauty and it has unique and compelling traditions. A culmination of European-based quirks and Maori customs has enabled New Zealand to craft its customs and traditions.
Here I have rounded up 6 Traditions to Watch in New Zealand that you can find only in New Zealand and the inhabitants can understand and relate to.
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6 Traditions to Watch in New Zealand
1. A chocolate carnival on the steepest street of World
Baldwin Street of Dunedin is popular for its steepest street in the world. But do you know this place is also hosts the city’s annual Cadbury Chocolate Carnival? To start the sweet festivities, giant Jaffa balls, which are orange chocolates that are unique to New Zealand, roll down this steep stretch of road. Here there are many other competitions, choc-filled activities, and an iconic Crunchie Train to enjoy the festival. This is one of the 6 traditions to watch in New Zealand.
There is even a Cadbury Couture night on July 19, with folks on the runway wrapped with Cadbury foils, as well as chocolate decorating, chocolate painting and the Larnach Castle Cadbury Winter Ball.
The week finishes off with something called the Cadbury Jaffa Race. Jaffas are a Kiwi favourite; balls of orange and sugar-coated chocolate made in New Zealand since 1931. For the big race, they send giant Cadbury Jaffas hurtling down Baldwin Street in Dunedin, which locals claim is the world’s steepest street.
2. Gumboot Day
Taihape is a small town in the center of the North Island that prides itself on being ‘the gumboot capital of the world‘. Every year since 1985, the community celebrates Gumboot Day — a fun-filled family event that includes the town’s famed gumboot throwing contest. The iconic festival is held on the Tuesday after Easter, and its biggest ambition every year is to break the world record for the longest gumboot throw.
Depending on local custom, different rules applies to the sport. In parts of Somerset, for example, the boot is filled with water before being thrown. Some competitions allow a run up before releasing the boot, while others require the throw from a standing position—which can be done by making the thrower stand in an empty dustbin. In Welbury, North Yorkshire, the size of the boot thrown must be large enough to comfortably fit the thrower. Other competitions specify the size of the boot and the manufacturer.
3. The Haka
If you are aware of rugby, you’d know this one quite well. The haka is a traditional Maori war dance. Usually, New Zealand’s All Blacks team performs this dance although it is also a traditional dance of Maori. Earlier, the pre-battle war cries and dances were performed to provoke fear and proclaim the strength of Maori warriors. This is when they usually perform a haka dance. Now it has become a tradition and you can see the performance if you visit a marae, or if you participate in any special Maori celebrations and rituals.
New Zealand traditionally sings the song Ka Mate, which is a war cry since 1820 by a Maori chief Te Rauparaha. It was first performed by the All Blacks in 1888, but only at away matches until 1986.
The Ka Mate Haka is also performed during high-profile funerals or to greet foreign dignitaries. But in 2005, they came up with a newer version called Kapa O Pango, which is exclusive to the All Blacks rugby team and only performed during certain matches.
Nowadays, whenever New Zealand take to the field, nobody knows which version of the Haka they will sing. Against South Africa, Read and Perenara led the team in performing Kapa O Pango.
This is a traditional welcoming ceremony if you are going to visit a Maori house (whare), meeting place (marae), or tribe (iwi). This is how they welcome their guests. A powhiri usually begins with three warriors challenging the guests to evaluate if they are entering their territory in peace, while a kaikaranga (female caller) leads the visitors towards them. It is followed by presentations, waiata (traditional songs), and speeches, and then the powhiri end with the hongi – a traditional meal.
5. A Hangi
It is different from hongi. It is a customary Maori cooking method. This is prepared underground, using heated rocks that are buried in a pit oven. Food is kept on top of the stones, meat is cooked first, and other items are covered with flax mats or hessian bags for over three hours during the cooking process. This food is saved for special occasions, though you can have these meals when you take part in various Maori encounters across the country.
Hāngī wraps in flax leaves, but a modern Hāngī is more likely to use mutton cloth, aluminium foil and wire baskets. The baskets are placed on hot stones at the bottom of a hole dug into the ground. They cover the food with a wet cloth and a mound of dirt that traps the heat from the stones.
The Hāngī is left in the ground for about three to four hours, depending on the amount of food. The result of this process is tender meat and delicious vegetables, infused with smoky, earthy flavours.
6. All things Kiwiana
While it is not a tradition that has to be followed, this is something that residents usually cherish and follow. Kiwiana is a cultural relic that helped define Kiwi identity and the local way of life. In this tradition, you will find the Edmonds Cookbook, which has been teaching New Zealanders to make their favourite meals for many generations, as well as the classic Buzzy Bee toy, Maori cravings, paua shells, and the pavlova.
Exploring the vibrant and unique traditions of New Zealand offers a delightful journey through a tapestry of cultural heritage, quirkiness, and authentic Kiwi spirit. From the sweet indulgence of the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival in Dunedin, the fun-filled antics of Gumboot Day in Taihape, to the awe-inspiring spectacle of the Haka and the serene solemnity of the Powhiri, each tradition tells a story of the people and the land they inhabit.
Moreover, the traditional Maori cooking method, A Hangi, invites you into a unique gastronomic experience, full of smoky, earthy flavours, while all things Kiwiana keep alive the memories and identity of the local culture. Each of these traditions paints a different facet of New Zealand’s culture, making it an exciting, diverse, and enriching country to explore. In essence, they serve as a testament to the country’s shared history and evolving identity, reminding both locals and visitors alike of the rich tapestry of life that makes up New Zealand.