To the World: Tourism and Violence in New Zealand

As part of She’s Right’s participation in 16 days of activism to end violence against women, each article will be dedicated to a New Zealand woman who has lost her life due to gender-based violence. This article is dedicated to Jennifer Hargreaves, killed by a man on 3 December 2001, at the age of 17.

By Moira Boyle.
Edited by Jessica Sutton.

These days we are hearing of many people, particularly women and particularly young women, who are lost to the world through some senseless act of violence. Certain cases grab the headlines here and overseas. The news is dreadful, the wider world is shocked for a time, and a family somewhere in the world is changed forever. After the “thoughts and prayers” have been tweeted, perhaps a protest march organised, and some government promises mumbled, the vigil candles are extinguished, and the world goes on and nothing much changes.     

New Zealand is widely considered to be a safe place to live and therefore to visit, but at the end of 2018 the country was gripped by the news that a young woman here on holiday from England had been murdered.  Many of you will identify with Grace Millane: young, educated, and at ease travelling the world alone. Almost a year on, we have now heard the trial details of just how Grace’s life was ended. This type of violence against young women is not new; though it seems the numbers are increasing, but that may only be the speed and reach of the internet.

20 November 2019 was the 30th anniversary of the murder in New Zealand of British backpacker Monica Cantwell.[1] At that time I could identify strongly with this young woman although I didn’t know her personally. All I knew for certain was she was part of my generation and in some ways following in my footsteps. A traveller just like me; Monica’s death had a huge emotional impact on me.

Sadly, Monica was not the first visitor to New Zealand to be murdered in 1989 – in April the country had already been stunned by the disappearance of Swedish travellers Heidi Paakkonen and her fiancé Urban Hoglin.[2] They came for the trip of a lifetime but tragically and shamefully were murdered here. The only other murder involving a tourist that anyone could remember was back in 1969 when Jennifer Beard, a 25-year-old schoolteacher from Tasmania, was murdered while hitchhiking in the South Island. Such incidents were rare in New Zealand and the nation felt shamed.[3]

In 1980 when I left my home in England to travel the world on my own, my friends and family were torn between admiration and abject fear. After all, I was a young woman alone, travelling far from home, and cell phones hadn’t been invented. Phoning home was very expensive and only used in real emergencies such as sickness, loss of money, plane tickets or, God forbid, loss of passport. We communicated mostly by letter and that was anything but instant.

For me though, it seemed the travel gods smiled – I had great experiences and made lifelong friendships. I know of many, many other women like me who have travelled the world and not come to grief. Some people might say I was lucky, even blessed in some ways – New Zealand became my home and now nearly 40 years on, I still find it hard to credit that anyone could set off for a nice walk up Mount Maunganui, or go camping in the Coromandel, and never come back. What happened to Heidi, Urban, and Monica, is still haunting.

The government of 1989 was keen to tell the world that New Zealand was a safe place to visit, but here we are 30 years later with the violent deaths of British backpacker Grace Millane and Australian Sean McKinnon shot dead while on a camping holiday with his fiancé Bianca Buckley in Raglan.[4] The parallels with 1989 are striking, but in the latest Tourism NZ Report the government reinforces that “Internationally New Zealand is viewed as a friendly, safe and beautiful country to visit”.[5]

In the intervening years, five young women visitors: Kayo Matsuzawa (Japan),[6] Birgit Bauer (Germany),[7] Karen Aim (Scotland),[8] Dagmar Pytlickova (Czech Republic),[9] Margery Hopegood (England),[10] and one young man Jae Hyeon Kim (South Korea),[11] have all been brutally murdered in our country. Do you recognise those names? Somehow, they have slipped from our nation’s selective memory. No doubt each of them came here believing New Zealand to be a safe country for them to visit.

We could ask what successive governments have been doing over the past 30 years to allow this situation to continue but clearly, they’ve been slumbering. Hopefully they are now fully awake.

The reality is that nowhere on the planet, including New Zealand, is totally safe. Our government and Tourism New Zealand need to recognize that their “New Zealand is still a safe place to visit” mantra does not make it so. Granted, largely due to its small size, New Zealand is not in the same league for gender-based violent crime as say Mexico, South Africa or Europe, but one violent death is one too many and the loss of a young life is a crime against us all.

All New Zealand political parties need to get their collective head out of the sand and recognize that ours is a violent society, particularly towards women. Perhaps if those with power had spent more time and money over the last 30 years on dealing with some of the social problems that have led to the huge increase in all forms of violence in our society, and less on promoting tourism, then we’d be more worthy of our safe and friendly Kiwi reputation.

Violence – It’s a very big subject and there are many more conversations to be had on this. You could get started on one today.

Even so, the world goes on. In recent years, I have happily waved off my own children as they stepped out on their big OEs, as I strongly believe that while we must not forget that tragedies can and do happen, we should not let that stop any of us from travelling, looking for adventure and accepting new challenges. As Grace Millane’s father has said, “We all hope that what has happened to Grace will not deter even one person from venturing out into the world.”[12]

Your purpose is to live your best life – do it in memory of those that are no longer here, but mostly do it for yourself. It is still an amazing world with beautiful places, kind people and many unforgettable experiences to be enjoyed.

Wishing all travellers Godspeed and a long and happy life.

About the Author:
Moira Boyle left England to travel the world in 1980, fell in love with New Zealand along the way and made it her home. She remains an avid traveller and is passionate about raising awareness of women’s rights, nutrition and mental health. She intends to contribute regularly to She’s Right, to share the benefit of her experience with young women and men everywhere.

[1] https://www.New Zealand/New Zealand/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12176833












Photo by Paula May on Unsplash

One thought on “To the World: Tourism and Violence in New Zealand

  1. Beautiful writing and great message – it’s easy to get scared of travelling alone as a woman, but we still can’t let fear stop us! Thank you for bringing the names of those poor travellers back into the light – they deserve to be remembered.


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