Real Life

Is New Zealand the best country in the world?

After Telegraph readers voted New Zealand the top destination in the world, NEXT asks, is New Zealand the best country on the planet?
New Zealand southern alps

Yes – Sharon Stephenson, travel writer

When I lived in London, a homesick flatmate had scribbled this on the bathroom wall: “When we get to heaven, we’re going to look around and say: ‘It’s nice but it ain’t New Zealand’.”

Like so many Kiwis, my parents crossed oceans and cultural differences to make New Zealand their home. They could have gone to the UK, Canada or Australia, places with more people, better weather and greater opportunities. Instead, they chose the teardrop-shaped islands at the rump end of the earth.

Thanks to their foresight, I grew up in a country that regularly tops polls as the best in the world. And why wouldn’t it? For starters, New Zealand is a looker. As a travel writer, I’m usually flying over the country in a hurry to get in or out of it.

But I recently criss-crossed the North Island on a road trip for a story, visiting places I haven’t been to in years. For most of the journey, my eyebrows hovered somewhere near my hairline: I was gobsmacked at how stunning this wee country of ours really is.

Other things to love: we rate highly when it comes to being safe, honest and tolerant and we’re consistently ranked one of the least corrupt nations. Plus, we have the world’s steepest street and longest place name: Hawke’s Bay’s Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. A name that stretches to 85 letters.

Whenever I return from overseas, I’m thankful there are more vending machines in Japan than there are people in New Zealand. Unlike other city-dwelling residents around the globe, I don’t have to put up with someone living above me, below me or on either side of me. Not long ago, I ran into my graffiti-loving London flatmate. He’d recently returned to New Zealand after living all over the world. Why? “There’s nowhere better,” he said, eyeing up a spray-can and a blank wall.

No – Rachael Harwood, NEXT sub-editor

I love New Zealand and I’m so proud to be from here. It’s a stunning country and Kiwis are known for being warm and friendly. Sadly we also have some grim statistics that hide in the shadows of our snow-capped peaks and verdant hills.

We have the highest rate of intimate partner violence and the second highest rate of child homicide in the OECD; we’re breaking our own records for youth suicide and sit in second position for this statistic in the OECD.

In his book Squandered, environmental scientist Dr Mike Joy reveals the shocking state of our environment; the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research says 62 per cent of all water bodies here are unsafe for swimming due to high E. coli levels.

Dogs and horses have died drinking river water that hosts cyanobacteria; risks for children are clear. Nearly half our monitored lakes are ‘eutrophic’, which can be deadly to animals.

We have one of the highest rates of biodiversity decline in the world; Dr Mark Bellingham of Forest & Bird says this decline is “unlikely to be arrested or reversed when Crown-owned indigenous wildlife are afforded no statutory habitat protection” on private lands. And it’s risky to focus on GDP without subtracting the negatives of an intensive agriculture economy. A report called Growing For Good by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment states there is “evidence that nitrogen from farming sources enters and contaminates New Zealand’s surface waters, groundwater, soils, and atmosphere”.

We can’t fix these problems without analysing them, and that means not resting on our laurels. Sure, we’re a good-looking country, but we’re a young country. Our landscapes may be unspoiled, but is that just because we haven’t spoiled them yet? We have a friendly, funny, happy culture – but are we in denial?

It’s time to look at the country we want to leave for future generations. Or do we just want to keep our heads in the long white clouds?

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