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New Zealand comes with a reputation as a unique land packed with magnificent, raw scenery : craggy coastlines, sweeping beaches, primeval forests, snow-capped alpine mountains, bubbling volcanic pools, fast-flowing rivers and glacier-fed lakes, all beneath a brilliant blue sky. Even Kiwis themselves - named after the endearing, if decidedly odd, flightless bird that has become the national emblem - seem to be filled with astonishment at the stupendous vistas of what they like to think of as "Godzone" (God's own country). All of this provides a canvas for boundless diversions , from moody strolls along windswept beaches and multi-day tramps over alpine passes to the adrenalin-charged adventure activities of bungy jumping and whitewater rafting; in fact, some visitors take on New Zealand as a kind of large-scale assault course, aiming to tackle as many adventures as possible in the time available. The one-time albatross of isolation - even Australia is over a thousand kilometres away - has become a boon, bolstering New Zealand's clean, green image, which is, in truth, more an accident of geography than the result of past government policy.
To a large extent New Zealand lives up to these expectations, and remains unfettered by the crowds you'd find elsewhere. What's more, everything is easily accessible, packed into a land area little larger than Britain and with a population of just 3.8 million, over half of it tucked away in the three largest cities : Auckland, the capital Wellington, and the South Island's Christchurch. Elsewhere, you can travel miles through steep-hilled farmland and rarely see a soul, and there are even remote spots which, it's reliably contended, no human has ever visited.
Only in the last couple of decades has New Zealand come of age and developed a true national self-confidence, something partly forced on it by Britain severing the colonial apron strings in the early 1970s, and partly by the resurgence of Maori identity. Maori demands have been nurtured by a willingness on the part of most pakeha to redress the wrongs perpetrated over the last century and a half, as long as it doesn't impinge on their high standard of living or overall feeling of control. More recently, integration has been replaced with a policy of promoting two cultures alongside each other, but with maximum interaction. In this way New Zealand is set to forge through the new century with considerable dignity and a good deal of uncertainty.
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