Art -- As a visitor viewing our museum collections and contemporary galleries, it will soon become obvious that our artistic roots are firmly embedded in a mix of European tradition and Pacific, especially Maori, influences. In some ways the two are quite different. The early European tradition favored an emblematic and literary pairing of image and poetic allusion with subject matter leaning toward the land and self-questioning. The Maori tradition of figurative imagery (traditionally expressed in carving) asserted a strong genealogical identity. While it's easy to generalize, that difference probably still holds true today for much of New Zealand's contemporary art. While Maori artists have borrowed from the European traditions (materially and stylistically), contemporary Maori art is still usually very strongly concerned with what it means to be Maori. There is often a strong reference to heritage, myths, and legends in Maori work, though figurative art has also been inspired by the land and nature.
That said, Pakeha artists (non-Maori artists) are also heavily inspired by the land and nature. Perhaps that goes back to our short history and our closeness to the land. It's not so long ago that we were clearing forest (150 years) and carving out new lives in these remote islands. I think most New Zealanders at some point in their lives are aware of that geographical isolation. Our country and our population are both small, so perhaps we are more keenly aware of everything that happens to the land here; and perhaps we have a subconscious awareness of just how much our survival depends on the land. It would be fair to say that New Zealand as a nation has also struggled to come to terms with its own sense of identity as it developed from a pioneering colony into a modern western nation. Nowhere is that more obvious than in our artistic expressions. Time and again, still, you will hear people here talking about "a New Zealand identity" as if it were some mythical aspiration; yet I am firmly of the view that we already have an established New Zealand identity - especially in our art.
Among the most collectible of our contemporary artists are names like Colin McCahon (1919-87), Len Lye (1901-80), Toss Woollaston (1910-98), Rita Angus (1908-70), Philip Clairmont (1949-84), Bill Hammond (b. 1947), and Maori artists Ralph Hotere (b. 1931), Shane Cotton (b. 1964), Michael Parekowhai (b. 1968), and Robyn Kahukiwa (b. 1938) to name just a tiny smattering. Other important artists to look out for include Philip Trusttum, Barry Cleavin, Andrew Drummond, Tony Fomison, Neil Dawson, Séraphine Pick, Peter Robinson, Richard Killeen, Dick Frizzell, Mark Braunias, Gretchen Albrecht, and others. No matter how many I list, someone equally important will be left out.
Architecture -- When the first settlers arrived here, the only architecture in New Zealand was the Maori-built raupo (reed) whare (houses) and some ramshackle whalers' huts. It goes without saying that the British settlers quickly felled trees and began building little cottages (and later bigger houses and mansions) based on the British model. As wealth in the new colony increased, so did the stature and durability of the buildings. New Zealand's first substantial buildings were erected by missionaries in the Bay of Islands around 1814. You can still visit Kemp House and the Stone Store, both built in the Georgian style that set the tone for much that was to come.
Today in the wealthier suburbs of Auckland (Remuera, Parnell, Mount Eden, Devonport); Wellington (Thorndon, Mount Victoria); Christchurch (Fendalton, Merivale); and Dunedin (Maori Hill) you'll still find many fine large Georgian-style and Victorian homes. Christchurch and Dunedin in particular are known for their fine Victorian Gothic architecture. Sadly, many of these houses have been pulled down to make way for the new. Large sheep and cattle stations are spread throughout the country, but the South Island is blessed with huge homesteads from this period. If you're lucky, you may get to stay in some that have been converted into lodges or upmarket bed-and-breakfast accommodations. Canterbury's Otahuna Lodge is one example. It is one of the finest examples of Queen Anne architecture in Australasia and has been beautifully restored and converted into one of New Zealand's finest luxury lodges. I've tried to list a number of excellent B&Bs in fine old homes throughout the guide, so if you're interested in architecture, make sure you check each destination.
You'll also find some splendid early architecture in our churches. Throughout the country, from tiny towns to large cities, there are hundreds of examples of excellent ecclesiastical architecture well worth visiting. In the more remote areas of Northland and East Cape, you'll also find many exquisite little Maori churches. The best examples of these are St. Faith's Church in Ohinemutu, Rotorua, and St. Mary's at Tikitiki on East Cape. Both are open to the public and both feature exquisite carving and tukutuku paneling that you won't see anywhere else in the world.
Architecture buffs should also seek out Napier and the wider Hawke's Bay for one of the finest collections of Art Deco and Spanish mission architecture outside of Miami. Central Napier was rebuilt almost entirely in Art Deco style after the massive 1931 earthquake that obliterated the city. And in Oamaru in the South Island (btw. Timaru and Dunedin), you'll find an impressive collection of classical and Renaissance buildings complete with Corinthian pillars that will make you wonder if you've landed in a remote outpost of Greece.
Contemporary architecture - both domestic and commercial - is increasingly finding "a New Zealand voice." Our architecture very much follows the path of art in that regard. Yet it is said that only around 2% of New Zealanders employ an architect to design their home - it being seen as the realm of the wealthy - and many of the finest examples of modern New Zealand residential architecture are tucked away down long driveways, well away from easy public view. There are, however, many fine public buildings. Some, like the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington and the Christchurch Art Gallery in Christchurch, have not been without controversy and detractors. But we're a small nation and too often small minds rebel against the new. Perhaps that's the way of an isolated, island nation?
Wineries, too, are at the leading edge of New Zealand contemporary architecture as increasing numbers of vineyards realize the power of individualistic branding that includes a statement winery and (often) restaurant. Fine examples include Peregrine (Central Otago), Cable Bay (Waiheke Island), Craggy Range (Hawke's Bay), Elephant Hill (Hawke's Bay), and Villa Maria, Oyster Bay, and Spy Valley, all in Marlborough.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.