It is not surprising that contrasts developed between the provinces in legislation and administrative practices. There were divergent and voluminous sets of regulations for the sale of Crown lands. Auckland was unique in offering free, 40-acre grants to fare-paying immigrants and in setting aside reserves for “group settlements” of immigrants. While most provinces sold Crown lands at the fixed price of 10s. per acre, it was £2 per acre in Canterbury, a legacy of the “high price” theories of the Canterbury Association founders. In Nelson all lands were sold at periodical auctions to the highest bidder, and in Otago, where land was sold at 10s., £2 worth of cultivation and improvements per acre had to be made within four years of purchase. Otago alone had a system of deferred payment for land purchases. There were varying methods and standards of land survey, and divided administration meant that there was no accurate system of triangulation to which land-title surveys could be adjusted.
Gold miners moving across provincial boundaries had to take out a new miner's right and become familiar with a new set of goldfield regulations. Early railway lines were built to three different gauges (Canterbury 5 ft 3 in., Southland 4 ft 8½ in., Otago 3 ft 6 in.), but in the Public Works Act of 1870 the Central Government fortunately asserted its powers and standardised the gauge for the whole country at 3 ft 6 in. Although the Provincial Councils were charged with the encouragement of education, only the South Island provinces of Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago made adequate provision for public schooling before the 1870s. In general, Canterbury and Otago were financially sound, and Nelson, although poor in resources, managed its finances prudently. Southland, of all the provinces, stood preeminent in financial dissipation, Marlborough in local factionalism.
Following the abolition of the provinces in 1876, several major consolidating Acts assimilated the mass of provincial legislation into the law of the colony. The most important were the Education Act of 1877, providing for “free, secular and compulsory” schooling, the Municipal Corporations Act and the Counties Act, both of 1876, providing for local government ment, and the Land Act of 1877, which brought the survey and disposal of land under control of the one Government Department.
By the later 1860s it was clear that the provincial system was a clumsy method of governing a small country. Steamships, telegraphs, and the removal of the national capital to Wellington in 1865 had reduced problems of communication. Most immigrants who had arrived after 1860 had little sympathy for the colonising theories of the founder groups of settlers of the forties and early fifties, and the mobility of population between the provinces had been given a great fillip by the gold rushes. Financially, most provinces had failed and, although Otago and Canterbury managed fairly well from their land-sale revenues, others could not maintain the normal machinery of government without grants from the Central Government. In 1867 the provinces lost the power to raise loans overseas, and the Central Government steadily absorbed many provincial government functions relating to the development of resources, notably railway construction and immigration. The inauguration of Vogel's public works policy in the 1870s brought “centralist” and “provincialist” interests into sharp conflict. When the provinces rejected Vogel's proposal to guarantee overseas loans by creating a Crown endowment of reserved lands adjacent to the new railway lines, it was clear that provincial powers were a handicap to national development. The Abolition Bill, introduced to the General Assembly by Atkinson in 1875, was carried on the third reading by 40 votes to 21, nearly all the opposition being provided by Auckland and Otago members.