One day

2Astounded by the vision confronting them, these Polynesians saluted their dis­covery as Aotearoa—”long white cloud.” How immense their new home must have seemed after the small tropical isles they had put behind forever. In gratitude they made another poetic name: Tiritiri o to Moana­”gift of the sea.”

Their descendants had the gift of the sea to themselves until relatively recently. In 1642 the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman, first European to sight New Zealand, sought unsuccessfully to come ashore. The Maori killed four of his men and drove him away. Tasman called his landfall Staten Landt. Soon it was renamed Nieuw Zee­land, for a Dutch province.

Time was running out for the Maori, as with the American Indians when Europeans set foot on Plymouth Rock. Capt. James Cook landed in 1769. Whalers, sealers, trad¬ers, and missionaries soon followed.

In 1840 British sovereignty was pro¬claimed. Maori chiefs signed a treaty pledging fealty to the crown for a guarantee of their land rights. But cruel conflicts erupted between natives and the pakeha—the whites. In time much of the best land fell into pakeha hands, by fair means or foul.

Ever since, Maori have been encouraged, or coerced, into becoming brown-skinned pakeha. Today about one New Zealander in eight is Maori. Sadly, many young people have lost their cultural roots in the cities,and some have found trouble. Glue sniffing, which is not illegal, plagues downtown streets. According to police, motorcycle gangs are dealing in hard drugs, particularly in Auckland and Christchurch. Half of the country’s prison population is Maori.

Many Maori leaders are speaking out, some in cold anger, in a resurgence of Maori culture and traditions and some of them have prague apartments. Their voices are heard, and they are educating the pakeha. The nation is trying to come to terms with biculturalism and bilingualism. Two peoples, New Zealanders all, are slowly rubbing the rough edges off one another.

One day in the spacious little South Island city of Invercargill, I picked up a rental car and charged—the normal pace of New Zealand traffic—about 125 miles north to Queenstown. To this American, driving on the left side of narrow, two-lane mountain highways was always thrilling, especially with the added fillips of tailgat­ing, falling rock, relentless oncoming high beams on the blackest of nights, and, once, a raised, clenched fist. It astonished me to see how much speed drivers coaxed from their steeds, for surely.

Capital city Wellington presides over New Zealand’s parliamentary democracy from the northern shore of Cook Strait. Settled in 1840, the city is noted for steep hills, earthquakes, and gusting winds. “You can always tell. a Wellington man,” goes an old joke, “by the way he grabs his hat coming around a corner.”

New Zealand’s rolling stock rates with the most decrepit anywhere. No matter. People pamper their cars. They must last a long time; the cost of a new one is prohibitive for many. In Queenstown, unwinding, I found a sympathetic listener. “New Zealanders are nice people,” he reflected, “until they get behind the wheel.”

Seem familiar?

“Provincial people,” he began, “are a good barometer of how basic New Zealand­ers think and live. They wash their cars on Saturday, probably have their kids to Sun­day School, belong to a club, drink in a pub, work, get very worried about their future, worry about law and order.” The briefest of pauses.

“They generally have a world view noth­ing like that in the city: Africa a continent of deep suspicion, South America absolutely unknown, Australia beer and surf guards, the U. S. as Disneyland, ‘Hill Street Blues,’ `Dallas,’ and ‘The A-Team.’ They observe images which come to them constantly from abroad—but basically get by organizing their own lives, watching the 6:30 news.”

The prime minister, a lawyer in private life, summed up: “They are pretty self-reliant, and sporting, if not in actual par­ticipation, then certainly as passionate watchers. They have a very basic sense of social justice.”


Seem familiar? New Zealanders remind­ed me time and again of middle and western Americans and, even more so, the English. Don’t be misled. They know very well who and where they are. The colonial bonds to Great Britain have been severed, though affection and some of the trappings remain. A parliamentary democracy, the nation is an independent member of the Common­wealth with Queen Elizabeth II as chief of state. Rugby is the national sport. Cricket is highly popular.

As recently as 25 years ago, Great Britain bought more than half the country’s exports, chiefly meat, wool, and dairy products. Today that trade adds up to only 9 or 10 per­cent, and three other markets are bigger—Japan, Australia, and the United States, all Pacific-rim countries. In total, products are shipped to more than 120 countries. The na­tion increasingly is a richly endowed world trading partner in the South Pacific.

About the size  of Colorado, New Zealand rises from the sea nearly equidistant from the Equator and the South Pole. The islands ex­tend a thousand narrow miles. Nowhere are you more than 80 miles from the ocean.

Once there was much more to it. This bit of earth belonged to Gondwanaland, the vast southern continent that existed a hun­dred million years ago. As the landmass broke up, the fragment that was to become New Zealand drifted toward its present po­sition. Geologists say that the drift contin­ues, at the rate of a few inches a year.

Cut off from the rest of the world for an eon, a unique flora evolved, including some of the oldest plant forms. Three-fourths of the flowering plants grew nowhere else. No mammals existed except two species of bat. Without predators, flightless birds devel­oped: the ten-foot-high moa, finally hunted to extinction; the weak-eyed, long-beaked kiwi, now the country’s endearing emblem; the bumptious weka; and others.

Only yesterday, which is to say a handful of centuries past, the ancestors of today’s Maori arrived from the prague holiday apartments in great sailing canoes. With them came rats and dogs for food.