CultureGrams Worldwide Saints

Part 1: Overview of New Zealand, Series Introduction


The first discovery of the New Zealand Islands is attributed to Kupe, the
Polynesian explorer. Maori migrations from Polynesian islands probably
began before A.D. 900. These early Maori were warlike but highly skilled
and organized. In 1642, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted the islands and
named them Staten Landt. He did not go ashore because of an unfriendly
Maori reception, and the islands remained largely uncolonized until the
1800s. Dutch geographers changed the islands' name to Nieuw Zeeland-after
the Dutch province of Zeeland-but the English, with the help of Captain
James Cook's visit to the Maori in 1769, opened the door to European
(chiefly British) settlement. Western contact led to a decline in the Maori
population, owing to the introduction of disease and modern weapons in
tribal warfare.

New Zealand covers 103,737 square miles (268, 680 square kilometers) and is
about the same size as Colorado. The indigenous name for New Zealand is
Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud). This mountainous island nation
lies along the South Pacific about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) southeast
of Australia. The two principal landforms are the North Island and the
South Island. Stewart Island is south of the South Island, and the Chatham
Islands are mostly uninhabited. The more populous North Island has fertile
agricultural land, the largest man-made forest in the Southern Hemisphere,
and a few isolated snow-capped volcanoes, hot springs, mud pools, and
geysers in its thermal region.

On the South Island, the Southern Alps provide magnificent scenery and
snow, along with glaciers, lakes, and rivers. Southwest coastal fjords
rival those of Norway. Coastal lowlands are used for agriculture. Both
islands have many sandy beaches. The climate is temperate, with plenty of
sunshine, and few extremes in the weather. In the winter, particularly in
the south, high humidity makes it seem rather cold, even though average
temperatures rarely go below 40 degrees. The seasons are opposite of those
in the Northern Hemisphere.

New Zealand's population of 3.8 million is growing annually at 1 percent.
The majority (80 percent) of New Zealanders are Pakeha (of European
dissent), and about 13 percent are Maori. The Maori are Polynesian and live
mainly on the North Island. Other Polynesians (Tongans, Samoans, Cook
Islanders) comprise about five percent of the population. Most of these
people migrated to New Zealand after 1946. There is also a small Fijian
Indian minority. Immigration from Pacific islands continues, but is being
eclipsed by immigration from Asia. Chinese and Indians now comprise 2
percent of the total population.

Most New Zealanders (81 percent) identify themselves as Christians,
including Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and Methodists.
However, only about 11 percent attend Church on a regular basis. Attendance
is higher on religious holidays. About 1 percent of New Zealanders are
Hindu or Buddhist. The Ratana and Ringatu Maori Christian Churches have
large congregations. Most of the rest of the population either does not
affiliate with a religion or has not specified a particular belief.

Missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints first
came to New Zealand in 1854. After 1880, when missionaries began
concentrating their proselyting efforts on the Maori people, the Church in
New Zealand grew rapidly.  Elder Matthew Cowley (1897-1953) of the Quorum
of the Twelve did much for the Church in New Zealand as a missionary,
mission president and supervising General Authority and is still remembered
with fondness by church members in New Zealand. The New Zealand Temple and
adjoining Church College of New Zealand were dedicated in 1958. In that
same year, the first stake organized outside of North America was organized
in Auckland, New Zealand.  Today there are 25 stakes supporting nearly
90,000 members of the Church in New Zealand.


This is the first in a twelve-part series on the history of the Church in
New Zealand. The series will focus on the people who have labored and
events that have transpired to establish and grow the Church in New
Zealand. We would like to include user-submissions in the series.  We are
interested in your personal accounts of historical events, your missionary
experiences, and your family history experiences, related to New Zealand.
We hope to hear from members, returned missionaries, and others who have
lived and labored in New Zealand.  Please indicate by year when events
submitted occurred. Submissions should be sent to  All
submissions become the property of GEMS' sponsor and will be considered for
inclusion, in whole or in part, in messages in the GEMS Worldwide Saints:
New Zealand Series.

CultureGrams, a division of MSTAR.NET sponsors GEMS Worldwide Saint
messages. Material in this article was drawn from CultureGram's "New
Zealand CultureGram". CultureGrams publishes concise, reliable cultural
reports on more than 175 countries. For more information on CultureGrams

GEMS is grateful to R. Lanier Britsch for his support and contribution to
this series.  Brother Britsch's book "Unto the Islands of the Sea, A
History of the Latter-day Saint in the Pacific" (Deseret Book, 1986) is a
great resource on the Church in New Zealand and is available on Deseret
Book's electronic reference library GospeLink 2001. Buy GospeLink online at

If you served a mission in New Zealand, you belong to the New Zealand
Missionary Society. To receive society mailings, send your contact
information to P.O. Box 12841, Ogden, UT 84414. For more information see

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