Every New Zealander knows we live in the best country in the world, and in an effort to cash in on the fact we've been saying so with increasing frequency and volume. But we've sold ourselves too well.

It's hugely ironic that since the light-bulb moment in 1987 when we declared ourselves nuclear-free we've gone from anxiously seeking reassurance from visitors that we really are a good place to be to cursing the fact everyone now knows how good we are and is flooding in to see for themselves.

Strange as it may now seem, Kiwis were a very introverted and self-deprecating mob back before the Lange government caused a ripple in the world's consciousness while at the same time opening the financial floodgates for overseas investment.

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The influx of scalpers, carpetbaggers, and other unsavoury asset-strippers who – aided by a stockmarket crash - rapidly made off with much of our prime silverware was a double-bladed shock.

When everything from banks to forests was gobbled up by foreign firms it proved Aotearoa was intrinsically the slice of paradise we'd rather smugly believed; but only gullible fools imagine the rest of the world would respect that and not rip us off.

As a nation, psychically, it took a decade to recover and start trying to recoup some of what we'd lost.

We did that primarily by hard-selling (in a soft Kiwi way) the only thing of value left - the environment around us - with the "100% Pure" campaign. Cunningly aided by Peter Jackson's Tolkien sagas, soon people who had never heard of us before clamoured to visit "the real Middle Earth".

That we also leveraged our social capital, including our then-world class education system, meant we had students and families seeking to take advantage of our loose visa and residency rules to study, work, and live here.

Immigrants arrived out of Asia in droves, giving another twist to the cultural revolution we were undergoing.

Meanwhile we also tried to compete at scale in the global dairy trade by creating Fonterra, which fed off the same "clean green" spiel to sell our produce. That intensive dairying inherently degrades the very environment that message relies on was a factor no-one took seriously until it was almost too late.

Too, the National government with its "market forces rule" mantra did little to help the nation cope, downsizing the Department of Conservation, promoting intensive land use through irrigation, and leaving local government struggling to provide necessary infrastructure for growing populations. Former tourism minister John Key's singular contribution was an aspirational cycle trail.

And as the recent spat between Tourism Hawke's Bay and the regional council over ongoing promotional support suggests, that industry didn't come together enough in the boom to support itself after; while scarce council funds would be better spent providing toilet blocks at freedom camping sites.

The results of this fire-sale approach are plain to see: over-priced houses and services groaning under the weight of too much immigration, polluted rivers and dwindling water supplies caused by inappropriate farming, overcrowded scenic landscapes hosting disappointed travellers, and a Labour-led coalition having to fund a massive clean-up and infrastructure spend which they likely, on past evidence, will not be thanked for.

Both our main income-earners – tourism and farming – must realise the foot has to be taken off the pedal in order for us to rebalance ourselves as a nation and put the clean back in to green.

We cannot claim to be the greatest place on Earth when that status is no longer fact but merely pretence.

• Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. Views expressed are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's.