Not long ago a San Francisco dentist and his wife were describing their travels to some fellow sightseers as their bus moved through the endless red dust of central Australia—the penchant of American tourists to visit places like Alice Springs being both inexplicable and unconquerable, LBJ notwithstanding. They were keen amateur anthropologists, the dentist explained, and were taking a year's vacation to study tribal peoples. They had just come from New Zealand. "No, dear," his wife interrupted. "That wasn't New Zealand. It was New Guinea."
It is just that kind of muddle that a lot of Americans are apt to make of South Pacific geography, or at least they used to. But, as it was pointed out when this story was told with some amusement at a Christchurch, New Zealand racetrack a few days later, the dentist was obviously no sportsman. American sportsmen know where New Zealand is because of such Kiwi prides as Edmund Hillary, Peter Snell, Denis Hulme and Bob Charles, to say nothing of its champion rowing team and famed All-Black Rugby stars. "And your horsemen," said a fine sheep-farming type standing there all in tweeds. "They seem to have found us in the last few years." If his voice and smile suggested that somebody was getting fleeced, it can be pardoned. The unloading onto rich Americans, who pay fancy prices, of what in the view of New Zealanders are useless nags, is one of the most interesting export operations in all the history of sport—and a profitable one for those concerned. What it comes down to is that numbers of New Zealand's sturdy harness horses have come off the country tracks and the $900-purse circuit to make small fortunes in the U.S. In the past three years they have won more than $3.5 million in American prize money and, as a result, last year alone $2.8 million worth of these horses were sold to American buyers.
The success of New Zealand racing stock can be attributed to the very nature of the country from which it comes. A rugged and beautiful island domain of 2� million people, 1,200 miles to the east of Australia, New Zealand was charted by Captain James Cook in 1769. There is a couplet in a 19th-century poem about the captain that goes:
No virgin lands he left unknown,
Where future Englands might be sown.
The first settlers in New Zealand took their mission of sowing a future England literally, too literally, as things developed, for they planted gorse and bracken and blackberry bramble that they had brought from Gravesend, and these plants were so at home they became the plagues of New Zealand farmers—and still are today.
The country, because of its isolated position and its geological origins, had remarkably little fauna when the British arrived. The Polynesians who first discovered its two main islands found flightless birds, bats, lizards, frogs and a small blue mouse that still lives in New Zealand's forests. Captain Cook and his men introduced pigs. The Maori natives made slight distinction between the two new arrivals. They called the men "long pigs," and the long and the short of it was that they considered both species delectable. It was not until some time later that their tastes became more civilized.
The British settlers, who arrived in the 1840s, were hand-picked to establish a model colony. Their boat was a kind of Noah's Ark, carrying the butcher, the baker, the candlestickmaker, as well as an assortment of birds, animals and seeds—sheep, sparrows, gorse, broom. The English oaks and poplars that these early colonists planted still stand in careful lines across the country, giving New Zealand a strangely planned appearance. Later, Japanese deer, Himalayan mountain goats, Atlantic salmon and American rainbow trout were imported.
This careful selection and introduction of foreign species continues. A few years ago the New Zealand wildlife service conducted experiments on the eating habits of rainbow trout. When fed on imported smelts, the trout grew 1� inches each month, or three inches more a year than the rainbows eating the standard New Zealand river diet. So tons of smelts were brought in and released, and New Zealand trout are happier and healthier than ever.
Not all the country's best-laid plans have worked out in quite the manner they were conceived. For example, some of Captain Cook's pigs got loose in the hills, and their wild offspring now provide excellent boar hunting instead of ready pork chops.
The wealth of New Zealand is in its rich limestone land, its lush grass and mild climate. Camellia trees grow tall as oaks, and in the spring the country is a profusion of daffodils, wattle and calla lillies. A florist on Queen Street in Auckland will advise a tourist not to buy her carnations because they are "hothouse." The people, even in the cities, think in terms of the countryside. An urban and affluent housewife will explain that she keeps a "pig barrel," a large garbage can that is taken to her son's farm on the weekend to provide two days of food for his sows. New Zealand has, in sum, a history of careful design and self-sufficiency, a rural philosophy, a firm hold on the Protestant ethic that hard work is its own reward and no use for pampering, either of people or of horses.