The first people to reach New Zealand were Polynesians who set out from the central Pacific on deliberate voyages of discovery in large canoes. They reached New Zealand, in the south-west corner of the Pacific, between 1200 and 1300 AD. The broad sweep of their epic journeys is indicated by the arrows on this map.
About New Zealand
New Zealand (Aotearoa – the Maori name for New Zealand – means “land of the long white cloud”) is a South Pacific country located midway between the Equator and the South Pole inthe Pacific Ocean, and approximately 1,600 kilometres east of Australia and 10,800 kilometres southwest of Los Angeles. The country consists of two main islands, the North and South Islands, which are together similar in size to Japan or Britain, as well as a number of lesser islands. The country is approximately 1,600 km in length and the total land area is 270,000 sq km. The coastline has a length of 15,134 km.
New Zealand is a relatively mountainous land with mountain ranges in both the North and South Islands. The Cook Strait, 20 km wide at its narrowest point, separates the two major islands. After the North and South Island, the next largest island is Stewart Island, which is 30 km south of the South Island across Foveaux Strait.
Biologists can trace the natural history of New Zealand's plants and animals back over 80 million years. A thousand years ago, 78% of New Zealand was covered by forest. That was reduced to 53% during Maori times, and since 1840, has been reduced to 25% of the total land area. New Zealand now has a strong conservation ethic to save and protect its natural heritage.
New Zealand is a relatively small country but is famed for its diverse landscapes. Spectacular rivers, lakes, islands, peninsulas, sounds, straits, fjords, glaciers and volcanoes exude a unique natural beauty. New Zealand is a popular international travel destination and tourism has become one of the country's leading industries.
New Zealand's climate is oceanic, without extremes of hot or cold. Most parts of the country enjoy ample sunshine and rainfall, although the weather is changeable. New Zealand does not have a large temperature range, lacking the extremes found in most continental climates. However, New Zealand weather can change unexpectedly—as cold fronts or tropical cyclones quickly blow in. Because of this, you should be prepared for sudden changes in weather and temperature if you're going hiking or doing other outdoor activities.
- • Spring - September, October, November
- • Summer - December, January, February
- • Autumn - March, April, May
- • Winter - June, July, August
New Zealand has a largely temperate climate. However, because of the length of New Zealand the far north has subtropical weather during summer, and inland alpine areas of the South Island can be as cold as -10ºC in winter, most of the country lies close to the coast, which means mild temperatures, moderate rainfall, and abundant sunshine. Because New Zealand lies in the Southern Hemisphere, the average temperature decreases as you travel south. The warmest months are December, January and February, and the coldest June, July and August. In summer, the average maximum temperature ranges between 20-30ºC and in winter between 10-15ºC.
With a temperate climate, and stunning variations in our geography - all surrounded by the Pacific and Tasman Oceans – people in New Zealand happily lead an outdoor life. No matter where you live in New Zealand, for instance, you are probably less than an hour from the ocean, and less than 4 hours from a ski field. Which means on the same day you can mountain bike, snowboard and surf. At the same time, cafe society and cultural activities rival those anywhere. New Zealand cuisine and regional wineries are well-regarded internationally - so you'll have plenty to tempt your taste buds.
There are just over 4.3 million New Zealanders of all races, but predominantly of European and Polynesian origin. The Māori population is around 13% of the total. 75% of all New Zealanders live in the North Island. Auckland, the country’s largest city, has a population of over 1 million, with Wellington (the capital at bottom of the North Island), Christchurch and Dunedin (both in the South Island) being the other major cities. One of the joys of New Zealand is that you can also choose to live a more rural lifestyle, and still live within an hour's drive of the centre of any of these cities.
English is the common language of business and everyday usage, but Māori is an official language recognised in the courts and of increasing significance nationally.
New Zealand is an independent parliamentary democracy within the British Commonwealth. The formal head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented by a New Zealander as Governor-General. The legislature is a single-chamber House of Representatives, with 120 members. Elections are held every three years and all people 18 years and over have the right to vote. Some members are elected to represent geographic constituencies, while others win seats as representatives of their parties, in proportion to the percentage of the popular vote their party receives. The head of government is the Prime Minister (leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives) who is assisted by a Cabinet of about 20 Ministers chosen from the elected members of Parliament. The capital city and seat of government is Wellington.
New Zealand has a world-wide reputation for agricultural products. It is the temperate climate with adequate rainfall and high sunshine hours that makes New Zealand such a successful grower of agricultural products. Meat and wool are produced from 53 million sheep, and meat and dairy products from more than 8 million cattle. Almost half of New Zealand’s export earnings are derived from farming. Other major exports are timber and timber products, fish and horticultural produce. Tourism has increased dramatically in significance over the past decade and is now one of the major income earners for New Zealand.
New Zealand, the Youngest Country
Legend has it that New Zealand was fished from the sea. Fact has it that New Zealand was the last land mass on earth to be discovered, making New Zealand the “youngest” country on earth, although not so geologically.
Nation of Migrants
The first New Zealanders, the Maori, migrated here from their ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. This was followed about 800 years later by extensive European migration. The influence of Pacific Island and Asian immigrants during the 20th century has helped shape New Zealand into an even more vibrant and diverse multicultural society.
From Hawaiki to Aotearoa
Maori first landed in Aotearoa (New Zealand — literally ‘Land of the Long White Cloud) on waka hourua (voyaging canoes) from their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki probably over 1,000 years ago. They settled throughout the land, surviving by farming and hunting. By 1800 there were believed to be over 100,000 Maori in New Zealand.
Abel Tasman (a Dutch explorer) became the first European to sight New Zealand, but it was after Captain James Cook (an Englishman) began his circumnavigation of the country in 1769 that European migration began. The first European migrants were whalers and missionaries.
In 1839 there were only about 2,000 Pakeha ( Europeans) in New Zealand. However the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, which saw New Zealand become a British colony, had an enormous effect on the New Zealand population. British migrants were offered a paid passage to New Zealand, and 40,000 arrived here between 1840 and 1860. By 1858 the Maori and Pakeha populations were nearly equal. The South Island gold rush of the 1860s saw even more migrants flood in from around the world, including English, Scots, Irish and Chinese. A labour shortage here in the late 19th century saw even more migrants from the British Isles and Europe come to New Zealand. Most came with assistance from the New Zealand Government.
New Zealand declared independence in 1947, and became its own country, after Britain did not let New Zealand troops return to defend their home against the possibility of Japanese invasion in the Second World War.
Though all New Zealanders became New Zealand citizens, until 1977 they were still British subjects. In 1983, New Zealand was declared "The Realm of New Zealand", and in 1986 the Constitution Act removed all power from the United Kingdom to legislate for New Zealand when it was requested.
Today, Queen Elizabeth holds the title of Queen of New Zealand, and is represented by the Honourable Anand Satyanand, our Governor General. New Zealand remains part of the Commonwealth, but as an independent country.