New Zealand is an island country in the south-west Pacific, comparable in size (268,680 sq km) to the United Kingdom and the Philippines. New Zealand comprises the North and South Islands, and a host of smaller islands. Extensive areas are set aside as national parks. Generally, New Zealand has a temperate climate, although the far north may experience subtropical weather during summer and the inland alpine areas of the South Island can get very cold in winter. Although mean annual temperatures are not extreme, from 16°C in the north to 10°C in the south, the weather can change suddenly with a cold front or tropical cyclone setting in. The North Island is mainly rolling hill country, much of which is farmed. The South Island is divided by the Southern Alps, which run most of its length and rise to over 3,000m. Nowhere in New Zealand is more than 130km from the sea.
The capital is Wellington and the largest city and main port is Auckland. New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the British Commonwealth.
Language and religion
English is the everyday language of New Zealand. English, Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language are recognised as official languages. One-third of New Zealanders are not affiliated with any religion. Of those who are, the largest denominations are Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian.
New Zealand has a diverse multicultural population of over 4 million people, making it one of the world’s least-crowded countries. New Zealand’s indigenous Māori, a Polynesian people, make up around 15 percent of the population.
New Zealand became a British colony in 1840. In that year more than 500 Māori chiefs and representatives of Queen Victoria signed the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty is the country’s founding document and was a political compact between Māori and British settlers to build a government in New Zealand. The Māori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa (‘land of the long white cloud’). New Zealand was named by the first recorded European to visit New Zealand, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, in 1642.
While New Zealand has about 0.1 percent of the world’s population, its economy produces about 0.3 percent of the world’s material output. Compared with the rest of the world, it is one of the richer economies. New Zealanders are generally well educated, healthy, and have a comfortable standard of living.