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New Zealand

Updated on May 5, 2010

New Zealand is a country within the British Commonwealth, consisting of two large and several groups of smaller islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean 1,900 km east of southern Australia.

New Zealand became a separate British colony in 1841; for a short time it had been a dependency of New South Wales (Australia). In 1852 New Zealand became internally self-governing, and in 1907 it was styled a dominion instead of a colony. Between the two world wars New Zealand took control of its foreign affairs and thus became fully self-governing.

The great majority of New Zealand's people are descended from British settlers, who colonized the country from 1840 onward. Most of the rest are Maori, a Polynesian people.

Its economic life is based on sheep and dairy farming. In fact, New Zealand has more sheep than human inhabitants.

The country's snow-capped mountains, glaciers, fjords, dense forests, and broad coastal lowlands contribute to its natural beauty. Cool summers, mild winters, and predominantly clear skies provide a pleasant climate for New Zealanders.

Physical Geography

New Zealand proper is formed of the North Island, the South Island, Stewart Islands, and Chatham Islands. Outliers are the Kermadec Islands, Three Kings Islands, Auckland Islands, Campbell Island, Antipodes Islands, Bounty Islands, Snares Islands, and Solander Island.

New Zealand's overseas territories are Niue Island (one of the Cook group, but under separate administration since 1903), the Tokelau Islands (to New Zealand in 1926), and the Ross Dependency in the Antarctic (defined in 1923).

The total area of New Zealand (excluding the Ross Dependency and Tokelau Islands) is 268,676 km2; the North Island and islets is 114,688 km2; and the South Island and islets 150,461 km2.

North Island and South Island, separated by narrow Cook Strait, are the largest islands of New Zealand. A third and much smaller island, Stewart Island, is located to the south across Foveaux Strait. The northernmost and southernmost points of these islands are more than 900 miles (1,400 km) apart. Most of New Zealand is either mountain or hill country.

New Zealand is one of the loneliest of civilized countries of any importance. The shortest sea voyage between its ports and those of Australia is a run of about 1,200 miles. It is separated from the coast of Chile by about 4,000 miles of open ocean, while north and south, empty sea wastes stretch to the Antarctic and Polynesia, respectively. The archipelago itself stands boldly up, showing, as a rule, steep shores backed up by a hilly or mountainous interior. Long curving beaches of sand or shingle, backed by cliffs or sand dunes, often extend for many miles.

But even where the hills do not thrust their sides or spurs into the surf, they are seldom far away, and on the east coast are usually so clearly visible through the bright atmosphere that the first impression left by New Zealand is of a chain of half-submerged highlands, broken, precipitous, and picturesque. When, as on the mid-east coast of the South Island, or on the west of the North Island, the shores themselves are low-lying and commonplace, the striking background catches the eye and redeems the landscape. It is, however, where the mountains meet the ocean, or where long sea-arms wind in among the ranges, that the famed coastal scenery is found.

Wellington stands on a magnificent harbor, Port Nicholson; and a second natural harbor in the North Island is occupied by the city of Auckland. On the east coast, Lyttelton and Otago (Port Chalmers) in the South Island, and Napier in the North Island, the third, fourth, and sixth ports respectively, have had to be improved at great cost by dredging and breakwater construction; and the same is true in the case of Bluff Harbour, the point of departure at the south end of the country.

Photo by Susan Tito
Photo by Susan Tito


In size, as in configuration and climate. New Zealand may be more fairly likened to Italy and Sicily than to the British Isles.

Long mountain ranges form a backbone, stretching (save for the gap made by Cook Strait) from Puysegur Point, at the extreme southwest of the South Island, to the East Cape and the Bay of Plenty, in the North Island. The south end of the North Island, for 30 miles behind Wellington, is wind-beaten and hilly. Northward of this area are fertile expanses, and except in the east around Napier, on Hawke's Bay, little of this attractive country is a dead level. Rolling downs, steep hills of moderate height, narrow, rich river valleys mark it everywhere. A green, moist, warm land, more suited, as a rule, for pasture, spreads along the west coast as far north as the mouth of the river Waikato, and on the east to the mouth of the Rangitaiki, on the Bay of Plenty.

The higher mountains in the North Island occupy approximately one tenth of the surface. The center of the island is a plateau of from 1,200 to 2,000 feet in height, lying round Lake Taupo and dominated by volcanic cones. The highest volcanic peaks are Ruapehu, 9,175 feet, Egmont, 8,260 feet, Ngauruhoe, 7,515 feet, and Tongariro, 6,458 feet; only Egmont can be classed as extinct.

As late as 1886 there was a violent eruption of Mount Tarawera, in the Hot Lake district, during which the celebrated Pink and White Terraces, of worldwide fame as natural wonders, disappeared; Tarawera was previously supposed to be an extinct volcano. Warm or boiling springs, geysers, pools of boiling mud, fumaroles, solfataras, and colored lakelets are numerous. Cold lakes and waterfalls add to the picturesqueness of this district; and the healing power of the thermal waters is widely known.

In and near the volcanic territory of the North Island, the soil is mingled with pumice and is not suitable for grass, though trees and long-rooted plants do well there. South of Lake Taupo and east of the great volcanoes, a patch of true desert is encountered. Bordering on the comparatively barren pumice area is found, both to the east and west, highly fertile country. Here the usual formation is that locally called papa, a calcareous stratum resembling soft limestone. The fine trees and tall bracken which once covered the surface have given way in large measure to the cultivated grasses of the farmers. North of Lake Taupo the island narrows into a long peninsula, indented again and again, and well nigh cut in twain where the Waitemata almost meets the Manukau.

Along almost the entire length of the South Island runs the massive mountain chain known as the Southern Alps, 17 peaks of which, exceeding 10,000 feet, are in the region of eternal snow. Mount Cook (Aorangi), the highest peak in New Zealand, attains 12,349 feet. Here are glaciers which, on the western slopes, descend and penetrate the evergreen pine and beech forests, while on the eastern side their size surprises geologists and mountain climbers. The Tasman, largest of the glaciers, which rises in the area surrounding Mount Cook, has a length of 18 miles and an average width of 1/4 miles. Other long glaciers in the South Island are the Murchison, 11 miles, the Godley, 8 miles, the Mueller, 8 miles, and the Hooker, 7 l/4 miles. Toward the northern end of the South Island the mountains, though somewhat less in height, are no longer merely a backbone. They extend right across the island, and the seaward flank of one fine double range, the Kaikouras, towers above the eastern coast. Southward from the Kaikouras are found the largest flat area (the Canterbury plains) and many roomy valleys, flats, and manageable slopes.

Photo by Robert MacDonald
Photo by Robert MacDonald


Both the main islands have numerous lakes, the larger of them generally situated at high altitudes. Those of South Island have magnificent scenic settings in the midst of extremely rugged country, while the lakes of North Island, situated on a volcanic plateau, are of interest by reason of the neighboring thermal activity. Taupo, the largest lake of the North Island, is 1,211 feet above sea level; it is 238 square miles in area, and its greatest depth is 534 feet. The two largest lakes of the South Island, Te Anau and Wakatipu, cover areas of 132 and 112 square miles respectively; the greatest depth of the former is 906 feet, and of the latter, 1,242 feet.


Most of the numerous rivers are short, and show the characteristics of mountain torrents, the rapidity and the cold, pure water, running low in summer and disturbed by sudden turbid floods. In the North Island, the longest rivers are the Wanganui, 150 miles, the Rangitikei, 100 miles, and the Manawatu, 100 miles, flowing into Cook Strait; and the Waikato, 220 miles, entering the Tasman Sea. Among rivers in the South Island, the Wairau, 100 miles, is the longest emptying into Cook Strait; the Clutha, 210 miles, the Waitaki, 135 miles, the Clarence, 125 miles, and the Taieri, 125 miles, of those joining the Pacific Ocean; the Mataura, 120 miles, and the Waiau, 60 miles, entering Foveaux Strait; and the Buller, 105 miles, flowing into the Tasman Sea. Nearly all the rivers are obstructed at their mouths by bars and are little used for internal communication. However, the rapid rate of flow and dependability of volume render them valuable as sources of hydroelectric power. Imported fresh-water fish, notably trout, thrive in the streams, which afford exceptionally fine fishing.

Photo by Nicholas Dench
Photo by Nicholas Dench

North Island

North Island is dominated by several mountain ranges that stretch along the eastern coast in an almost unbroken chain from Cape Palliser in the south to East Cape. The principal ranges, Tararua Range, Ruahine Range, and the Kaimanawa Mountains, do not exceed 6,000 feet (1,800 meters), but their steep slopes and ruggedness form a barrier between the east coast and the rest of the island. West of the mountains is a volcanic plateau covered with pumice, or hardened volcanic froth and marked by three isolated volcanic peaks. The highest is Ruapehu, with an elevation of 9,175 feet (2,797 meters). Beneath the surface of the plateau uncooled lava deposits produce hot springs, mud volcanoes, and geysers. Many water-filled depressions are in this area. Lake Taupo is New Zealand's largest lake, with an area of 238 square miles (616 sq km) and a maximum depth of 534 feet (163 meters), and the source of its longest river, the Waikato, which flows 220 miles (354 km) to the Tasman Sea.

In the extreme west, rising from a low coastal pastureland, stands Mount Egmont, an extinct volcano. From the northern flank of the volcanic plateau the Auckland peninsula, a region of rolling hills, extends to the northwest.

Photo by Benjamin Earwicker
Photo by Benjamin Earwicker

South Island

The most prominent feature of South Island is the Southern Alps, high rugged mountains that extend the length of the island. Mount Cook, rising to 12,349 feet (3,764 meters) in the center of the range, is the highest mountain in New Zealand.

Many of the mountains are snow-capped the year round, and there are numerous glaciers on their slopes. The largest of these is Tasman Glacier, which is 18 miles (29 km) long, Franz Joseph Glacier, west of Mount Cook, descends into a forest at a point only 900 feet (275 meters) above sea level. During the ice age these glaciers extended farther down the mountain valleys. They carved out U-shaped depressions that form the basins for several large lakes in the south-central portion of the island. To the southwest, glaciation eroded the coastline to form numerous deep fjords that compare in scenic grandeur with those of Norway.

Broad and gentle slopes descend eastward from the Southern Alps through a belt of foothills to the Canterbury plains along the central portion of the east coast. Several rivers flow from the mountain lakes across these slopes to the eastern coast. To the west of the range, mountain spurs extending to the sea divide the coastal plain into a series of sections that are collectively called Westland. At the south-central extreme of the island is an extensive lowland.


New Zealand has a temperate marine climate with cool summers and mild winters. However, the climate of South Island is generally more severe than that of North Island because of the higher latitude, the proximity of colder seas, and the greater average altitude. Mean annual temperatures range from about 58° F. (14° C.) in Auckland in the north to 50° F. (10° C.) in Invercargill in the south. In Wellington, which may be taken as the center of the country, the mean annual temperature is 54.8° F., and scarcely ever falls more than one or two degrees below freezing point.

Fogs are widespread and persistent during the approach of cyclonic depressions, and even in calm weather parts of the coast are occasionally affected by them. Snow falls an average of 30 days each on the highest peaks in the North Island, and on the higher ranges throughout the South Island, but it is rare at sea level.

The yearly rainfall varies from 26 inches on the littoral of Canterbury to 170 inches among the sounds of the southwest. In Wellington, the mean rainfall is 44.86 inches, and in Auckland 49.14 inches. The seasonal periods, naturally opposite to those of the Northern Hemisphere, are: spring, September to November; summer, December to February; autumn, March to May; and winter, June to August.

Photo by Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo
Photo by Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo
Photo by Benjamin Earwicker
Photo by Benjamin Earwicker

Animal Life

New Zealand has relatively few species of animals because of its long isolation from other landmasses. The only native land mammals are two species of bats. However, there are two species of frogs and many kinds of small lizards, among them the three-eyed tuatara, a remnant of prehistoric reptile life.

In the absence of natural enemies, some of New Zealand's birds became flightless. One of these, the kiwi, has become a national symbol. Another flightless bird, the great ostrich-like moa, has been extinct for centuries. In the Southern Alps a large hawklike green parrot, the kea, occasionally kills sheep for kidney fat. The tui and the makomako, or bellbird, are much admired as songbirds. Cormorants, penguins, gulls, and terns are plentiful, and several species of shore birds make remarkable migrations to New Zealand from regions around the North Pole.

The short-tailed bat belongs to a genus peculiar to the country, while the long-tailed bat is of a genus found also in the Australian and Ethiopian geological regions.

Besides domestic animals, many other animals were introduced into the country by its European settlers. Some of these, such as rabbits, deer, elk, and goats, have become pests that destroy valuable pastureland.

Within the waters of New Zealand are found the sea lion, the sea elephant, and the sea leopard. Fur seals and bay whales are now almost extinct.

About 310 species of fish have been found, some genera being peculiar to New Zealand waters. Big game salt-water fish are plentiful, particularly in the bays southeast of Auckland, varieties including the broadbill swordfish; black and striped marlin; mako, thresher and hammerhead shark; and kingfish. Most important of the edible sea fishes are the snapper, tarahiki, flounder, blue cod, and groper (or hapuku). New Zealand "whitebait" are the young of Galaxias attenuatus, a species that lives for the greater part of its adult life in fresh water, descending to tidal water to spawn in late sum-' mer and autumn. Other species of Galaxias are found in the streams and lakes, as well as smelt, grayling, and other small fishes. Many varieties of salmon and trout have been introduced to New Zealand's inland waters, and have flourished exceedingly; as have, also, the European perch, tench, and carp, and the North American catfish.

Photo by Annika Vogt
Photo by Annika Vogt

The People

When the first handful of British seamen, traders, missionaries, and settlers reached New Zealand, early in the 19th century, they found the Maori already established in the country. When organized government was first established in 1840, the white inhabitants numbered approximately 1,000. During the succeeding 20 years there was a large increase in European settlement, brought about to a considerable extent through the activities of colonizing companies and societies.

There Maori people were a branch of the Polynesian race found in Hawaii, Samoa, and other Pacific groups eastward of Fiji, are well-built, brown-skinned, pleasant-looking, courteous in bearing and speech. The main wave of migration probably reached New Zealand in the 14th century, sailing in double canoes. When discovered by Europeans, they were divided into a number of small tribes, often at war, and as late as 1770 were Neolithic men, using weapons and tools of polished stone and knowing neither pottery nor metalworking. Their artistic qualities found expression in wood carving, weaving, and dyeing.

They did not even employ bows and arrows, and in war fought chiefly hand-to-hand with spears and clubs. They were expert gardeners and, in the absence of quadrupeds, clung to the sea coast, the river sides, and to lakes and forests where they could find birds and fish in abundance. Chiefs and priests, sustained by the terrors of tapu, controlled the well-organized tribes.

Their mythology, many of their legends, and some of their folklore, show much poetry and imaginative power. The Maori, proud and independent, fought the migrants from Europe well and long before 1840, when, by the Treaty of Waitangi, they reached a settlement with the pakeha (white man). Even later, particularly during 1860-1870, serious fighting occurred, but peace was finally firmly established and the Maori took his place alongside the pakeha.

In some parts of the country the Maori still preserve their old ways of life, their traditions, songs, chants, dances, and language. Though in communities close to the larger cities they have largely adopted the white man's habits. The Maori numbered perhaps 250,000 when British sovereignty over New Zealand was proclaimed in 1840. Subsequently the native population declined steadily until, by the close of the 19th century, there were less than 50,000. Thereafter there was a rapid increase, the population almost doubling by 1941, with the birth rate twice that of the white New Zealander.

After World War II the government considerably expanded its program of encouraging migration of selected persons from Europe. Down to March 31, 1952, assisted immigrants from Great Britain after the war, whose fares were provided by the New Zealand government, totaled 12,079, and still others paid their own fares; immigrants from the Netherlands, to whose fares the government contributed, totaled 1,155 during 1951-1952; and down to 1952, when the scheme was terminated, 4,582 displaced persons were resettled in New Zealand under the auspices of the International Refugee Organization. British children without parents are also brought to New Zealand at the expense of the latter's government. Under the provisions of the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act, 1948, citizens of New Zealand have also the status of British nationality.

The population of New Zealand now numbers around 4.3 million people.


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    • Jaspals profile image

      Jaspal Singh 

      5 years ago from India / Australia

      Very Informative and interesting details along with beautiful pictures.

    • Brooke Lorren profile image

      Brooke Lorren 

      7 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Gorgeous pictures.

    • Eaglekiwi profile image


      7 years ago from -Oceania

      Wow ,long hub read a bit like every tourist brochure out there lol.

      I am one of the Native Polynesians you wrote about and the weather is bloody perfect thankyou very much ! hahaha

      Thankyou Darkside -very comprehensive.

    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Australia

      If by stuffed you mean toy, then yes :)

    • kiwi91 profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Excellent work, I think you've touched on just about every major aspect of New Zealand. Is that a stuffed kiwi by the way?

    • sugz profile image


      8 years ago from Quakeville... Christchurch, New Zealand

      good hub. a few things in there i didn't already know bout nz.. great for the traveller that wants to come here and see why it's such a relaxed place to live :) ok, most times haha

      i actualy stopped reading 2/3rds the way through cos i got a headache, but will come back to finsh reaading later.

      in 1992, my son was the youngest member to walk the franz joseph valley from the original information office to the foot of the glacier, he was 4 1/2 i had to carry him the last 50metres back. the glacier was at one of it's lowest heights in history and had at that stage been growing 1 metre per week.

      for anyone that hasn't been there or is planning visiting nz... it's a definate place to go.. it's probably my 2nd most favourite place ever, it's beautiful! my fav tho.. is pancake rocks at punakiki.. it's breathtaking. :)

    • profile image

      Nancy's Niche 

      8 years ago

      Well, you can’t have plush greenery without a lot of rain…Very travel worthy article and stunning pictures. I will have to put this on my to due list…

    • AuriFin profile image


      8 years ago

      My travel to New Zealand was the main source of courage I needed to start writing at HubPages, so I really enjoy reading from others about this part of the world. Very informative and very pleasant to read hub :)

    • ReuVera profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      My niece and her family live in NZ since 2001, she is a florist in Auckland... The pictures they send are beau-u-u-tiful. They didn't complain about weather.... probably they just accept it.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Some of my friends from here emigrated to New Zealand in the 1980s. Not sure they made the right decision, especially in light of Cindy's comment above! LOL! the photos are simply lovely, though.

      Love and peace


    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Australia

      I shall have to check out those hubs travelespresso.

    • travelespresso profile image


      8 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Nice work Darkside and great photos. I've written a New Zealand capstone for hubtrails if you want to link the two.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Wonderful hub on New Zealand.

    • samsons1 profile image


      8 years ago from Tennessee

      What a beautiful country (I've always wanted to visit New Zealand). Truly an interesting read and true to your style. Looking forward to your next post.

    • CMHypno profile image


      8 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Have to agree with cindyvine about the weather - made me think I was back in England! Great hub on New Zealand and the photos are beautiful

    • suny51 profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks darkside,for sharing ,thats really useful information.

    • cindyvine profile image

      Cindy Vine 

      8 years ago from Cape Town

      and you forgot to add, the weather there is crap.


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