1. Fiordland has a dark secret.
Maori legend holds that Fiordland’s magnificent inlets were carved by demigod Tu-te-raki-whanoa, who dug long valleys with an adze as shelter from raucous storms, and mysticism has definitely left its mark here. Tannins from the area’s temperate forests have stained the inlets’ relatively shallow waters black, which serves as perfect protection for the otherwise deep-sea black corals that inhabit the fiords.
2. Fat Freddy’s Drop has Aotearoan soul.
Fusing instrumental funk, house, and hip hop, Wellington’s hugely celebrated band Fat Freddy’s Drop dubs themselves as heavy soul providers. The band’s smooth sound is rooted in Maori culture, though they’ve sourced the globe for sonic inspiration — from Detroit techno to Punjabi Bhangra — to lay a solid rhythm way beyond the South Pacific. Above is a little sampler from their newest album, Blackbird.
3. New Zealand was home to the “tiger of the sky.”
Survival of the fittest prevails in a multitude of ways. For example, the fact that the islands of New Zealand were practically free from predatory competition triggered an evolutionary flux that produced birds of monstrous proportions. The phenomenon was coined Island Gigantism and explains the Haast’s eagle’s radical size and ultimate man-eating reputation as “tiger of the sky.” The bird went extinct around 1400, after its primary food source was hunted out of existence by humans.
4. The sacral head space is a Maori tapu.
The English word “taboo” is derived from the indigenous Maori tapu. The head and especially the hair, often seen ornamented with hawks feathers, red ocher, and shark oil, was the most tapu part of the body — to touch another man’s head was absolutely forbidden.
5. New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf has gone virtual.
The striking oceanic world of the North Island’s Hauraki Gulf has become digitized in an animated 3D simulation by Robert Hodgin, mastermind behind the otherworldly Auckland installation Moana – My Ocean. Exhibition visitors are taken on a journey into the gulf’s depths and given a glimpse of the bronze whaler shark’s real-time maneuvers through a kingfish feeding frenzy and into the Kermadec Trench — 10,000 meters down.
6. Maori poi forges new neurological connections.
Maori poi involves swinging weights in rhythmic and geometric patterns and was originally practiced to boost women’s dexterity for weaving and strengthen males’ coordination for battle. It wasn’t until later that poi became a performing art among the Maori, which eventually rippled across to fire-loving performance artists at Burning Man. G.I. Gurdjieff was the 20th-century spiritual teacher credited with discovering that poi could be applied to physical therapy and various healing practices to re-circuit the brain’s mechanical habits and spark new neurological links.
7. New Zealand and South Korea’s traditional dances get remixed.
Pop culture and politics sometimes find a common stomping ground. In 2012, Korea’s explosively viral “Gangnam Style” joined forces with New Zealand’s ancestral Maori Haka dance. The remixed Gangnam/Haka rendition was performed by the Te Arawa Maori Group in Seoul as a tribute to 50 years of good diplomatic relations between the two countries.
8. Maori culinary tradition heats up scientific investigation.
Scientists in New Zealand have discovered hangi stones to be a scientific research gem. Traditionally used for heating Maori steam ovens, the stones reach white-hot temperatures so fiery that their minerals will actually realign with magnetic fields at the center of the earth.
9. The legendary Dunedin Sound of the ’80s made waves in California’s Paisley Underground.
Dunedin Sound was New Zealand’s ’80s indie pop, a hybrid of the Velvet Underground’s late ’70s punk and the Beatle’s jangly guitar and psychedelic sound of the ’60s. The movement echoed through to California’s Paisley Underground and onto radio airwaves throughout Europe and the US. Flying Nun Records was a true purveyor of Dunedin Sound and released breakthrough ’80s artists like the Chills. The band is back with their first new single in ten years, Molten Gold, embedded above.
10. Zorbing is New Zealand’s homegrown adrenaline kick.
Zorbing was invented in New Zealand’s very own Bay of Plenty region and has since granted zorbers the chance to revel in the country’s radical vertical terrain. The zorb itself is a giant ball with a pivotal sense of orbit that essentially feels like being in a massive hamster ball. Sport junkies should brace themselves for “The Drop” in Rotorua, seen above.
11. New Zealand’s bird species have lost the flight, but not the love.
At a time when New Zealand’s birds were only hunted by bigger birds, staying on the ground was a solid survival tactic. Evolution left its mark, and many of the nation’s bird species remain flightless to this day. But what these creatures lack in wingspan they make up for in loyalty — multiple flightless species like the kiwi, kakapo, and tawaki penguin take their time selecting a mate and will stick with that one and only partner for life.
12. There’s 100 years of soda history here.
Every country has its kitsch, and like the Coca-Cola bottle that has been reinvented in every tint of retro on every corner of the globe, New Zealand’s own Foxton Fizz has been re-branded back to its original 1918 vintage getup to carry on the Kiwi legacy.
13. B-boying toprocks the South Pacific.
B-boying made its way to New Zealand via Western Samoa and was first seen practiced by young Polynesian and Maori males. America’s 1984 Beat Street laid the groundwork for the slang, clothes, and moves that shaped a royal blend of freestyling hip hop and New Zealand’s home-cut b-boy crew.
14. New Zealand’s fashion preserves its icons.
Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour transforms into New Zealand’s design hub twice a year. New Zealand Fashion Week shows over 50 of the country’s designers, who channel their talent through some of the country’s prolific icons like burlesque dancer Freda Stark and Auckland’s punk queen Judith Baragwanath. As the world’s second-largest exporter of Merino wool, New Zealand’s sustainable production also maintains its proud (and lavishly soft) craftsmanship.