About New Zealand

A Brief Description:


Over 1,000 years ago waves of Eastern Polynesians arrived in New Zealand and its outer islands. A unique culture developed, and descendents of the original Maori people survive to this day. 

In 1642, the coastline of South Island was sighted by the Dutch East India Company explorer, Abel Tasman. There were brief encounters with the Maori as his crew tried to come ashore. A few of his sailors were killed, but the Captain himself never set foot on land. 

In 1769, the legendary British explorer, James Cook, sailed into New Zealand waters and mapped most of the shoreline. After news of these unspoiled islands spread across the far-reaches of the globe, a hardy group of traders and whalers were quick to arrive. 

Small settlements sprang up along the northern coastline, and a trading culture with the Maori flourished. For centuries – with just clubs and spears – the Maori fended off their enemies, but now with European metal and muskets in their hands, they imposed their will on their neighbors and tribal warfare surfaced for a time. 

As interest in the New Zealand territory peaked across Europe, and in an effort to keep the French out, the British government made their move; they agreed to recognize the sovereignty of the Maori people and appointed William Hobson as the region’s Lieutenant Governor. He worked under the authority of the British Governor of New South Wales, Australia. 

In 1840, Hobson, in his new role, arrived on North Island. Subsequently, Maori chieftains entered into a compact with Britain called the “Treaty of Waitangi.” They ceded sovereignty to Britain’s Queen Victoria while retaining territorial rights – at least on paper. 

With British sovereignty now firmly asserted, Queen Victoria signed a royal charter for New Zealand to become a Crown colony separate from New South Wales, and Hobson was sworn in as the colony’s first Governor. 

With the British in charge, scores of settlers from the British Isles arrived and organized colonial settlements were built. At first the Maori welcomed them, but the inevitable conflicts over land rights brought land wars to New Zealand in 1843 and 1872. As a result, the Maori people were pushed out of their ancestral lands. 

After the New Zealand Parliament met for the first time in 1854, responsible local government was in place and eventual independence was a passionate dream. Among the first British colonies to be declared a dominion, the British colony of New Zealand became an independent (self-governing) dominion in 1907. 

Throughout the 20th century New Zealand remained a supportive member of the British Empire, fighting side-by-side in major wars, including World Wars I and II. On April 25 (ANZAC Day), New Zealand commemorates the anniversary of the landing of troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during World War I at Gallipoli, Turkey. 

The economics of this growing country suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s. That depression led to the election of New Zealand’s first Labor government, a government that established a comprehensive welfare state and a protectionist economy. 

As World War II came to an end, New Zealand was growing in prosperity, but endemic problems remained, especially as the indigenous Maori people moved into cities looking for work and their share of benefits. Social prejudices were now hot button issues. 

In the late 20th century, the coming-of-age government transformed New Zealand from a highly protectionist economy into a more industrialized free-trade economy. As a result, New Zealand is now a modern, prosperous country with a high standard of living and a growing economy. 

In a very positive recent move, seven Maori tribes signed an historic treaty with the New Zealand government, a treaty that compensates them for lands taken during the 19th century. This agreement affects more than 100,000 Maoris, and transfers almost 500,000 acres of forest land into Maori ownership. 

Mountainous New Zealand is comprised of two large islands (separated by the Cook Strait), as well as Stewart Island, hundreds of coastal islands and 
many regional islands that hopscotch across the South Pacific Ocean. It also administers two overseas territories, Tokelau and Ross dependency (in Antarctica). In addition, it handles the defense and foreign affairs of the self-governing Cook Islands and Niue.

 New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and is titled Queen of New Zealand. She is represented by the Governor-General, whom she appoints on the exclusive advice of the country’s elected Prime Minister. 

 As the film location for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the jaw-dropping landscapes of these stunning islands were seen by millions around the world. And in this land of fjords, over three-hundred-named glaciers, geysers, rain forests, toothy-edged mountains, volcanoes, endless miles of unspoiled beaches and welcoming cities and towns, it’s so patently obvious why tourism is the country’s largest growth industry. 

 This dazzling and dramatic country is the birthplace of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Somehow, that accomplishment seems so very, very appropriate for a New Zealander. 


Fast Facts

Name New Zealand

(long form) None

(conventional short form) New Zealand

Capital City Wellington (pop. 379,000) (2007 est.)

Cities (largest by population) Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Dunedin, Tauranga

Currency New Zealand Dollar – (NZD or NZ$)
(conversion rates) here!

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
$111.7 billion (2007 est)

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (per capita)
$26,400 (2007 est)

Holidays (national) February 6, Waitangi Day;
April 25, ANZAC Day

Holidays (public) here!

Land Sizes here!

Language English (official), Maori (official), Sign Language (official)

Population 4,173,460 (2008 est.)

Population (per square mile) here!

Populations of Countries here!

Religions Anglican (15%), Roman Catholic (12%), Presbyterian (11%), None (26%)

Land Statistics
convert (kilometers to miles, meters to feet) here

Coastline measured at 15,134 km (9,400 mi)
(includes coastal islands)

Land Area

(land) 268,680 sq km – includes coastal islands
and the Antipodes Islands, Auckland Islands,
Bounty Islands, Campbell Island,
Chatham Islands, Kermadec Islands
and Stewert Island. Map here!

(water) 1,080 sq km

(TOTAL) 269,760 sq km

Land Area (all countries) here!

Horizontal Widths (North Island) 413 km from New Plymouth, northeast to East Cape. (South Island) 286 km from Fiordland N.P., east to Dunedin

Vertical Length (North Island) 807 km from North Cape to Wellington. (South Island) 726 km from Collingwood to Invercargill

Note: Lengths and widths indicated are point-to-point, straight-line measurements from a Mercator map projection, and will vary some using other map projections

Bordering Countries (0)

Regions (16, and 1 territory**) Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Chatham Islands**, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu-Wanganui, Marlborough, Nelson, Northland, Otago, Southland, Taranaki, Tasman, Waikato, Wellington and West Coast

Map of New Zealand Regions here!

Regions (largest by population) Auckland, 1,371.000

Regions (largest by size) Canterbury, 45,845 sq km

Highest Point Mt. Cook (Aoraki), 3,754 meters

Lowest Point South Pacific Ocean, 0 meters

Latitude and Longitude here!

Relative Location here!


Landforms Comprised of two large islands (separated by the Cook Strait), as well as Stewart Island, hundreds of coastal islands and many regional islands, New Zealand is a country of snowcapped mountains and scenic landscapes – north to south. 

Positioned along the Ring of Fire, the Southern Alps (and it’s many ranges) extend through the western portions of South Island. The country’s highest point, Mount Cook (Aoraki) is located there, as well as over 350 glaciers and a wide assortment of national parks.

Throughout the Southern Alps an additional 19 mountains rise above 3,000 m (10,000 ft). Along the western side of these massive peaks there’s a narrow strip of coastline. Along their eastern flank, the mountains slope into a region of rolling hills and plains, drained by glacier-fed rivers.

In the far south, within the confines of Fiordland National Park, a jagged coastline of fjords, inlets and bays front the Tasman Sea. Milford Sound, located within the park, is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1,200 meters or more on either side. It’s widely considered New Zealand’s top travel destination.

The mountains found on North Island are volcanic in nature, and many remain quite active. On the island’s southwestern corner, Mount Taranaki (or Mt. Egmont) rises to 2,518 m (8,261 ft).

Other volcanic peaks of note stretch across a wide central plateau, including Mount Ruapehu (2,797 m/9,177 ft), Mount Ngauruhoe (2,291 m/7,515 ft), and Mount Tongariro (1,968 m/6,458 ft). This thermal belt area is replete with boiling mud pools, geysers, hot springs and steam vents.

Broad coastal plains ring much of North Island, and along its central western coastline, limestone caves, caverns and underground rivers are common. Along the northeastern coastline, the Bay of Islands is famous for its 125 (or more) scenic islands and secluded coves.

With Mount Maunganui guarding the entrance, and nearly 100 km of white sand, the Bay of Plenty is New Zealand’s premier beach area.

Large areas of temperate rain forests are found along the western shore of South Island, and across much of New Zealand’s North Island.

Occupying an extinct volcanic crate, the country’s largest lake is Lake Taupo on North Island. The country’s longest river, the Waikato, flows north from Lake Taupo through Hamilton, and on into the Tasman Sea.

Lake Te Anau is the largest lake on South Island. The Clutha River is that island’s longest river, and like most rivers here, it originates in a Southern Alps glacial lake.