Long thought of as one of the safest legs on backpackers' round-the-world tickets, New Zealand has been forced to face hard realities in the wake of the death of British tourist Grace Millane.

The soul-searching of a nation continued at the weekend at the latest public gathering to mark the death. As over a thousand people took to the streets of Auckland to march in memory of the 22-year-old, a cohort made up of some of New Zealand's most influential women signed a letter to the government demanding it do more to address the country's endemic problem with domestic violence.

Thousands have already attended vigils in Millane's honour across New Zealand as they hope to heal the wounds created by a murder that has challenged the country's view of itself as an open, welcoming destination for travellers.

The "open letter to the men and government of New Zealand" urged both parties to take action "for Grace and for all the women who have lost their lives to violence in our country". It declared the aftermath of Millane's death "a time for national soul-searching". The letter's signatories include two of the country's former Prime Ministers.

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While Millane was believed not to be in a relationship with the man accused of her murder, that they reportedly met on a dating app has thrust her death into the realm of intimate partner violence.

New Zealand has some of the worst rates of this type of violence in the developed world. Every four minutes the police respond to a call-out for domestic violence and 75 per cent of homicide victims killed by their partners are female.

The open letter comes two weeks after Millane failed to respond to birthday messages from family back home in Essex on her 22nd birthday and was reported missing.

Eight days later her body was found dumped in a West Auckland forest and the next day a 26-year-old man, whose name is suppressed, appeared in court charged with her murder.

Hundreds turn out to march up Queen Street on Saturday in remembrance of murdered British backpacker Grace Millane. Photo / Dean Purcell
Hundreds turn out to march up Queen Street on Saturday in remembrance of murdered British backpacker Grace Millane. Photo / Dean Purcell

Millane's father has taken her body back to the United Kingdom while police in New Zealand continue to investigate her case. If the accused is convicted, Grace Millane's name will join a list of 15 other women murdered by men in New Zealand in 2018 so far. One of these women died after Millane. Another's killer was sentenced on Thursday.

But it was Millane, a recent graduate and artist from Essex, who struck a nerve with New Zealanders: her widely publicised disappearance and death providing an arena to express disgust - together.

General manager of the Grief Centre in Auckland Trudi Vos believes the nation's unprecedented "very widespread outpouring of loss" boiled down to the backpacker's relatability - people were quick to see her as their daughter, self, friend, or sister.

"She was a traveller and Kiwis are travellers. Many of us think back to our OEs [overseas experience] as the best part of our life, which adds to the shock they could be the very, very worst time of someone's life," Vos said.

"Grace was also a young, beautiful woman - so we see the lost promise of the future. We see her as an innocent, which heightens the sense of injustice."

The season may have played a part too, as Christmas "exacerbates all the feelings" and is therefore Grief Centre's busiest time of year, said Vos.

It made people think about both loved ones and losses, leaving them extra vulnerable to the tragedies of strangers.

New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern spoke out about how New Zealanders were taking Millane's death personally.

"From the Kiwis I have spoken to there is this overwhelming sense of hurt and shame that this has happened in our country, a place that prides itself on our hospitality... especially to those who are visiting our shores," she said, tears in her eyes.

"On behalf of New Zealand, I would like to apologise to Grace's family: your daughter should have been safe here and she wasn't and I'm sorry for that."

On the march for Millane through downtown Auckland, many wore white to symbolise peace. Some held flowers and others led dogs decked with white bandannas as a bagpiper marshalled the crowd to Aotea Square. There they observed a minute's silence.

The event's organiser Vannessa Higgins said she hoped Millane's legacy would be for more people facing domestic abuse to feel empowered to "stand up, speak out, and ask for help" due to the awareness her death had sparked.

Marching for Grace

Secondary school teacher Petra Clouth, 42, marched with a white hydrangea and said she woke up every morning with Millane on her mind. She said she had made an effort to talk to her students about using dating apps like Tinder safely since Millane's death.

"Grace will be saving lives if young women make safer decisions because of her," she said.

A memorial sits outside City Life on Queen Street in remembrance of murdered British backpacker Grace Millane. Photo / Dean Purcell
A memorial sits outside City Life on Queen Street in remembrance of murdered British backpacker Grace Millane. Photo / Dean Purcell

Jane Drumm, the general manager of Shine, a domestic violence service provider, said it was appropriate for Millane's death to spark a broader outrage - and awareness - about New Zealanders' violence against women.

"This was a young woman who was not respected as a person with rights and feelings, here," Drumm said.

"That is a classic pattern of domestic violence and she's now dead. In this country there are far too many women who have died. And there are far far too many women who have almost died. And there are a huge number of women who live in fear all the time.

"When it comes down to it, it is the responsibility of men for women's safety - they are the predators who hunt out women."

The open letter sent to New Zealand's government on Saturday echoed that sentiment.

"Women going on solo adventures or meeting new people for dates are not the problem here," it read. "Men who commit acts of violence against women are."

In response to the letter, the government's undersecretary for domestic and sexual violence Jan Logie made lofty promises and noted the government had put in action.

"Following at least two tragic killings of women in the past couple of weeks, I can understand how people want the fastest action possible to protect women. I want New Zealanders to know we are listening and the work we're doing is driven by the same sense of urgency," she said.

"Next year we will be developing a national strategy and action plan to end family and sexual violence."

Logie pointed out the Labour government had injected more than $70 million into frontline family violence services over the last year. It also helped pass a law requiring employers to give victims of domestic violence up to 10 days leave from work, on top of their annual leave and sick leave. This law will be valid from April next year.

On Saturday, at Aotea Square, truck driver Darryl Jenkins cried openly as a rendition of You are my Sunshine played from speakers next to photos of Millane on a trestle table.

A 52-year-old father of two, he said he felt "sickened" imagining what Millane's parents had been through. He also felt strongly that her death should have an impact on New Zealanders' attitude towards women.

"Whether we're going to just forget about it in another week, I don't know. But surely this one, this one has got to make a difference," Jenkins said.

"She's a young girl, came to New Zealand for an adventure. She's gone home in a coffin and it's just so sad."