New Zealanders weren't amused by a recent column in which I mentioned that we (that is, the rest of the world) didn't care what they think. I was chided for my careless attitude and was reminded of some of New Zealand's great accomplishments such being invasion-free for the last 169 years and having a lot of sheep. So to set record straight and to apologize for my previous callous remark, I'm going to devote the rest of this column to the natural wonders of New Zealand.
New Zealand, for my more geographically challenged readers, is far, far away. From everything. We Northern Hemispherians tend to think that Australia and New Zealand are right next to each other like Minneapolis and St. Paul or Kansas City, Missouri and, er, Kansas City, Kansas. But the reality is that New Zealand is well over 1000 miles from Australia.
And, apparently, the two countries like it that way. There is a friendly rivalry between the countries and while the rest of the world more or less lumps New Zealand into Australia by default, the Kiwis and Aussies believe there is a world of difference between their two fine upside-down countries. For example, two of the primary exports of New Zealand are wool and dairy products, whereas in Australia it's dairy products and wool. Also, their rugby uniforms are completely different colors.
Probably the most important difference to the casual observer is the fact that Australia is brimming with creatures armed with poison-laden fangs, stingers, and barbs while New Zealand is relatively venomous-creature free, possessing a single known species of poisonous spider, the katipo. The katipo, a red and black pea-sized spider, is so rare that hardly anyone has seen one. Contrast that with the hairy, two inch long poisonous Funnel Web spider that's so common in some neighborhoods of Sydney, Australia that it's been known to knock on doors asking to borrow a cup of sugar.
And while there are 14 species of poisonous snakes in Australia there are, in fact, no snakes -- venomous or not -- in New Zealand whatsoever, a fact of which the Kiwis are immensely proud. Occasionally, New Zealand's crack anti-snake defenses are put to the test such as when Australia playfully attempts to slip a deadly brown snake or two into a New Zealand-bound cargo container or when a sea snake washes up on the shores of a New Zealand beach such as described in the April 25th, 2008 edition of the Thaindian News:
"Wellington, April 25 (DPA): A sick yellow-bellied sea snake that washed up in usually snake-free New Zealand will be allowed to recuperate over the winter before being released back into the sea, according to news reports Friday."
The article went on to point out that the snake's venom is 10 times more powerful than any known land snake and that there is no known anti-venom.
Hello? What's wrong with this picture? While I'm not suggesting that New Zealanders should go hunting down poisonous sea snakes willy-nilly, it seems to me that once they wash up on their shores it might be more prudent if they met with "a tragic accident" rather than to nurse them back to health and release them. But that's New Zealanders for you.
Recently the discovery of fossilized snake bones created a bit of stir in New Zealand. Apparently, some scientists had been allowed to wander about unsupervised in the vast uncharted New Zealand wilderness. In addition to putting strange red and black pea-sized spiders in each other's sleeping bags ("Oi, Nigel! Ever see one of these blighters before?"), making s'mores, and scaring each other with ghost stories around the campfire, the scientists also found some 10 million year old fossils which proved that snakes once lived in New Zealand. "This is significant because it had long been thought New Zealand did not have snakes," said a spokesperson of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
In case you're wondering, "Te Papa Tongarewa" is Maori for "Formerly Snake-Free".