Story: Visitors’ opinions about New Zealand

‘So … what do you think of New Zealand?’ New Zealanders have often been sensitive about the views of overseas visitors, with criticisms by the Rolling Stones, John Cleese and Paul Theroux making scandalised headlines. Other comments have been more positive, extolling the virtues of the landscape, the culture and social reforms.

Story by Jock Phillips
Main image: Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Visit to New Zealand

Story summary

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Living in a small, isolated country, New Zealanders have often given great importance to the views of visitors from larger societies overseas.

Early visitors’ views

The first European visitors were interested in New Zealand’s value to their own societies. They focused on its resource potential and the nature of Māori.

  • Dutch explorer Abel Tasman thought it was a fine, mountainous country, but found Māori aggressive.
  • British navigator James Cook and his crew thought New Zealand was fertile and productive, and that Māori were warlike but skilled at fishing, crafts and gardening.
  • English artist Augustus Earle thought Māori were splendid and good-looking, but criticised European missionaries.
  • Missionaries William Yate and William Wade saw Māori as stupid and lazy.

Later 19th century

Tourists from overseas became more common after 1865, and included some well-known writers. Most visitors were impressed by the scenery, and found the society quite English. Many praised the progress of settlers in developing farms and cities. Some criticised Māori for drunkenness or greed, while others saw them as noble, hospitable and intelligent.

Some visitors noted that New Zealanders were overly patriotic.

Examining social reforms

From the 1890s some people visited to report on the social reforms of the Liberal government. They included American journalist Henry Demarest Lloyd, French academics Albert Métin and André Siegfried, and English socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb. New Zealand was seen as the ‘social laboratory of the world’.

20th and 21st century

Until jet travel began in the 1960s, making it easier to travel to New Zealand, visits by famous people received thorough coverage from the media. Visitors were always asked what they thought of the country.

From the 1950s some travellers criticised the food, the public drunkenness and New Zealanders’ dress. Others found the country conservative, racist or boring. The Rolling Stones called Invercargill ‘the arsehole of the world’.

In the early 2000s there were more overseas visitors. New Zealanders were more self-assured and less worried about what individual visitors thought. Travel publishers such as Lonely Planet praised the country for its beauty, adventure tourism and nightlife.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Visitors’ opinions about New Zealand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 20 June 2012