New Zealand is a self-governing country, (a Parlimentary Democracy, although there is talk of a Rebublic within ten years) in the Southern Pacific Ocean, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It comprises two large islands—North Island and South Island—and numerous smaller islands, including Stewart Island, to the south of South Island. The area of New Zealand is 268,676 sq km (103,736 sq mi). Associated with New Zealand are Ross Dependency (in Antarctica) and the Cook Islands (Rarotonga), Tonga, Niue, and Tokelau (All Islands in the Pacific Ocean).

Land and Resources

New Zealand is a generally mountainous country with several large regions of plains. Two-thirds of the area is between about 200 and 1070 m (about 650 and 3500 ft) above sea level; the country has more than 220 named mountains exceeding 2286 m (7500 ft) in height.

North Island has a very irregular coastline, particularly on its northern extremity, the Auckland Peninsula. In the vicinity of the city of Auckland, the peninsula is only about 10 km (about 6 mi) wide. The principal mountain ranges of North Island extend along the eastern side. A volcanic range in the north central region has three active volcanic peaks: Mount Ruapehu (2797 m/9175 ft), the highest point on the island; Mount Ngauruhoe (2291 m/7515 ft); and Tongariro (1968 m/6458 ft). Mount Egmont (2518 m/8260 ft), a solitary, extinct volcanic cone, is situated near the western extremity of the island. North Island has numerous rivers, most of which rise in the eastern and central mountains. The Waikato River (435 km/270 mi long), the longest river of New Zealand, flows north out of Lake Taupo (606 sq km/234 sq mi), the largest lake in New Zealand, and empties into the Tasman Sea in the west. Numerous mineral hot springs are in the Lake Taupo district.

South Island has a more regular coastline than that of North Island; in the southwest, however, the coast is indented by deep fjords. The chief mountain range of South Island is the Southern Alps, a massive uplift extending in a southwestern to northeastern direction for almost the entire length of the island; 17 peaks in the range exceed 3048 m (10,000 ft) in elevation. Mount Cook (3764 m/12,349 ft), the highest point in New Zealand, rises from the center of the range, which also has a number of glaciers. Most of the rivers of South Island, including the Clutha River (338 km/210 mi long), the longest river of the island, rise in the Southern Alps. The Clutha is formed by the confluence of two branches originating, respectively, in Lake Hawea (124 sq km/48 sq mi) and Lake Wanaka (194 sq km/75 sq mi) and empties into the Pacific Ocean. The largest lake is Lake Te Anau (342 sq km/132 sq mi) in the southern part of the Southern Alps. The Canterbury plains in the east and the Southland plains in the extreme south are the only extensive lowland areas of South Island.


New Zealand lies within the Temperate Zone; the climate is generally mild, and seasonal differences are not great. The north end of the Auckland Peninsula has the warmest climate; the coldest climate occurs on the southwestern slopes of the Southern Alps. Rainfall is generally moderate to abundant and, except in a small area in the south central part of South Island, exceeds 508 mm (20 in) annually. The heaviest rainfall (about 5590 mm/about 220 in) occurs around Milford Sound on the southwestern coast of South Island. The average temperature at Auckland varies between 24‹ C (80.2‹ F) in January and 10.6‹ C (51‹ F) in July; the average rainfall is 1245 mm (49 in). In Dunedin, on the southeastern coast of South Island, the average January and July temperatures are 14.7‹ C (58.5‹ F) and 4.2‹ C (39.5‹ F), respectively; the annual rainfall is 762 mm (30 in).

Natural Resources

The land is the most important resource of New Zealand. It is ideal for crop farming, dairy farming, and 50 Million sheep, all of which predominate in the economy. Forest products are also important. Numerous mineral deposits are found throughout the main islands, including coal, gold, pearlite, sand and gravel, limestone, bentonite, clay, dolomite, and magnesite. Great natural-gas fields are on the North Island and off its southwestern coast. Deposits of uranium and thorium are believed to be present on the islands, because these minerals have been found in isolated boulders.


New Zealand plant life is remarkable in that of the 2000 indigenous species, about 1500 are found nowhere else in the world; examples of such unique plants are the golden kowhai and the scarlet pohutukawa. North Island has predominantly subtropical vegetation, including mangrove swamps in the north. The forest, or so-called bush, of North Island is principally evergreen with dense undergrowth of mosses and fern. Evergreen trees include the kauri, rimu, kahikatea, and totara, all of which are excellent timber trees. The only extensive area of native grassland on North Island is the central volcanic plain. The eastern part of South Island, for the most part, is grassland up to an elevation of about 1525 m (about 5000 ft). Most of the forest is in the west. It is made up principally of native beech and is succeeded by alpine vegetation at high altitudes.

Animals & Birds

With the exception of two species of bat, no indigenous mammals are native to New Zealand. The first European (Paheka) settlers, who arrived in the late 18th/early 19th century, found a type of dog and a black rat, both of which had been brought by the earlier immigrating Maori (see the Population section below) about 500 years earlier and are now almost extinct. A great flightless Bird (the Moa - standing 7 feet tall- was hunted for food, and by the time the Europeans arrived, it had become extinct). The only wild mammals at present are descended from deer, rabbits, goats, pigs, weasels, ferrets, and opossums—all of which were imported either deliberately or accidentally by the settlers. No snakes and very few species of annoying insects inhabit New Zealand. The ancient and rare tuatara, a lizardlike reptile with a vestigial third eye, is believed to be a prehistoric survival.

New Zealand has a large population of wild birds, including 23 native species. Among the native species are pidgeons, songbirds, including the bellbird and tui, and flightless species, including the kiwi, kakapo, takahe, and weka. The survival of the flightless birds is attributed to the absence of predatory animals, although the flightless Moa did not survive the early Maori immigration as it was slow and easy to catch. No thought seems to have been given to presevation of this large food resource, as apparently no efforts were made by Maori to cultivate it domestically as a food source. The native Pidgeon is the latest species to be threatened, as Maori "custom" needs these birds for "ceremonies" although it is widely believed in Conservation circles that they are being eaten as a delicacy and will soon become as extinct as the Moa. The sparrow, blackbird, thrush, skylark, magpie, and myna are well-acclimated imported species. New Zealand abounds in a great variety of seabirds and numerous migratory birds.

The rivers and lakes have a variety of native edible fish, including whitebait, eel, lamprey, and freshwater crustaceans, particularly crayfish. Trout and salmon have been imported. Japanese Koi are becoming a problem, as they eat the Trout fingerlings - so are a banned fish. Nevertheless a large numer of Koi are loose in the wild rivers of New Zealand, introduced there as "sport" fishing for the common man. (they are not good to eat) The surrounding ocean waters are the habitat of the orange roughy, schnapper (snapper), flounder, blue cod, hapuku, tarakihi, swordfish, flying fish, shark, and whale, as well as edible shellfish, such as the oyster, mussel, and toheroa.


According to the 1996 census, approximately 80% of New Zealanders are of European (mainly British) descent. About 10% (some 354,000) are Maori, a Polynesian group, with some Melanesian admixture, whose ancestors migrated to New Zealand about the 14th century. The Maori have adapted themselves to the society and work in all types of industry and the professions and are generally accepted as "equal new zealanders" although a few Radical Maoris dispute this and demand a return to Maori Rule. About 5% of the population is of Polynesian descent. Other races include Chinese (Hong Kong), Chinese (Taiwan), Japanese, Malaysian, Australian, American and Canadian emmigrants

Population Characteristics

The population of New Zealand (1996 estimate) was 3,537,000, giving the country an overall population density of about 14 persons per sq km (about 32 per sq mi). Nearly three-quarters of the population (including more than 95% of the Maori) resided on North Island, however. About 85% of the people lived in urban areas, and about half of these in the four largest cities and their environs (see Principal Cities section below).

Principal Cities

The capital of New Zealand and the center of interisland and coastal shipping is Wellington (population, 1996 estimate, greater city, 324,600). Other urban centers, with their 1996 (greater city) populations, are Auckland (1,350,000), a seaport and dairy distribution center; Christchurch (310,500), the wheat and grain center; Dunedin (106,400), a wool and gold center, and Hamilton (104,100), a center for dairy farming.

Religion and Language

More than 80% of the population enters "christian" on the census form, although Church attendance would seem to question this choice. The major denominations are the Church of England, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Methodist. Many of the Maori are members of the Ratana and Ringatu Christian sects. Jews, Hindus, and Confucians constitute small minorities and the influx of Asian immigrants has brought other eastern religions. There is a large Hare Chrishna temple in Auckland, and Muslims are becoming more noticeable as they wear their traditional garb.

English is the official First language, and Maori the official Second language, although it is rare to hear Maori spoken in the Urban environment. Most Maoris do not speak Maori, a Polynesian language, but they learn it as a second language and speak it amongst themselves. Attempts have been made to raise the Maroi language awareness, and Koheo Reo (language nests) have been established to give young Maori a sense of tradition and history. Some TV time is dedicated to Maori language news and general interest programs, as is the Tongan Island TV channel, broadcast at set times on the Government channel (TV1). Most other TV is in the English language.


Education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15 years, but children may enter school at 5 and continue until they are 19. In some areas free kindergartens are maintained for children between three and five years of age.On the completion of the third or fourth year of secondary education, pupils who do not desire to enter a university may take the examination for the Certificate attesting completion of the secondary course. (this will discontinue in 1996/7). The prerequisite for admission to university study is either completion of a 4-year course at an approved secondary school or the passing of the university entrance examination.

Universities and Colleges

The university system in New Zealand in the 1990s comprised six separate universities and a university college of agriculture. The seven institutions were the University of Auckland (1882), Waikato University (1964, at Hamilton), the Victoria University of Wellington (1899), Massey University (1926, at Palmerston North), the University of Canterbury (1873, at Christchurch), the University of Otago (1869, at Dunedin), and Lincoln College (1878, near Christchurch), a constituent agricultural college of the University of Canterbury. Under the Universities Act of 1961 a university grants committee advises the government on the needs of university education and research and allocates the grants of money that it recommends for appropriation by the parliament. The six universities and the agricultural college had a combined annual enrollment in the late 1980s of about 76,800 students. Several teachers colleges were also in operation, and an extensive adult-education program throughout the country was conducted by the National Council of Adult Education.


The earliest (pre-European) cultural tradition in New Zealand was that of the Maori. The literature consisted of history, tales, poems, and myths handed down by oral tradition - ie fireside stories. The indigenous art of New Zealand was also Maori. European settlers, particularly the English, brought with them their own traditions, colored by an unsettled, expatriate sentiment that was a strong influence on the cultural life of the country until the early 20th century, but that has since given way to a more multicultural society.