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.