Despite a decade marred by disasters, including devastating earthquakes and mining and helicopter tragedies, New Zealand has never lost its nerve. The country remains a titan on both the silver screen and the sports field, and change is coming in the world of politics...
Cultural and Sporting Colossus
For a small country, New Zealand has enjoyed plenty of time on the world stage lately. Cementing NZ’s reputation as a primo movie set, movie director James Cameron has been working out of Wellington on his long-awaited four Avatar sequels. They’re slated for staggered release between 2020 and 2025...good thing New Zealanders are a patient bunch. Meanwhile, director Taika Waititi has been enjoying a wave of global adulation. His works Boy (2010) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) broke records in NZ and vampire flat-sharing mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (2014), a horror-comedy co-directed with Jemaine Clement, ensnared a cult following. But Waititi went stratospheric as the director of Thor: Ragnarok (2017), injecting distinctly Kiwi humour into a Marvel franchise that had lost its zest.
In the world of sport, NZ remains a force to be reckoned with. Following the All Blacks' success at the 2011 Rugby World Cup at home, the beloved national team beat arch-rivals Australia in 2015, becoming the first country ever to win back-to-back Rugby World Cups. The pressure is on for the 2019 World Cup, especially with stalwarts Richie McCaw and Dan Carter announcing retirement from the national team. After the Black Caps made the final of the Cricket World Cup for the first time in 2015, they were deprived of glory in a stinging loss to their trans-Tasman rivals Australia. The 2019 World Cup is their chance to seize victory. Out on the water, Emirates Team New Zealand scored a victory in 2017 at venerable sailing race the America’s Cup. Auckland 2021, anyone?
Being a dream destination isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially when tourist numbers boom and property investors swoop in. Aussie and Asian buyers are increasingly wise to NZ property – some seek holiday homes, others see the far-flung nation as a safe haven from global unrest and nuclear war. Cue a spiralling housing crisis, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranking NZ’s housing as the most unaffordable in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2016.
The worst effects have been felt in Auckland, home to almost one-third of the country’s population. Auckland has struggled to keep pace with demand for housing since the post-WWII housing boom, but in recent years rental rates and house prices have sprinted past local incomes, dashing dreams of home ownership and leaving more New Zealanders homeless. With house prices that grew by 75% within four years, oversubscribed Auckland was named one of the world’s least affordable cities. There were signs of a slowdown at the end of 2017, but Auckland Council and the government have scrambled to plan more than 420,000 new dwellings, clamp down on foreign buyers and plug black holes in the construction sector – where a dearth of skilled tradespeople and monopolies on building supplies have helped contribute to eye-watering prices. With Auckland’s population expected to increase by one million in the next 30 years, the fixes can’t come swiftly enough.
International property purchasers aren’t the only ones carving off a little too much of NZ. The issue of managing NZ’s increasing number of visitors – now an annual 3.54 million – is high on the agenda, particularly from a conservation perspective. In response to the enormous popularity of the North Island's Tongariro Alpine Crossing, DOC has placed a time limit at the car park at the beginning of the track, forcing tourists to use traffic-reducing shuttle services. Meanwhile, tourism hubs like Te Anau, gateway to world-famous Milford Sound, are seeing their peak season start ever earlier, and local grumbles about the numbers of visitors on tramping tracks and roads are getting louder. A country beloved for being wild, green and beautiful faces the challenge of keeping it that way, in the face of a tourism stampede.
Kiwi battler spirit has been repeatedly pushed to its limits over the past decade. Christchurch’s recovery from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes suffered a setback when another quake hit in 2016, while earthquakes in Kaikoura in November 2016 rattled road and rail access until repairs were finished at the end of 2017. But NZ doesn’t just rebuild, it reinvents: pop-up cafes and restaurants and a shipping-container mall showed how fast Christchurch could dust itself off after disaster. Ensuing years have allowed the bigger post-earthquake projects to take shape, including the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial, unveiled in 2017.
Another notable memorial remembers the Pike River Disaster in 2010, in which a methane explosion claimed 29 lives – the country’s worst mining accident in more than a century. Following the wishes of the families of the men killed in the accident, the site of the mine has been folded into Paparoa National Park and their memorial will be a new ‘Great Walk’, opening in 2018.
In 2010 she was NZ’s youngest sitting MP, by 2017 she was running the country. The swift rise of Jacinda Ardern has been touted as part of a global political shift. Ardern became the youngest ever Labour Party leader in 2017, only a few weeks ahead of the election that propelled her to the role of prime minister at the age of 37 – making her NZ’s youngest PM for 150 years. Passionate about climate change, unabashedly feminist and an ardent supporter of gay rights, Ardern’s ability to win support with her energetic style was dubbed ‘Jacinda-mania’. The final polls gave Labour a less-than-maniacal 37% of the vote, but resulted in a coalition government led by Labour.
Ardern’s articulacy and verve have seen her aligned with other youthful, socially progressive world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, part of a youth-powered political sea change. But Ardern’s style remains quintessentially Kiwi: unpretentious and accessible. When an Australian radio journalist sought to fact-check the correct pronunciation of Ardern’s name in 2017, he was astonished to be connected with the PM directly, who explained the right pronunciation personally. It’s ‘AH-durn’, if you’re wondering.