New Zealand is an independent sovereign state in the south-western Pacific Ocean. The country consists of two major islands and a number of smaller islands. A popular Māori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, often translated as The Land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth Realm. New Zealand is responsible for the self-governing states of the Cook Islands and Niue and administers Tokelau and the Ross Dependency.
Of New Zealand's four million people, roughly three million live in the North Island and one million in the South Island. These islands are among the largest in the world and the combined land area is comparable to the British Isles or the US state of Colorado. Along with Aotearoa, another Māori name for New Zealand was Niu Tireni, a transliteration of the English name.
Other islands have much smaller populations and cover much less land area. The most significant of these islands are:
Stewart Island (south of the South Island), the third largest island by land area with a population of around 400
Waiheke Island, an island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, and, with about 7,000 people (far more in summer), the third most populated island in New Zealand
Great Barrier Island, east of the Hauraki Gulf
- the Chatham Islands, an outlying group of islands with a population of about 750.
Places in New Zealand:
- Main centres (articles generally cover the greater area, including satellite areas): Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Gisborne, Napier, Hastings, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Timaru, Queenstown, Dunedin, Invercargill
- Lists of towns and cities in New Zealand
List of New Zealand place names and their meanings
Regions (asterisks denote unitary authorities): Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne*, Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington, Marlborough*, Nelson*, Tasman*, West Coast, Canterbury, Otago, Southland, Chatham Islands*
New Zealand is one of the most recently settled major land masses. Polynesian settlers arrived probably some time between 500 and 1300 AD, and established the indigenous Māori culture.
The first Europeans known to reach New Zealand were led by Abel Janszoon Tasman, who sailed up the west coast of the South and North islands in 1642. The Dutch thought it was a single land which they named Staaten Landt. It was later named "Nieuw Zeeland" after the area in Batavia where they had been based, which in turn was named after the Dutch province of Zeeland. In 1769 Captain James Cook began extensive surveys of the islands. This led to European whaling expeditions and eventually significant European colonisation.
New Zealand became a British colony with the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840, which promised 'Tino Rangatiratanga' to the Māori tribes of New Zealand. This phrase, translated as 'Governorship" by the British, more accurately means 'Sovereignty' in Maori. This difference in translation continues to cause friction today.
New Zealand became an independent dominion on 26 September, 1907 by royal proclamation. Full independence was granted by the United Kingdom Parliament with the Statute of Westminster in 1931; it was taken up upon the Statute's adoption by the New Zealand Parliament in 1947. Since then New Zealand has been a sovereign constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth of Nations.
New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Under the New Zealand Royal Titles Act (1953), Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of New Zealand and is represented as head of state by the Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright.
Parliament consists of the 120-member unicameral House of Representatives, from which an executive Cabinet of about 20 ministers is appointed. There is no written constitution.
The Cabinet is led by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, currently Helen Clark of the centre-left Labour party, which governs in coalition with the further-left Progressive Party, and with support from the Christian conservative United Future.
General elections are held every three years; the most recent were held in July 2002. The Leader of the Opposition is Don Brash who became leader of the National party on 28 October 2003. Currently eight parties are represented in the House of Representatives, which since 1996 has been elected by a form of proportional representation called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).
New Zealand is a party to the ANZUS security treaty between Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. In 1985 New Zealand refused to allow US nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships to enter its ports, causing the US to abrogate its ANZUS responsibilities to New Zealand in 1986. New Zealand has not formally withdrawn from the treaty.
New Zealand is a member of the following geo-political organisations:
New Zealand has a High Court (until 1980 known as the Supreme Court) and a Court of Appeal (formerly part of the Supreme Court), as well as subordinate courts. Until 2004, appeals from decisions of the Court of Appeal could be appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
In 2003 the Supreme Court Act was passed, abolishing appeals to the Privy Council, with effect from 2004 and setting up a Supreme Court of New Zealand in Wellington.
The current Chief Justice is Dame Sian Elias.
When originally settled, New Zealand was divided into provinces. These were abolished in 1876 so that government could be centralised for financial reasons. As a result, New Zealand has no separately represented subnational entity such as a province, state or territory apart from its local government. The spirit of the provinces however still lives on and there is fierce rivalry exhibited in sporting and cultural events.
Since 1876, local government has administered the various regions of New Zealand. Due to its colonial heritage, New Zealand local government was modelled fairly closely on British local government structures, with elected city, borough, and county councils. Over the years some of these councils merged or had boundary adjustments by mutual agreement, and a few new ones were created. In 1989, the government completely reorganised local government, implementing the current two-tier structure of regional councils and territorial authorities.
Today New Zealand has 12 regional councils for the administration of environmental and transport matters and 74 territorial authorities that administer roading, sewerage, building consents, and other local matters. The territorial authorities are 16 city councils, 57 district councils, and the Chatham Islands Council. Four of the territorial councils (one city and three districts) and the Chatham Islands Council also perform the functions of a regional council and thus are known as unitary authorities. Territorial authority districts are not subdivisions, as such, of regional council districts and a few of them straddle regional council boundaries.
New Zealand comprises two main islands and a number of smaller islands. The South Island is the largest land mass, and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps, the highest peak of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook, at 3754 metres. There are 18 peaks of more than 3000 metres in the South Island. The North Island is less mountainous than the South, but is marked by volcanism. The tallest North Island mountain, Mount Ruapehu (2797 metres), is an active cone volcano.
The total land area of New Zealand, 268,680 km², is somewhat less than that of Japan or of the British Isles, and slightly larger than Colorado in the USA. The country extends more than 1600 km along its main, north north-east axis.
New Zealand is the most geographically isolated of all countries. Its closest neighbour Australia is 2,000 km to the north-west of the main islands across the Tasman Sea. The only landmass to the south is Antarctica, and to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga.
Partly because of its geographical isolation from neighbouring countries, and partly because of the number and location of numerous uninhabited islands belonging to it, New Zealand's Exclusive economic zone of marine resources was the world's fifth largest, at 4.2 million square kilometres in the year 2000 (according to New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research).
The usual climate throughout the country is mild, mostly cool temperate to warm temperate, with temperatures rarely falling below 0°C or rising above 30°C. Conditions vary from wet and cold in Southland and the West Coast of the South Island, where most of the country's rain falls, to subtropical in Northland. In Wellington the average minimum temperature in winter is 5.9°C and the average maximum temperature in summer is 20.3°C.
New Zealand's scenery has appeared in a number of television programmes and films. In particular, Hercules and Xena were filmed around Auckland, Heavenly Creatures in Christchurch. The Tribe is set and filmed here too. Peter Jackson shot the epic The Lord of the Rings trilogy in various locations around the country, taking advantage of the spectacular and relatively unspoiled landscapes, and Mount Taranaki was used as a stand-in for Mount Fuji in The Last Samurai. Other movies currently filming in New Zealand include King Kong and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Flora and Fauna
Because of its long isolation from the rest of the world, New Zealand has extraordinary flora and fauna. Until the arrival of the first humans just a millennium or two ago, 80% of the land was forested and, barring two species of bat, there were no non-marine mammals at all. Instead, New Zealand's forests were inhabited by a diverse range of birds (many of them flightless), reptiles, and insects—some of them almost the size of a mouse (see weta).
New Zealand has a modern, developed economy. Its primary export industries are agriculture, horticulture, fishing, forestry and information technology. There are also substantial tourism and export education industries. The film and wine industries are considered to be up-and-coming.
Since 1984 successive governments have engaged in major economic restructuring, transforming New Zealand from a highly protectionist and regulated economy to a liberalised, free-trade economy. Despite periods of dynamic growth in the mid 1980s and early '90s, average yearly economic growth has been poorer than expected and is highly reliant on massive levels of immigration to boost GDP. However, since 1999 New Zealand has enjoyed a period of relatively strong and sustained growth.
The current New Zealand government's economic objectives are centred around moving from being ranked among the lower end of the OECD countries to regaining a higher placing again, pursuing free-trade agreements, "closing the gaps" between ethnic groups, and building a "knowledge economy."
Unlike in previous decades, New Zealand has now contained inflationary pressures, meaning double-digit inflation has been consigned to the past.
New Zealand is heavily dependent on trade—particularly in agricultural products—to drive growth, and it has been affected by global economic slowdowns and slumps in commodity prices. Since agricultural exports are highly sensitive to currency values and a large percentage of consumer goods are imported, any changes in the value of the New Zealand dollar has a strong impact on the economy.
In 2004 it began discussing free trade with China, one of the first countries to do so.
During the late 1980s, the New Zealand Government sold a number of major trading enterprises, including its telecommunications company, railway network, a number of radio stations and two financial institutions in a series of asset sales. Although the New Zealand Government continues to own a number of significant businesses, collectively known as State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), they are operated through arms-length shareholding arrangements as stand alone businesses that are required to operate profitably, just like any privately owned enterprise. Various items of protective legislation establish business objectives yet prevent shareholding governments from having influence over day to day operations of the business. Postal services, electricity companies, radio and television broadcasters, as well as hospitals and other trading enterprises are established in this way. The core State Service consists of government departments and ministries that primarily provide government administration, policy advice, law enforcement, and social services.
New Zealand has a population of slightly over 4 million. About 80% of the population is of European descent. Māori people are the second largest ethnic group (14.7%). Between the 1996 and 2001 censuses, the number of people of Asian origin (6.6%) overtook that of Pacific Islanders (6.5%) (note that the census allowed multiple ethnic affiliations).
Christianity is the predominant religion in New Zealand, although over a quarter of the population has no religious affiliation. The main Christian denominations are Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, Roman Catholicism and Methodism. There are also significant numbers who identify themselves with Pentecostal and Baptist churches and with the Mormon church. The New Zealand-based Ratana church has many adherents among Māori. According to census figures, other significant minority religions include Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.
See also: New Zealand English, New Zealand cinema, New Zealand literature, Music of New Zealand, Iwi
New Zealand Standard Time is 12 hours in advance of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Between the first Sunday in October each year and the third Sunday in March of the following year New Zealand observes Daylight Saving time which is 13 hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time. The Chatham Islands are 45 minutes ahead of New Zealand standard and daylight times.
(These holidays are legislated by several Acts of Parliament.)
There are also Provincial Anniversary Days to celebrate the founding days or landing days of the first colonists of the various colonial provinces. The actual observance of Anniversary days can vary even within each province due to local custom, convenience or the proximity of seasonal events or other holidays. This may differ from the historical observance day, and may be several weeks from the historic date of the events being commemorated. A full list of Anniversary days is listed in the article Holidays in New Zealand.
New Zealand's most popular sports are rugby (primarily rugby union but also rugby league), soccer (the most popular sport amongst children), cricket, and netball (the sport with the most players); golf, tennis, rowing and a variety of water sports, particularly sailing. Snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding are also popular. Equestrian sportsmen and sportswomen make their mark in the world (Mark Todd being chosen international "Horseman of the Century"), and all the way down to the juniors at pony club level.
The country is internationally recognised as achieving extremely well on a medals-to-population ratio at Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games. See, for example, New Zealand Olympic medallists and New Zealand at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Rugby as a sport is closely linked to New Zealand's national identity. The national rugby team is called the All Blacks and has the best winning record of any national team in the world. The style of name has been followed in naming the national team in several other sports. New Zealand's national sporting colours are not the colours of its flag, but are black and white (silver). The silver fern is a national emblem worn by New Zealanders representing their country in sport. The haka—a traditional Māori challenge—is often performed at sporting events. The All Blacks traditionally perform a haka before the start of international matches.
Yachting, America's Cup
Auckland hosted the last two America's Cup regattas (2000 and 2003). In 2000, Team New Zealand successfully defended the trophy they won in 1995 in San Diego, but in 2003 they lost to a team headed by Ernesto Bertarelli of Switzerland whose Alinghi was skippered by Russell Coutts, the expatriate Kiwi who helmed the victorious Black Magic in 1995 and New Zealand in 2000. Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth along with several other Team New Zealand members defected to Bertarelli's Alinghi team taking with them a wealth of experience that allowed the new team to win the America's Cup on the first challenge. Coutts has now been dismissed from the Alinghi team and is fighting a court battle with Bertarelli to allow him to sail in the 2007 America's Cup contest in Spain.
Last updated: 10-24-2005 16:02:22