Aotearoa New Zealand - a right royal destination

New Zealand’s legacy of 19th-century British settlement helps touring royals feel at home, and offers fascinating visitor experiences.

New Zealand’s legacy of 19th-century British settlement helps touring royals feel at home, and offers fascinating visitor experiences.

When you are more than 18,000 km from home you expect to be in unfamiliar surroundings – but not if you are a British royal visiting New Zealand. From its subtropical north to its temperate south, the nation is liberally sprinkled with place names that reflect its 178-year history first as a colony, then as a Dominion, and from 1947 as a sovereign member of the Commonwealth group of nations.  

Google searches reveal that New Zealand has no less than 69 streets, roads and avenues named Queen, 68 street names called King, and 45 Princes and 23 Princess streets. And, thanks to its settlement during the long reign (1837-1901) of Queen Victoria, it also has a whopping 94 references for Victoria and 67 for her husband Albert, the Prince Consort.  

While 19th-century English colonists adopted many Māori place names, they also added their own to help make a new land feel like home. New towns and localities often memorialised places in England, honoured imperial heroes and victories, and recognised the achievements of colonial governors and administrators. Royal names were typically reserved for principal streets and important civic amenities, and during their week-long tour of Wellington, Nelson-Tasman, Auckland and Rotorua in October 2018, His Royal Highness Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex would have found themselves in places dotted with familiar names and even statues of family members.          

Victoria and Albert in Auckland

In its short career as a colonial capital (1841-1865) before the honour was transferred to the geographically central city of Wellington, Auckland acquired many royal monikers. Its principal commercial street is, unsurprisingly, Queen Street, which is flanked, also unsurprisingly, by Albert Street on one side and by Albert Park on the other. The attractive park occupies part of the earliest area of European settlement in Auckland and among its many items of historical interest is, unsurprisingly, an 1897 bronze statue of Queen Victoria marking the Diamond Jubilee of her reign.  
Just to the west of the CBD in the suburb of Freemans Bay, Victoria Park (est.1905) has had a chequered career as a recreational and sports area for adjacent inner-city suburbs, a refuse tip, a venue for brass bands, and a bivouac for American troops during World War II. Its other claim to fame is that like much of central Auckland it is reclaimed from the sea. A 5km interpretive trail following the original 1840 shoreline of Auckland skirts both Victoria Park and Albert Park and tells the colourful story of Auckland’s growth from humble colonial beginnings into a 21st-century city.   

A town designed in the shape of a Union Jack  

While the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to Abel Tasman National Park in the northern South Island reflects their interest in conservation, the region of Nelson-Tasman has its share of royal associations. The road journey to the national park starts from the city of Nelson (named in honour of the great English Admiral of the Napoleonic Wars), which Queen Elizabeth II has visited four times since 1954. The route also passes through the town of Richmond, named for a village on the River Thames and the site of a palace beloved by King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.  

Like Auckland, the capital city of Wellington has matching Queens and Kings wharves, and at least one suburb in its greater urban area with street names that follow a British royal theme. The region’s most notable example of 19th-century patriotic fervour though is the town of Martinborough, established in 1879 by John Martin, a wealthy runholder who named the place after himself and laid it out in the shape of a Union Jack with streets radiating from a central square. Since the 1980s, the small rural town (pop:1640) an hour northeast of Wellington has become the centre of the Wairarapa wine region which produces some of New Zealand’s best aromatic white wines and pinot noir. It is the venue for country fairs held on the first Saturdays of February and March, craft beer festivals and the famed Toast Martinborough wine and food festival whose 2018 date is 18 November.   

A hospital on a hotspot

As the world capital of Māori culture, the city of Rotorua 228km southeast of Auckland is notable for its indigenous places of interest, but at least one of the city’s major attractions has a direct royal connection. When the Te Arawa iwi (people) settled the region in the 14th century they quickly recognised the therapeutic benefits of its many geothermal springs, and several centuries later, European settlers followed suit. 
In the late 1940s, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) gave consent for her name to be given to a specialist hospital in Rotorua for the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism and allied complaints. Today, QE Health, along with Polynesian Spa and a cluster of other therapy centres, make Rotorua a world destination in health tourism. The Duke and Duchess' busy itinerary may not have given them time for a luxurious mud bath or a soak in a warm mineral pool or a soothing Aix massage with jets of warm thermal water, but for other visitors to Rotorua these treats are must-dos.