New Zealand (Aotearoa in Māori) is an island nation in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The country geographically comprises two main landmasses — the North Island, or Te Ika-a-Māui, and the South Island, or Te Waipounamu — and around 600 smaller islands. New Zealand is situated some 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and roughly 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of the Pacific island areas of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans. During its long period of isolation, New Zealand developed a distinct biodiversity of animal, fungal and plant life. The country’s varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks, such as the Southern Alps, owe much to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. New Zealand’s capital city is Wellington, while its most populous city is Auckland.
Sometime between 1250 and 1300 CE, Polynesians settled in the islands that later were named New Zealand and developed a distinctive Māori culture. In 1642, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman became the first European to sight New Zealand. In 1840, representatives of Britain and Māori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which declared British sovereignty over the islands. In 1841, New Zealand became a colony within the British Empire and in 1907 it became a Dominion. Today, the majority of New Zealand’s population of 4.7 million is of European descent; the indigenous Māori are the largest minority, followed by Asians and Pacific Islanders. Reflecting this, New Zealand’s culture is mainly derived from Māori and early British settlers, with recent broadening arising from increased immigration. The official languages are English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language, with English predominant.
New Zealand is a developed country and ranks highly in international comparisons of national performance, such as health, education, economic freedom and quality of life. Since the 1980s, New Zealand has transformed from an agrarian, regulated economy to a market economy. Nationally, legislative authority is vested in an elected, unicameral Parliament, while executive political power is exercised by the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister, who is currently Bill English. Queen Elizabeth II is the country’s head of state and is represented by a governor-general, currently Dame Patsy Reddy. In addition, New Zealand is organised into 11 regional councils and 67 territorial authorities for local government purposes. The Realm of New Zealand also includes Tokelau (a dependent territory); the Cook Islands and Niue (self-governing states in free association with New Zealand); and the Ross Dependency, which is New Zealand’s territorial claim in Antarctica.
Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted New Zealand in 1642 and called it Staten Landt, supposing it was connected to a landmass of the same name at the southern tip of South America. In 1645, Dutch cartographers renamed the land Nova Zeelandia after the Dutch province of Zeeland. British explorer James Cook subsequently anglicized the name to New Zealand.
Aotearoa (often translated as “land of the long white cloud”) is the current Māori name for New Zealand. It is unknown whether Māori had a name for the whole country before the arrival of Europeans, with Aotearoa originally referring to just the North Island. Māori had several traditional names for the two main islands, including Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui) for the North Island and Te Waipounamu (the waters of greenstone) or Te Waka o Aoraki (the canoe of Aoraki) for the South Island.
Early European maps labelled the islands North (North Island), Middle (South Island) and South (Stewart Island / Rakiura). In 1830, maps began to use North and South to distinguish the two largest islands and by 1907, this was the accepted norm. The New Zealand Geographic Board discovered in 2009 that the names of the North Island and South Island had never been formalized, and names and alternative names were formalized in 2013. This set the names as North Island or Te Ika-a-Māui, and South Island or Te Waipounamu. For each island, either its English or Māori name can be used, or both can be used together.
New Zealand was one of the last major landmasses settled by humans. Radiocarbon dating, evidence of deforestation and mitochondrial DNA variability within Māori populations suggest New Zealand was first settled by Eastern Polynesians between 1250 and 1300, concluding a long series of voyages through the southern Pacific islands. Genetic and archaeological evidence suggests that humans emigrated from Taiwan to Melanesia and then traveled east through to the Society Islands; after a pause of 70 to 265 years, a new wave of exploration led to the discovery and settlement of New Zealand. The most current reliable evidence strongly indicates that initial settlement of New Zealand occurred around 1280 CE. Previous dating of some Kiore (Polynesian rat) bones at 50 – 150 CE has now been shown to have been unreliable; new samples of bone (and now also of unequivocally rat-gnawed woody seed cases) match the 1280 CE date of the earliest archaeological sites and the beginning of sustained, anthropogenic deforestation.
Over the centuries that followed, these settlers developed a distinct culture now known as Māori. Leadership was based on a system of chieftainship, which was often but not always hereditary, although chiefs (male or female) needed to demonstrate leadership abilities to avoid being superseded by more dynamic individuals. The most important units of pre-European Māori society were the whānau or extended family, and the hapū (sub-tribe) or group of whānau. After these came the iwi or tribe, consisting of groups of hapū. Related hapū would often trade goods and co-operate on major projects, but conflict between hapū was also relatively common. Traditional Māori society preserved history orally through narratives, songs, and chants; skilled experts could recite the tribal genealogies (whakapapa) back for hundreds of years. Arts included whaikōrero (oratory), song composition in multiple genres, dance forms including haka, as well as weaving, highly developed wood carving, and tā moko (tattoo).
The original settlers quickly exploited the abundant large game in New Zealand, such as moa, which were large flightless ratites pushed to extinction by about 1500. New Zealand had no other native land mammals (apart from some rare bats) so birds, fish and sea mammals were important sources of protein. Māori cultivated food plants which they had brought with them from Polynesia, including sweet potatoes (called kūmara), taro, gourds, and yams. They also cultivated the cabbage tree, a plant endemic to New Zealand, and exploited wild foods such as fernroot, which provided a starchy paste.
As moa and other large game became scarce or extinct. Māori culture underwent major change, with regional differences. In areas where it was possible to grow taro and kūmara, horticulture became more important. This was not possible in the south of the South Island, but wild plants such as fernroot were often available and cabbage trees were harvested and cultivated for food. Warfare also increased in importance, reflecting increased competition for land and other resources. In this period, fortified pā became more common, although there is debate about the actual frequency of warfare. As elsewhere in the Pacific, cannibalism was part of warfare.
Around 1500, a group of Māori migrated to the Chatham Islands (which they named Rēkohu) where they developed their distinct Moriori culture. The Moriori population was all but wiped out between 1835 and 1862, largely because of Taranaki Māori invasion and enslavement in the 1830s, although European diseases also contributed. In 1862, only 101 survived and the last known full-blooded Moriori died in 1933.
The first Europeans known to reach New Zealand were the crew of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who arrived in his ships Heemskerck and Zeehaen. Tasman anchored at the northern end of the South Island in Golden Bay (he named it Murderers’ Bay) in December 1642 and sailed northward to Tonga following an attack by local Māori. Tasman sketched sections of the two main islands’ west coasts. Tasman called them Staten Landt, after the States General of the Netherlands, and that name appeared on his first maps of the country. In 1645, Dutch cartographers changed the name to Nova Zeelandia in Latin, from Nieuw Zeeland, after the Dutch province of Zeeland. It was subsequently Anglicized as New Zealand by British naval captain James Cook of HM Bark Endeavour who visited the islands more than 100 years after Tasman during 1769–1770. Cook returned to New Zealand on both of his subsequent voyages.
Various claims have been made that New Zealand was reached by other non-Polynesian voyagers before Tasman, but these are not widely accepted. Peter Trickett, for example, argues in Beyond Capricorn that the Portuguese explorer Cristóvão de Mendonça reached New Zealand in the 1520s, and the Tamil bell discovered by missionary William Colenso has given rise to a number of theories, but historians generally believe the bell “is not in itself proof of early Tamil contact with New Zealand”.
From the 1790s, the waters around New Zealand were visited by British, French and American whaling, sealing and trading ships. Their crews traded European goods, including guns and metal tools, for Māori food, water, wood, flax and sex. Māori were reputed to be enthusiastic and canny traders, even though the levels of technology, institutions and property rights differed greatly, from the standards in European societies. Although there were some conflicts, such as the killing of French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne in 1792 and the destruction of the Boyd in 1809, most contact between Māori and European was peaceful. From the early nineteenth century missionaries began settling in New Zealand and attempting to convert Māori to Christianity and control the considerably lawless European visitors.
The effect of contact on Māori varied. In some inland areas life went on more or less unchanged, although a European metal tool such as a fish-hook or hand axe might be acquired through trade with other tribes. At the other end of the scale, tribes that frequently encountered Europeans, such as Ngā Puhi in Northland, underwent major changes.
Pre-European Māori had no distance weapons except for tao (spears) and the introduction of the musket had an enormous impact on Māori warfare. Tribes with muskets would attack tribes without them, killing or enslaving many. As a result, guns became very valuable and Māori would trade huge quantities of goods for a single musket. From 1805 to 1843, the Musket Wars raged until a new balance of power was achieved after most tribes had acquired muskets. In 1835, the peaceful Moriori of the Chatham Islands were attacked, enslaved, and nearly exterminated by mainland Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama Māori. In the 1901 census, only 35 Moriori were recorded although the numbers subsequently increased.
Around this time, many Māori converted to Christianity. The reasons for this have been hotly debated, and may include social and cultural disruption caused by the Musket Wars and European contact. Other factors may have been the appeal of a religion that promotes peace and forgiveness, a desire to emulate the Europeans and to gain a similar abundance of material goods, and the Māori’s polytheistic culture that easily accepted the new God.
European settlement increased through the early decades of the nineteenth century, with numerous trading stations established, especially in the North. The first full-blooded European infant in the territory, Thomas Holloway King, was born on February 21, 1815, at the Oihi Mission Station near Hohi Bay in the Bay of Islands. Kerikeri, founded in 1822, and Bluff founded in 1823, both claim to be the oldest European settlements in New Zealand after the CMS mission station at Hohi, which was established in December 1814.
Many Europeans bought land from Māori, but misunderstanding and different concepts of land ownership led to conflict and bitterness. In 1839, the New Zealand Company announced plans to buy large tracts of land and establish colonies in New Zealand. This alarmed the missionaries, who called for British control of European settlers in New Zealand.
In 1788, the colony of New South Wales had been founded. According to the future Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip’s amended Commission, dated April 25, 1787, the colony of New South Wales included all the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean within the latitudes of 10°37’S and 43°39’S which included most of New Zealand except for the southern half of the South Island. In 1825, with Van Diemen’s Land becoming a separate colony, the southern boundary of New South Wales was altered to the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean with a southern boundary of 39°12’S which included only the northern half of the North Island. However, these boundaries had no real impact as the New South Wales administration had little interest in New Zealand.
Postal services in New Zealand have existed since at least 1831 when Captain William Hobson arrived in the Bay of Islands and took up his role as Lieutenant-Governor. The Postmaster-General of New South Wales deputed a Bay of Islands merchant to receive and return mail. Hobson appointed William Clayton Hayes as Clerk to the Bench of Magistrates and Postmaster. Hayes holds the distinction of New Zealand’s first civil servant to be dismissed as he neglected his duty and was continually inebriated. Hobson also issued an ordinance covering postal matters, although the British government retained control until 1848. In these initial years, only a small number of post offices were established.
The establishment of settlements across North and South Islands meant the need for an internal postal service was becoming more and more important, however New Zealand’s geography, and ongoing wars between Maori and Europeans and intertribal fighting hindered communication. At the time, shipping mail coast-to-coast, although inefficient, was the most reliable means of transporting mail around the country. A monthly shipping service to Sydney, where mail was exchanged with outbound and inbound London ships saw the first regular overseas mail service established.
In response to complaints from missionaries, about lawless sailors and adventurers in New Zealand, the British government appointed James Busby as Official Resident in 1832. In 1834, he encouraged Māori chiefs to assert their sovereignty with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1835. This was acknowledged by King William IV. Busby was provided with neither legal authority nor military support and was thus ineffective in controlling the European population.
In 1839, the New Zealand Company announced its plans to establish colonies in New Zealand. This and the increased commercial interests of merchants in Sydney and London spurred the British to take stronger action. Captain William Hobson was sent to New Zealand to persuade Māori to cede their sovereignty to the British Crown. In reaction to the New Zealand Company’s moves, on June 15, 1839, a new Letters patent was issued to expand the territory of New South Wales to include all of New Zealand. Governor of New South Wales George Gipps was appointed Governor over New Zealand. This was the first clear expression of British intent to annex New Zealand.
On February 6, 1840, Hobson and about forty Māori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. Copies of the Treaty were subsequently taken around the country to be signed by other chiefs. A significant number refused to sign or were not asked but, in total, more than five hundred Māori eventually signed.
The Treaty gave Māori sovereignty over their lands and possessions and all of the rights of British citizens. What it gave the British in return depends on the language-version of the Treaty that is referred to. The English version can be said to give the British Crown sovereignty over New Zealand but in the Māori version the Crown receives kawanatanga, which, arguably, is a lesser power. Dispute over the true meaning and the intent of either party remains an issue.
Britain was motivated by the desire to forestall other European powers (France established a very small settlement at Akaroa in the South Island later in 1840), to facilitate settlement by British subjects and, possibly, to end the lawlessness of European (predominantly British and American) whalers, sealers and traders. Officials and missionaries had their own positions and reputations to protect.
Māori chiefs were motivated by a desire for protection from foreign powers, the establishment of governorship over European settlers and traders in New Zealand, and to allow for wider settlement that would increase trade and prosperity for Māori.
Hobson died in September 1842. Robert FitzRoy, the new governor, took some legal steps to recognize Māori custom. However, his successor, George Grey, promoted rapid cultural assimilation and reduction of the land ownership, influence and rights of the Māori. The practical effect of the Treaty was, in the beginning, only gradually felt, especially in predominantly Māori regions.
The European population of New Zealand grew explosively from fewer than 1000 in 1831 to 500,000 by 1881. Some 400,000 settlers came from Britain, of whom 300,000 stayed permanently. Most were young people and 250,000 babies were born. The passage of 120,000 was paid by the colonial government. After 1880 immigration reduced, and growth was due chiefly to the excess of births over deaths.
Administered at first as a part of the Australian colony of New South Wales, New Zealand became a colony in its own right on July 1, 1841. It was divided into three provinces that were reorganized in 1846 and in 1853, when they acquired their own legislatures, and then abolished in 1876. The country rapidly gained some measure of self-government through the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, which established central and provincial government.
The colony gained a representative government in 1852 and the first Parliament met in 1854. In 1856, the colony effectively became self-governing, gaining responsibility over all domestic matters other than native policy. Control over native policy was granted in the mid-1860s. Following concerns that the South Island might form a separate colony, premier Alfred Domett moved a resolution to transfer the capital from Auckland to a locality near the Cook Strait. Wellington was chosen for its central location, with Parliament officially sitting there for the first time in 1865.
Postage stamps have been issued in New Zealand since around July 18 and 20, 1855, with the “Chalon head” stamps figuring Queen Victoria. The design was based on a full face portrait of the Queen in her state robes at the time of her coronation in 1837, by Alfred Edward Chalon. The stamps were initially hand cut from sheets, but from 1862 on, these sheets started being fed through automatic perforating machines. The Chalon heads were used until 1874 when the lithographed sideface stamps in various designs replaced them.
Postal services expanded greatly from the mid-1850s. The Local Posts Act of 1856 gave provincial councils the authority to create their own mail services and local Post Offices, while the Government continued to maintain the overland trunk postal routes and the head Post Office in each province. The Post Office Act of 1858 repealed the Local Posts Act, establishing the Post Office as a separate government department, reporting to the Postmaster General, and providing for its administration.
The Māori tribes at first sold the land to the settlers, but the government voided the sales in 1840. Now only the government was allowed to purchase land from Māori, who received cash. The government bought practically all the useful land, then resold it to the New Zealand Company, which promoted immigration, or leased it for sheep runs. The Company resold the best tracts to British settlers; its profits were used to pay the travel of the immigrants from Britain.
Because of the vast distances involved, the first settlers were self-sufficient farmers. By the 1840s, however, large scale sheep stations were exporting large quantities of wool to the textile mills of England. Most of the first settlers were brought over by a program operated by the New Zealand Company (inspired by Edward Gibbon Wakefield) and were located in the central region on either side of Cook Strait, and at Wellington, Wanganui, New Plymouth and Nelson. These settlements had access to some of the richest plains in the country and after refrigerated ships appeared in 1882, they developed into closely settled regions of small-scale farming. Outside these compact settlements were the sheep runs. Pioneer pastoralists, often men with experience as squatters in Australia, leased lands from the government at the annual rate of £5 plus £1 for each 1,000 sheep above the first 5,000. The leases were renewed automatically, which gave the wealthy pastoralists a strong landed interest and made them a powerful political force. In all between 1856 and 1876, 8.1 million acres were sold for £7.6 million, and 2.2 million acres were given free to soldiers, sailors and settlers.
Gold discoveries in Otago (1861) and Westland (1865), caused a worldwide gold rush that more than doubled the population in a short period, from 71,000 in 1859 to 164,000 in 1863. The value of trade increased fivefold from £2 million to £10 million. As the gold boom ended Premier Julius Vogel borrowed money from British investors and launched in 1870 an ambitious program of public works and infrastructure investment, together with a policy of assisted immigration. Successive governments expanded the program with offices across Britain that enticed settlers and gave them and their families one-way tickets. As immigrant numbers increased, conflicts over land led to the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s and 1870s, resulting in the loss and confiscation of much Māori land.
British writer Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796–1862) exerted a far-reaching influence. His plans for systematic British colonization focused on a free labor system, in contrast to the slavery in the United States and the convict labor in Australia. Inspired by evangelical Christianity and abolitionism, Wakefield’s essays (1829 to 1849), condemned both slavery and indentured and convict labor as immoral, unjust, and inefficient. Instead, he proposed a government sponsored system in which the price of farm land was set at a high enough level to prevent urban workers from easily purchasing it and thus leaving the labor market. His colonization programs were over-elaborate and operated on a much smaller scale than he hoped for, but his ideas influenced law and culture, especially his vision for the colony as the embodiment of post-Enlightenment ideals, the notion of New Zealand as a model society, and the sense of fairness in employer-employee relations.
Although norms of masculinity were dominant, strong minded women originated a feminist movement starting in the 1860s, well before women gained the right to vote in 1893. Middle class women employed the media (especially newspapers) to communicate with each other and define their priorities. The first signs of a politicized collective female identity came in crusades to pass the Contagious Diseases Prevention Act.
Feminists by the 1880s were using the rhetoric of “white slavery” to reveal men’s sexual and social oppression of women. By demanding that men take responsibility for the right of women to walk the streets in safety, New Zealand feminists deployed the rhetoric of white slavery to argue for women’s sexual and social freedom. Middle class women successfully mobilized to stop prostitution, especially during the First World War. Māori women developed their own form of feminism, derived from Māori nationalism rather than European sources.
In 1891 the Liberal Party, led by John Ballance, came to power as the first organized political party. The Liberal Government, later led by Richard Seddon, passed many important social and economic measures. In 1893, New Zealand was the first nation in the world to grant all women the right to vote. Elizabeth Yates was elected mayor of Onehunga, making her the first woman in the British Empire to hold the office. She was an able administrator: she cut the debt, reorganized the fire brigade, and improved the roads and sanitation. Many men were hostile however, and she was defeated for re-election. In 1894, New Zealand pioneered the adoption of compulsory arbitration between employers and unions.
New Zealand initially expressed interest in joining the proposed Federation of the Australian colonies, attending the 1891 National Australia Convention in Sydney. Interest in the proposed Australian Federation faded and New Zealand decided against joining the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. In 1907, at the request of the New Zealand Parliament, King Edward VII proclaimed New Zealand a Dominion within the British Empire, reflecting its self-governing status equal to Australia and Canada. In 1947, the country adopted the Statute of Westminster, confirming that the British Parliament could no longer legislate for New Zealand without the consent of New Zealand.
The country remained an enthusiastic member of the British Empire, and 110,000 men fought in World War I, of which 16,688 died. Conscription had been in force since 1909, and while it was opposed in peacetime there was less opposition during the war. The labor movement was pacifistic, opposed the war, and alleged that the rich were benefiting at the expense of the workers. It formed the Labour Party in 1916. Māori tribes that had been close to the government sent their young men to volunteer. Unlike in Britain, relatively few women became involved. Women did serve as nurses; 640 joined the services and 500 went overseas.
New Zealand forces captured Western Samoa from Germany in the early stages of the war, and New Zealand administered the country until Samoan Independence in 1962. However, Samoans greatly resented the imperialism, and blamed inflation and the catastrophic 1918 flu epidemic on New Zealand rule.
The heroism of the soldiers in the failed Gallipoli campaign made their sacrifices iconic in New Zealand memory, and is often credited with securing the psychological independence of the nation.
After the war New Zealand signed the Treaty of Versailles (1919), joined the League of Nations and pursued an independent foreign policy, while its defense was still controlled by Britain. New Zealand depended on Britain’s Royal Navy for its military security during the 1920s and 1930s. Officials in Wellington trusted Conservative Party governments in London, but not Labour. When the British Labour Party took power in 1924 and 1929, the New Zealand government felt threatened by Labour’s foreign policy because of its reliance upon the League of Nations. The League was distrusted and Wellington did not expect to see the coming of a peaceful world order under League auspices. What had been the Empire’s most loyal dominion became a dissenter as it opposed efforts the first and second British Labour governments to trust the League’s framework of arbitration and collective security agreements.
The governments of the Reform and United parties between 1912 and 1935 followed a “realistic” foreign policy. They made national security a high priority, were skeptical of international institutions, and showed no interest on the questions of self-determination, democracy, and human rights. However the opposition Labour Party was more idealistic and proposed a liberal internationalist outlook on international affairs.
The Labour Party emerged as a force in 1919 with a Socialist platform. It won about 25% of the vote. However its appeals to working class solidarity were not effective because a large fraction of the working class voted for conservative candidates of the Liberal and Reform parties. They merged in 1936 to form the National Party. As a consequence the Labour party was able to jettison its support for socialism in 1927 (a policy made official in 1951), as it expanded its reach into middle class constituencies. The result was a jump in strength to 35% in 1931, 47% in 1935, and peaking at 56% in 1938. From 1935 the First Labour Government showed a limited degree of idealism in foreign policy, for example opposing the appeasement of Germany and Japan.
Like most other countries, New Zealand was hard hit by the Great Depression of the 1930s, which affected the country via its international trade, with farming export drops then going on to affect the money supply and in turn consumption, investment and imports. The country was most affected around 1930–1932, when average farm incomes for a short time dipped below zero, and the unemployment rates peaked. Though actual unemployment numbers were not officially counted, the country was affected especially strongly in the North Island.
Unlike later years, there were no public benefit (‘dole’) payments — the unemployed were given ‘relief work’, much of which was however not very productive, partly because the size of the problem was unprecedented. Women also increasingly registered as unemployed, while Māori received government help through other channels such as the land development schemes organized by Āpirana Ngata. In 1933, 8.5% of the unemployed were organized in work camps, while the rest received work close to their homes. Typical occupations in relief work were road work.
When World War II broke out in 1939, New Zealanders saw their proper role as defending their proud place in the British Empire. It contributed some 120,000 troops. They mostly fought in North Africa, Greece/Crete, and Italy, relying on the Royal Navy and later the United States to protect New Zealand from the Japanese forces. Japan had no interest in New Zealand in the first place; it had already over-reached when it invaded New Guinea in 1942. There were a few highly publicized but ineffective Japanese scouting incursions. The 3rd New Zealand Division fought in the Solomons in 1943–44, but New Zealand’s limited manpower meant two Divisions could not be maintained, and it was disbanded and its men returned to civilian life or used to reinforce the 2nd Division in Italy. The armed forces peaked at 157,000 in September 1942; 135,000 served abroad, and 10,100 died.
New Zealand experienced increasing prosperity following the Second World War and Māori began to leave their traditional rural life and move to the cities in search of work. A Māori protest movement developed, which criticized Eurocentrism and worked for greater recognition of Māori culture and of the Treaty of Waitangi.
In 1975, a Waitangi Tribunal was set up to investigate alleged breaches of the Treaty, and it was enabled to investigate historic grievances in 1985. The government has negotiated settlements of these grievances with many iwi, although Māori claims to the foreshore and seabed have proved controversial in the 2000s.
Scott #302 was released on July 18, 1955, part of a set of three stamps issued to commemorate the centennial of New Zealand’s first postage stamps. The 2 pence deep green and brown stamp was designed by R.Maurice Conly of Christchurch, the stamp was recess-engraved by De la Rue & Co. Ltd. of London and printed it sheets of 120 stamps (two panes of 60), perforated 14 on Wiggins Teape ‘Royal Cypher’ paper with multiple NZ and star watermark. The stamp portrays a Maori mail runner, which was the first means used in New Zealand for the carriage of mail, with the background depicting the Auckland township in the 1850s with sailing ships in the harbor and Rangitoto Island in the distance. Mail runners often had to cross difficult terrain and swim treacherous rivers to deliver the mail.
The New Zealand Post Office didn’t create special covers for the first day of issue but encouraged collectors to submit plain envelopes for cancellation. An International Stamp Exhibition was held in Auckland from July 16-22, 1955, with special covers printed and a special date stamp made for mail sent from the exhibition.
The first transportation of mail in what was to become the Levin area was done by Maori runners carrying it from Wellington to Wanganui from 1844 onwards. Wai Hapa Pokau was the first runner there. Kepa Rangihinui, Major Kemp of the Maori irregulars in the NZ Colonial Forces during the Maori Wars of the 1860s, was also one as a young man.
Maori runners were chosen as they knew the country and the tribal areas they had to pass through. They also had the stamina to run the 100 mile trip each way. The mail was wrapped in packets and packed in a leather bag. The trip probably took several days, and when the service was extended to New Plymouth and Auckland the trip took several weeks. Locally, the route was along the beach.
When native unrest and threats of war occurred, the Governor discontinued the service with the mail again being carried by coastal schooners. Henry Burling of Wadestown refused to carry the pistol provided as he thought he would be safer without it.
The mail-runner service in Levin ended in 1858 when Cobb and Company began a coach service from Wellington to Wanganui. The coach mail service continued for several years after the trains began running in 1886.