By Venetia Sherson
When I was a newspaper editor, the question I was asked most was, "Why is there so much bad news?"
I would answer that 'news', by its very nature, is something unusual. Thus, we will rarely see stories about millions of international flights successfully reaching their destinations or reports from countries where disease is not rife. News headlines are dominated by crises (health 'crisis', housing 'crisis', cost of living 'crisis') - a word used too freely in my opinion, except in relation to climate change.
On the day of writing, the top local stories on two large New Zealand news sites featured gang warfare, a mall robbery, a suspicious death, Treaty of Waitangi divisions, accidents, Gaza atrocities and predictions of heavy rain. The effect is to make us feel glum, despairing even. It can take a great effort to see good things against a backdrop of relentless negativity.
So, at the risk of being accused of jingoism - or at the very least having my head buried in the sand - here are 10 reasons why Aotearoa is a great place to live:
We are not corrupt
Yes, we have unscrupulous scammers and white collar criminals, but we are one of the least corrupt countries in the world according to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The CPI ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, scoring on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). New Zealand ranks second equal with Finland with a score of 87, just below Denmark (90). Australia ranks 13th and the US 24th. Somalia, ranked lowest, scored 12.
Walks and Wheels
Our walkways and cycleways are renowned and accessible. Since 2009, when former prime minister John Key turned the first sod of the government's cycle trail project (Ngā Haerenga), nearly 3000 kilometres of trails have been completed. Te Araroa, the walking trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff has joined the 10 Great Walks as the preferred option for travellers who seek wilderness above the crowds of the Camino.
Duck Island icecream was born in my hometown. In summer, the queue for scoops is long. New Zealand is blessed with good icecream, though sometimes with a hefty price tag.
Our health service is often in the news for all the wrong reasons: lack of staff, long waits for treatment, GP shortages. But let's not understate the skill of our health professionals and scientists. Last year, Professor Beverley (Bev) Lawton, ONZM (Ngāti Porou) and Professor Michael Baker (he of Covid fame) were awarded prestigious medals for their work, respectively in cervical cancer prevention in wāhine Māori and in the causes of acute rheumatic fever.
Everyone knows someone you know
The idea that we're all connected by just 'six degrees'- six other people - is entrenched in folklore. In New Zealand - with a population similar to Sydney - it is said to be closer to two degrees, hence the name of the telecommunications company. Whether that is true or not, I find it strangely comforting to start a conversation with, "You may know my friend/colleague…" and see the other person nod.
New Zealand writers are soaring overseas. Last year Catherine Chidgey, Anna Smaill and Emily Perkins had a string of globally successful releases, all set in New Zealand. Chidgey told The Guardian New Zealand authors "seem to write from the point of view of the outsider, from someone living on the fringes. And I think that's maybe geographical - we do live on the fringes of the world."
Things we eat and drink
2023 brought fierce economic headwinds to the hospo sector, but our wines, craft beer and kai continue to win fans here and abroad. Wines are now our fifth largest export ($2.3 billion). Craft beer breweries have grown from 70 to 200 in the past decade. On the food front, our talented chefs continue to push the limits of deliciousness with seasonal local produce, while keeping a watchful eye on zero waste and sustainability.
We literally punch above our weight. Ask Joseph Parker who has risen to No 3 in the world heavyweight boxing rankings ahead of Tyson 'The Gypsy King' Fury. Ditto the Wellington Phoenix, now top of the A-League Men. Golfer Lydia Ko won her 20th LPGA title this year, Jack Jordan, 26, has won 10 world wood-chopping titles, Megan Whitehead set a world lamb-shearing record, Dame Lisa Carrington is our most successful Olympian. And, how about Scott Dixon (motorsport), Steven Adams (basketball), Chris Wood (English football) Ruby Tui (rugby)?
Some politicians would have us believe we are divided. ACT leader David Seymour claims Te Tiriti (the Treaty of Waitangi) has got out of hand. Māori academic Ella Henry recently reminded us this happens every decade. Remember the fiscal envelope, she said, the foreshore and seabed. She sees it as a reset and believes it reinforces the notion of who we are. Kia ora to that. My English-born mokopuna are fluent in te reo. The language is embedded in our history. This is how I want to be in Aotearoa.
Honesty boxes, little libraries
A lot of things have been banned in the interests of hygiene (shared drink bottles), allergies (shared lunchboxes) and home baking stalls (risk to public health). But roadside honesty boxes live on, selling produce fresh from the vendor's garden, eggs, honey, and flowers. Pony poo is usually free. There are laws that apply but thus far no bans, except during Covid, when it was deemed dodgy to share anything. Little libraries are a godsend for visiting grandchildren. Ours is in an old fridge.
*Venetia Sherson is a Waikato journalist