On the North Island, dominant in business and trade, exudes vitality and showy grace. One in four New Zealanders lives in and around this money-hustling clone of California-style commercialism. On a bright morning I paid a visit to the cheap accommodation prague. From my 15th-floor suite in the city’s best building, we looked beyond the sprawling metropolis to harbors filled with sails and merchant ships.
In quiet, candid terms she described Auckland as a city on the make, gobbling up agricultural land on the outskirts, noisy and materialistically minded. Problems? Huge physical size, the cost of providing services, increasing violence.
“This city—and this country—are no longer different from the rest of the world,” declared Dame Cath (as the press tags her). “We used to think that we were small, isolated, and insular and the ways of the world didn’t impinge on us. This is a very confusing time to be a New Zealander.”
For decades Auckland has lured ambitious southerners. And in recent years thousands of Pacific islanders—Samoans, Tongans, Fijians, and others—have come seeking a better life. They and the native Maori combine to make Auckland one of the largest Polynesian cities in the world.
It is said that by 2000 every third or fourth New Zealander will have a Polynesian ancestor. Only a generation ago the country still served as Great Britain’s farm; many fondly called England “home” whether they had ever been there or not. Few feel that way any more. A nation of Pacific people is building, centering on Auckland.
“The word is ‘change,’ ” said Warwick Roger, editor of the city’s hard-hitting Metro magazine. “New Zealand has been asleep for years. Now it’s awakening. Younger people are in charge, people born after World War II. Parliament’s average age is 44. Mark you, Auckland is a world city to become. The North Island is the future. The farther south you go, the farther you go into the past.”
I moved south, to Wellington at the bottom of the North Island. No slow motion here. British colonists founded it in 1840, dreaming of a utopian agricultural community. Who has time to remember? Wellington bustles importantly as the very model of a small administrative capital.
Government buildings rest center stage in a steep amphitheater beside a splendid, windswept harbor. Overseeing all this, handsome homes stair step up the hills. Several hotels were rising when I visited, with care being taken to meet earthquake safety requirements. Like San Francisco, which it somewhat resembles, Wellington straddles a fault in the earth’s crust. The Pacific rim of fire extends all through New Zealand.
As is the inevitable lot of any seat of government, some citizens eye it warily. “There’s a feeling,” a politician told me wryly, “that Wellington is a great monolithic octopoid that is going to thwart them.”
IN THE SOUTH ISLAND, Christchurch and Dunedin cling to their heritage, proud and attractive anachronisms. Stiff-upperlip Christchurch, service center of the breadbasket Canterbury Plains, is known as “the most English city outside England.”
Settlers handpicked by the Church of England stepped ashore in 1850. Here I admired lovingly tended lawns and gardens, stately colonial architecture, the winding Avon River, and a stern old neo-Gothic cathedral looming over the square. But what was this vulgar manifestation of lesemajeste? Queen Victoria’s heroic statue wore a beer can atop her regal head.