What is a regional economy?
Different regions of any country have different combinations of physical and human resources – ‘resource endowments’ – and these give rise to different regional economies. Decisions by workers and businesses can intensify the differences between economies: businesses may open or close; workers may move away or come in. Government policies at national and local levels can also cause differences: schools or hospitals may be opened or closed; a railway built here, or closed there.
Regional economies can be defined in two different ways. Regions may be characterised by the sharing of certain economic indicators, such as similar production profiles. These can be called ecological or landscape regions. An example is the South Island high country east of the Southern Alps, where land is either unutilised or given over to extensive pastoral farming.
Regions may also be defined by economic integration – these can be called economic regions. An example is Canterbury, which includes the parts of the high country and neighbouring plains that have economic links with Christchurch.
New Zealand’s first regions were ecologically based. Māori were drawn to those parts of the country where moa or seals were found in large numbers – Canterbury and Otago in the case of moa, and rocky coasts for seals.
Other parts of the country had economies based on horticulture, bird snaring and inshore fishing. Horticulture and snaring thrived best in the more temperate part of the country – the upper North Island.
With the demise of the moa and many seal populations, the north became the most populated part of the country. The differences in climate and resources divided the country into three main regions:
- the north, where probably two-thirds of the population lived
- the middle regions, where horticulture was marginal
- most of the South Island, which was sparsely populated.
Exchange, a form of trade, allowed some products to move from one end of the country to the other, notably volcanic glass (obsidian) and pounamu (jade or greenstone). But the exploitation of them did not lead to permanent settlement.
Local exchange created an early form of economic regions. Inland people would travel to the coast for seafood. Coastal people would travel inland for bird snaring. Oral traditions often tell of such journeying.
The regional pattern of early European encounters in New Zealand was dictated by the distribution of natural resources – timber, flax, seals and whales – and places of population where they could trade goods for food.
Sealing stations were mostly located around Foveaux Strait, between Stewart Island and the Fiordland and Southland coasts. The seal population was severely depleted by the 1810s.
From the late 1820s to the 1840s (at which time whale numbers declined) shore whaling stations were established, especially in the far south, around Cook Strait and along the east coast.
Flax was sourced from a number of low-lying coastal areas, notably in the Bay of Plenty, the East Coast, and west coast harbours in the upper North Island. Kauri, found mostly in Northland and Coromandel, was the most favoured timber. It was felled near rivers and creeks so it could be readily shipped out.
Trading settlements grew up where Māori could supply Europeans with produce, and Europeans could supply manufactured goods and cloth to Māori. This occurred wherever there were significant numbers of Māori, and was not a regional pattern. Kororāreka and Maketū were examples of such settlements.
European immigrant settlements were established throughout New Zealand between 1840 and 1850. All initially depended on capital brought by immigrants or investors, and when the capital ran out they struggled; in 1850 the non-Māori population was only about 30,000.