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Like any young country, New Zealand is growing rapidly and facing issues associated with progress. Urban drift accounts for 80% of the population living in towns and cities, most of which is north of Lake Taupo, with a full third of the population in the Auckland region alone. City infrastructures, transport systems, and housing developments are struggling in some cases to keep up with the pace.

Biculturalism has been the loudest catchphrase of the past decade. From the late 19th century until after World War II, there was a marked decline in the use of the Maori language because schools insisted that only English be taught. Since the 1960s, however, there has been a growing resurgence of interest in Maori identity, language, and tradition, and many Maori are now bilingual, thanks to extensive language programs in schools.

The Waitangi Tribunal, set up by the New Zealand government in 1987 to settle unresolved issues related to the Treaty of Waitangi, has brought Maori grievances to light. Many claim their ancestors were tricked out of much of their land. Today, a good portion of that land has been returned to Maori ownership and many tribes have established lucrative business and corporate entities in the seafood, forestry, farming, and tourism industries.

Today, a combination of farming practices, growing populations, urban spread, and increasing tourism numbers are putting pressure on the land. New Zealanders have always taken pride in their "clean, green" image, but as evidence suggests we may not be as clean and green as we had hoped, there are strong moves to take better care of our natural assets. Sustainability is a big issue, especially in industry and tourism.

In face of our passion for the great outdoors and our reputation for being crazy adventurers, you could be forgiven for thinking that the arts have been overlooked. Nothing could be further from the truth. The main cities - Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin - all have vibrant cultural hearts; and New Zealand has given the world more than its fair share of talented artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, and designers.

We've carved out an international reputation for much more than those hefty rugby players I mentioned earlier. Maybe it's because we have always been isolated. Maybe it's because, as a young country, we are still finding our way, still striving to prove we can foot it with the best of the Northern Hemisphere. Whatever the reason, New Zealanders are fiercely proud of their patch. Wherever else they go in the world, they invariably prove themselves as innovative, hardworking, passionate people, making their way in the wider world but always, somehow, still attached to their island roots.

A Word on Cultural Protocol -- If you want to visit a Maori marae, always make sure you ask permission first, but be aware that unless you are staying with a Maori family, or participating in a commercially run tour, you are unlikely to gain access. You must never eat, chew gum, or take food onto the premises. Some Maori will request that you take off your shoes, and some may have particular rules about visits by women during certain ceremonies. And never take photographs inside a meetinghouse. If you are uncertain about whether or not photographs are appropriate, just ask. In short, behavior on the marae is governed by strict protocol and youWILL be challenged if you ignore these rules. To save yourself and others a great deal of embarrassment, please do not offend. But don't panic; you will be instructed on the proper behavior.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.