New Zealand. A colorful people and a land of contrast

Maori and Caucasian children, ``Newtown'' section of the capital city of Wellington The ``original'' New Zealanders and more recent European immigrants have a history of strained relations. But Maori and white children do study side by side in urban centers. Government and private agencies continue to work to promote understanding between the cultures. There are strong efforts to preserve Maori traditions and artifacts. Some of this group of about 280,000 have pushed for ``different but equal'' status. Intermarriage is on the rise. Education is compulsory for all New Zealand children, ages 6 to 15. It is free until 19. Correspondence schools are available as well as special training for the handicapped and youngsters in remote areas who find it difficult to attend school. Rose Festival,Christchurch, N.Z. Flowers are as plentiful as sheep in this lush land. Families take pride in their home gardens. Christchurch, on the South Island, is known as New Zealand's ``most English city.'' Residents compete for best-garden and best-street awards. Small parks dot residential areas. A fine Botanic Gardens occupies a 75-acre reserve. Trees from across the globe, a rose garden, and seasonal flower displays attract local residents and tourists daily. Rotorua Croquet Club This is a land for outdoor sports -- golf, tennis, soccer, hiking, and mountain-climbing for the more active; croquet and lawn bowling for others of all ages. Clad in traditional ``whites,'' croquet players and lawn bowlers are intensely competitive -- and usually oblivious to onlookers (even photographers). The season lasts from October to Easter. New Zealand police officer, Wellington Respect for law and government has deep roots in New Zealand. However, crime has increased with urban sprawl and economic hard times. Families are also concerned about increased alcohol and drug use by youth. An independent member of the British Commonwealth, New Zealand has a single-chamber Parliament which sits here in Wellington. Queen Elizabeth II is represented in New Zealand by her appointed Governor-General. Four Maoris -- elected directly by Maori voters -- serve in Parliament. Ninety percent of eligible voters usually turn out for general elections. Women have had the vote since l893. Kawarau River near Queenstown This is the hub of the South Island's resort area. Snaking waterways, majestic mountains, and a mild but brisk climate draw visitors from New Zealand and around the world. THIS two-island Southern Hemisphere vacation paradise is variously seen as the Switzerland of the South, a transplant of Western Canada, and even (in places) as a wee bit of Scotland. In area, New Zealand is smaller than California. But its climate is similar to that of America's Golden State. The terrain, however, changes as abruptly as New England weather. Almost side by side one finds hot and cold lakes, majestic mountains and great expanses of plain, rushing rivers and tranquil streams, glaciers with tropical flowers growing in their shadows, and areas which lure both snow skiers and swimmers. For Westerners, this is an upside-down land. Summer has set in by Christmas. June brides walk down the aisle in winter. While the South Island has a moderate climate year-round, the North Island is closer to the equator and has generally warmer temperatures.

New Zealand is also a land where two vastly different cultures live side by side. The older one: brown-skinned Polynesian Maoris, about 280,000 strong. And the relative newcomers: 3 million European-descended whites.

Over the years, these cultures have learned to co-exist, sometimes with difficulty. The Maoris -- New Zealand's original settlers -- retain their own language and customs, while at the same time assimilating into Caucasian classrooms, businesses, and neighborhoods. Many Maori youth, along with their white counterparts, are today looking for greater opportunities than those afforded their parents. This means they are leaving the villages, sheep ranches and dairy farms for mechanized or service jobs in the city. Some even shuttle to Australia to work in modern offices in Sydney and Melbourne or recreation franchises on the Great Barrier Reef.

Generally New Zealanders tend to be a gentle people -- less brash and outspoken than their Australian neighbors. They are family-oriented and often conservative in their ways. The ever-present sheep on the countryside provide their main source of livelihood. Wool-related products abound -- coats, sweaters, rugs, slippers. But a once-strong economy is now being squeezed. And the retired and elderly, guaranteed a fixed but adequate annual income, health care, and other public services by the national government, worry about cutbacks in a fiscal crisis.

Meanwhile, tourism continues to grow. Visitors from East and West flock in increasing numbers to playlands and preserves in Queensland and Te Anau, and to urban haunts from Aukland to Wellington.

The welcome sign hangs out in New Zealand. ``Haere-Mai,'' as the Maoris say it.

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