David Fisher and videographer Mark Mitchell spent almost a month driving round New Zealand in a campervan. Their mission: to find out what it means to be a New Zealander. Find out more about the series below.

There's a corner on the road which takes you around a bay at the north end of Paihia and there, before you, is Waitangi. There is Te Tii Marae and the one-way bridge over the river which leads to the grounds where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

I can't help but think of Hone Heke and the flagstaff when I see Waitangi. Is there anyone who doesn't cheer - even if just a little - at that act of defiance against the British Empire?

He signed the Treaty in 1840. His signature was fourth to go on the document. Four years later he was no longer a believer. Four times the flagstaff was cut down, not by Heke every time. And then there was war.

Lorelle McDowell with her rugby playing son Dylan after his Saturday morning game at the Bay of Islands Sports Complex in Kerikeri. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Lorelle McDowell with her rugby playing son Dylan after his Saturday morning game at the Bay of Islands Sports Complex in Kerikeri. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It always surprises me when people wring their hands with dismay over discord at Waitangi on Waitangi Day. This place is rooted in discord, broadly stemming back to that one attempt at unity on February 6 in 1840. It always seems to me that to call out for a different national day is to not understand New Zealand at all.

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The objective for the day was Houhora Heads, our launch pad for the final haul to Cape Reinga.

It's so easy to forget how much country is left to go. It's so easy to just stop and soak it up.

We stopped in Kerikeri, that oldest of towns that has grown so fast so recently that it looks like the newest of towns. There is now a bypass which leads from the main shopping area across to the local sports grounds. The newness and a strip of eucalypts has me feeling suddenly as if I'm in Australia, a strange dislocation.

We stopped in Kaeo for coffee then ducked down to Whangaroa, that secluded harbour tucked away in a kink of the coastline. Five drinkers were lazily watching a fishing contest from a table outside the pub, deep in a conversation which seemed completely directionless but also appeared utterly compelling to those involved.

Back to the highway, we headed for Mangonui. I started chatting to Shannon Baker walking along the foreshore and she was kind enough to write on the chalkboard what it meant to her to be a New Zealander. "Proud Maori," she wrote, with no hesitation.

Shannon Baker in Mangonui, with a chalkboard message on what it means to be a New Zealander. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Shannon Baker in Mangonui, with a chalkboard message on what it means to be a New Zealander. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"I was going to see if Wayne Brown was home," I said. "His truck's there," she said, showing again that in small-town New Zealand your neighbour probably knows the colour of your underwear based on what's been hanging on the washing line over the last week.

"Come in," he said, and took us out to his deck. He had just cast a line off the deck, which hangs over the harbour, and was grousing about how the orca which had just swum through had interfered with his fishing.

Wayne can be irascible. I met him years ago when he was chairman of the Auckland District Health Board, an unlikely role for an engineer. His mode of operating seemed to involve upsetting every person who had the word "doctor" at the front of their names.

"Free-thinking," he wrote on our chalkboard when asked what it meant, to him, to be a New Zealander. There are a lot of words he wanted to write to describe government, most of which we wouldn't be able to print.

Wayne Brown in Mangonui, with a chalkboard message on what it means to be a New Zealander. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Wayne Brown in Mangonui, with a chalkboard message on what it means to be a New Zealander. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He used a few of them a few months ago when he spoke at a meeting in Whangarei to encourage the growth of rail in Northland - exactly the opposite of what Kiwirail is planning to do.

Wayne reckons rail is the way to go. He's a smart man who sees everything as if it were an engine that needed fixing or fine-tuning. Not so great for dealing with people carrying "doctor" as part of their name, but trains don't have egos or feelings. He makes a good argument for rail in the north.

I realise now, thinking of our progress, that it wasn't so much the distance to be travelled which slowed us down. It was the stopping which did it. Every bay, every beach.

North of Mangonui, a Mum stood on the sand watching her son on the rocks, surrounded by water. The tide had come in and was rising higher.

The boy, who was 9, was sitting on the rocks with a bucket and something to fish with, looking at the increasing amount of ocean between himself and his mother.

"Want me to go and get him," I offered. "No," she said. "He'll be fine. Eventually he'll have to get in. It will be his second swim of the day - he went in after rugby this morning."

I stood there for a moment, basking in the afternoon sun. It had passed warm and was pushing for hot. I could smell the sea and the heat on the sand. When I turned and went back to the campervan and we drove off, the boy was still on the rocks, his mum still waiting.

It looked like a fine afternoon for a swim.


• Tomorrow, the end: Houhora to Cape Reinga

About the series

The current flag got a tick from the people of New Zealand, but the referendum triggered an unprecedented debate about our sense of national identity.

What better time to hit the road and visit every corner of our amazing country. We wanted to know how we feel about ourselves. What are our hopes? Our fears? Do we like our national character? What could we do better? What should we celebrate?

We met dozens of Kiwis. This week and last we've been telling their stories, showcasing the places where they live and investigating the themes that unite - and sometimes divide - us.

We're publishing daily travelogues and video blogs by two-time reporter of the year David Fisher. His words are illustrated with stills and video by award-winning Mark Mitchell.

We're also releasing animated graphics featuring everyday New Zealanders and the word (or words) that best sum up, to them, being Kiwi in 2016. Here's today's:

As the series nears its close we're going into even more depth, with a series of mini-documentaries about those themes - from the quarter-acre dream to rugby.

The project will end with an interactive presentation showcasing our conclusions.

There's still time for you to be part of it. On social media, share the word (or words) that sum up being Kiwi to you. Use the hashtag #NZin1word and we'll add the best submissions to our #NZin1word hub which will run throughout the series.

At the end we'll analyse the answers to create the Land of the Long White Word Cloud - a visual representation of how we perceive ourselves.