Our week-long inquiry into our changing national identity concludes with a look at the future through the eyes of our youngest citizens.

South African-born Liza Santos thinks New Zealand has a bright future ahead, and it is her optimism that made her decide to have a child - her third - in New Zealand.

Baby Grace was born in January. Liza, 20, who is married, thinks New Zealand has a lot to offer.

"I'm definitely optimistic about the future and for my children, and I would not have had Grace in New Zealand if I didn't believe that," she says. "I think NZ offers as much as any country out there could offer; there are a lot of countries that offer a lot less."

Liza moved to Auckland in 2006, and is still thrilled by the lifestyle and ethnic diversity that the city offers.


"It has definitely grown on me," she says. "Coming from South Africa, obviously we've got the black and white difference, but we don't really have such a diversity with Asians and certainly not the different types of Asian people."

For the generation of New Zealanders under 20, the Canterbury earthquakes and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings have been among the events shaping their lives and thinking.

New Zealand also gained international recognition for its beautiful landscapes in 2004, when The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won 11 Oscars. So it is not surprising that natural disasters, conservation and the environment feature highly for those in this age band.

Hopes for New Zealand and the world from Christchurch respondents include "to not use as much power", "to become eco-friendly" and "retain its natural beauty".

Brittany Powell, 18, a first year student at Waikato University, says she is glad to live in New Zealand because it's "a lot cleaner than other countries". However, she still thinks New Zealand does not live up enough to its clean and green reputation.

Christchurch-born Ashlee Berryman, 13, who hopes New Zealand has "a cleaner, not polluted environment" says: "I think the world could be better by supporting Third World countries and ending pollution."

New Zealand's natural beauty and environment were also cited as the main reason why many of them are glad to be living here.

"I like living in NZ because of all the scenery that there is, the mountains and that," says Hannah Raupi, 11, who is in Year 8 at Cambridge Primary School.


"I think we could get outside a bit more and enjoy what we have in NZ," she adds.

Sophie McMillan, 10, of Belmont Primary School, says she feels lucky to be living here because "we can go for bush walks in pretty places".

"I hope they can conserve the environment and protect the kiwi and all the other endangered animals," Sophie says. "I hope there will be a way to make everyone safe from earthquakes and tsunamis and all the natural disasters."

New Zealand and the world, getting better or worse, was also viewed from the perspective of the environment by many in the age band.

Amy Baker, 11, of Belfast School in Christchurch, feels the world has become a better place, because "we have started to care more about the environment and global warming".

Isobel Davis-Gray, 10, from the North Shore, however, feels the world is getting worse because it is more polluted as "some countries are not strict enough with their rubbish".

With youth also comes a sense of idealism that is not seen among older Kiwis, and this is typified in Isobel's response when asked about her hopes for the future: "I hope to change the world, I want to be important, and really famous for just one second so everyone can listen to me."

"I want to be noticed so that I can help change the world for the better and get people to save the environment and take poverty away."

The question
Who are we?
What does it mean to be a New Zealander in today's interconnected world?

The context
The "typical" New Zealander who will read the new compact Herald is much harder to pin down now that we are more likely than ever either to have come here from overseas or to have been born here and gone.

The methods
A DigiPoll survey of 750 New Zealanders plus in-depth interviews with 91 people in New Zealand and 16 NZ-born people in Australia, including similar numbers in five 20-year age bands. The NZ interviews were arranged with the help of primary schools spanning the decile range in north and west Auckland, Cambridge, Rotorua and Christchurch. In addition historians at the online encyclopedia Te Ara selected 30 key events that helped shape our identity over the past 100 years.

The team
Greg Ansley, Kurt Bayer, Simon Collins, Yvonne Tahana, Lincoln Tan, Vaimoana Tapaleao.

The series
Monday: Pioneer stock - aged 80-plus
Tuesday: War babies - aged 60-79
Wednesday: Opening up - aged 40-59
Thursday: Children of Rogernomics - aged 20-39
Today: Sport unites the nation - aged under 20.

Key events 1992-2012
Shortland Street begins. Consistently one of New Zealand's highest rating shows, New Zealand's own soap has reflected the nation's culture and society for 20 years.
MMP made politics more representative of the diverse society New Zealand has become and gave Maori more political power and representation than they had possessed for a century and a half.
First woman Prime Minister. With Jenny Shipley becoming the first woman Prime Minister followed the next year by Helen Clark becoming the first popularly elected PM, the days of New Zealand as an exclusively man's country were well and truly over.
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King wins 11 Oscars. New Zealand becomes identified internationally with beautiful landscapes and cultural creativity.
Sione's Wedding, bro'Town (3rd series), and census shows 60 per cent of Pacific people born in New Zealand: These events highlighted the Pacific community's contribution to the culture and identity of the country.
Christchurch earthquakes: As in the 1931 Hawkes Bay quake we learnt once again that we live in the 'shaky isles', and that in an emergency we respond generously to other New Zealanders in distress.

Source: 30 key events 1912-2012 selected by Dr Jock Phillips and his team at the online encyclopedia Te Ara. More online at: http://blog.teara.govt.nz
Snapshot: New Zealanders aged under 20
* European 58.1%
* Maori 11%
* European-Maori 9.5%
* Asian 8.5%
* Pacific 7.4%
* Other/mixtures 3.2%
* European-Pacific 2.1%

Where we are:
* New Zealand 91.8%
* Australia 6.6%
* Rest of world 1.6%
Source: Statistics NZ