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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.

Their numbers are being reduced

In his turn, Phil Smith also wrests a living from the sea, like nearly everyone else. And like many of his countrymen he follows the life of a subsistence farmer, keeping a few goats and hens and a bounteous vegetable garden. An occasional deer provides meat for the table; deer are so plentiful and pestif­erous throughout New Zealand that they are fair game and extensively hunted.

Adrspach, Teplice Rocks

STEWART ISLAND fishermen harvest and export “crayfish” (rock lobsters),mouth-watering blue cod, the delicate paua (abalone), and grouper. Phil does none of the above. He comanages the New Zealand Salmon Company’s farm about an hour’s boat trip into the hostile ocean. Salmon farming is a relatively new and growing industry in New Zealand and a good example of the effort to diversify.

“Fishing’s not what it used to be,” he told me as a few other passengers and I boarded his 43-foot launch. “I was happy to go into salmon.” On a dismal, dripping afternoon we donned rain gear, and the old vessel headed into a fractious sea. In one area of the farm, by a bush-covered islet in Big Glory Bay, I counted 28 sea pens in two parallel lines. Gingerly I walked along the slippery causeway between them, curious to see how salmon are grown. Sim­ple enough, I decided, but not easy.

Hardworking sea farmers place king salmon fingerlings in large cages made of netting. They make certain that rotating dis­pensers toss pelletized food to the fish every five minutes during daylight hours. Invad­ing seaweed requires arduous net changing every two to six weeks. The men put in five days and nights at this, berthed aboard a headquarters ship, followed by five days in port. After 18 to 24 months, when the salm­on weigh four to seven pounds, they are har­vested. Within 48 hours they go on sale in Japan and western U. S. markets.

As we returned to Stewart Island, the weather suddenly worsened. Adventure lost its appeal for me. Gale-force winds lifted up a high, violent sea and spun a layer of froth that clung just above the blue-black water like a shroud. At the helm, peering through pelting rain, Phil nosed our thresh­ing boat into the troughs of horrendous waves. “She’s smokin’!” he yelled, pointing to the ocean’s eerie blanket. “Those are 60-or 70-knot winds.” Beside me a fellow pas­senger lurched chalk-faced onto a bunk, wretchedly seasick.

6Next day Phil came to the hotel to see me off. Morning wore golden dress. “Not many days we don’t get a spit of rain,” he said, “and not a day when the sun doesn’t break through. Good luck back in New Zealand.”

NEITHER Stewart Islanders nor big city sophisticates are typical New Zealanders. Provincial people are, Prime Minister Da­vid Lange informed me. One afternoon in Wellington I called at his office in the execu­tive wing of the government center, named the “Beehive” for its startling conical design. A large man with ready laugh and rapier wit, Mr. Lange seated me across his desk and dashed off an incisive sketch.


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.