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4On 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.”

3IN 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.

Coming down here is like a journey to the South Pole

A veteran journalist named Les Blox­ham, travel and aviation editor of the Christchurch Press, showed me about. He said: “Christchurch is like your smaller mid-western cities: conservative, with a slower way of life. There is mistrust of Auckland. The South Island has only a fourth of New Zealand’s population. But it’s not a rat race down here. A lot of us would never think of moving. If you’re young though, and want to get on—more money, a better future—well, you’ll join the drift north.”

Scottish-born Dunedin, hub of a rich farming region and a port, ranks as the country’s most important university center. The name is Gaelic for Edinburgh; Dunedin is called “the Edinburgh of the South.” It was settled by Presbyterians in 1848. A statue of poet Robert Burns gazes from the city’s octagonal heart. Some streets bear Scottish names as, of course, do many peo­ple, and a trace of the Scottish burr visits the ear. You are sure to hear someone say “A wee bit. . .”

During nearby gold strikes beginning in the 1860s, Dunedin flourished as the infant nation’s most important city in many ways. Memory of this lingers, but little remains of the vigor. Pleasant, relaxed Dunedin de­clines little by little. Youth wears many faces in Auckland, from upwardly mobile professionals of European and Maori descent (opposite) to Pacific islanders (above) who move to New Zealand in search of opportunity. They join with the native Maori to earn Auckland the nickname “capital of Polynesia.”

“We’re a stable, home-centered, provin­cial city,” said the Reverend Dr. Jack Som­erville, retired chancellor of the University of Otago. “We don’t have the clout because we haven’t got the numbers. A lot of Auck­landers imagine that coming down here is like a journey to the South Pole.” 5

IN MAY—late autumn here—I flew from the South Island across choppy Fo­veaux Strait to a serenely beautiful forested speck called Stewart Island. Snug in their sequestered world, Stewart Islanders give little consideration to time’s passage or the mainland’s problems. “Lone­ly? That’s the whole point,” my seatmate re­marked as we deplaned. “This is a place where you can get away from it all.”

Well, not quite. TV has intruded, and the old manual telephone system is being re­placed. (Remember? Two long rings and a short for the Scotts, one long and a short for the Bryants.) I registered at the South Sea Hotel, an aged hostelry of 30 rooms where a gong summons guests to meals.

After lunch I strolled about Oban town­ship, fronting on Halfmoon Bay. Most of the island’s 500 or so residents cluster here. Peo­ple don’t bother to lock their doors, and they leave keys in cars. “I’d say there’d have to be about 80 cars,” mused a townsman. “Mind you, I don’t say they all go.” There are a doz­en miles of roads, eight of which are tarred. The island itself covers 674 square miles and is largely a nature preserve.

Phillip Smith, who is 43 and a fourth-generation islander, welcomed me. As we sat over coffee and cake in his comfortable house above the bay, he told me that he de­scends from a whaler and shipwright out of Nantucket—one “Yankee” Smith, who re­mained here and took a Maori wife.

New Zealand: the Last Utopia?

The luxury of her location deep in the South Pacific sent Rud­yard Kipling into raptures. Long ago the British author sang: “Last, loneliest, loveli­est, exquisite, apart . . . the Happy Isles!”

2Kipling’s paean, I have learned, still rings true except in one regard. Happiness, like time, is transient. New Zealand, one of the world’s first welfare states, practices a benevolent socialism. But these are hard times for many as the government performs dras­tic surgery on an overextended economy.

The nation has always depended on farm exports. When subsidies abruptly ended in 1985, hundreds of farmers had to give up, unable to meet loan payments. Land values dropped by half in some places. Severely de­pressed prices for sheep—upwards of 70 million huddle on the countryside—brought another large headache. Interest rates as high as 25 percent plagued city dwellers too, especially the owners of expensive, heavily mortgaged homes.

Anywhere I traveled, people were worried. Some were searching out new ways to make a living. Many fell back on inborn optimism. New Zealand was founded on hope: the hope of her Polynesian discoverers a millennium past and of British colonists in the mid-1800s. “She’ll be right,” I was often told. It will take time, but things will work out.

The country consists of two large islands, a much smaller third one, and numerous is­lets (map, page 663). The history and rugged independence of her 3.3 million citizens are shaped by the vast moat of open ocean that insulates them. Australia lies more than a thousand miles away; 4,500 miles of water separate the islands from South America. The closest neighbor, New Caledonia, lies some 900 miles northward. I SPENT WEEKS moving up and down this marvelous conglomeration of mountains and brooding volcanoes, green hills, plains, and sun-washed beaches. One constant kept me company: a pervasive sense of isolation.

It suffused subtropical North Island with hints of distant emerald isles, and whispered of Antarctic ice far across ocean wastes be­yond the South Island’s heel. It nagged from a rampart of snowy, glacier-hung alps as awesome as Switzerland’s, and rode a de­serted track to a sheep, cattle, and deer sta­tion remote enough that mail and supplies arrive only once a week. To me it was a haunting phenomenon. To the people of these places it is of no moment.

To be isolated does not mean isolationist. In every way New Zealand is a world citi­zen, relying on international trade, deeply concerned about disarmament issues and—like many other Pacific nations—strongly antinuclear. During my stay the govern­ment’s denial of port access to nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered ships led the United States to suspend its defense obliga­tions to the country under the 35-year-old ANZUS alliance.

As you might expect, large areas of the country are virtually unpopulated, notably the mountain reaches. In surprising fact, though, considering New Zealand’s reputa­tion as a land of lavish scenic beauty and huge sheep farms, more than 80 percent of the people live in urban-suburban settings along the coast and in the lower hills. A sta­tion in the outback can be run with few hands, and sheep farming generally is a fam­ily affair. The cities wear the stamp of assertive self-awareness, self-esteem. Their distinctive characters, I noticed, point up the sharp time lags between the North and South Islands. Broadly speaking, North is town, South is country. One is modern, the other old-timey.