Situated in the South Pacific, New Zealand is a genuinely beautiful country with a landscape that contains an amazing variety of landforms. It includes rolling green countryside, beautiful still lakes, rivers full of white water excitement, active volcanoes, glaciers, world-class surf beaches and native forests. Nowhere else will you find so many different landscapes all in such close proximity.
The two main islands, the South Island and the North Island, are together about the size of Great Britain or Japan. However, a population of only 5.1 million makes the population density only 18 people per square kilometre, as opposed to 281 sq km in Great Britain or 347 sq km in Japan. About 75% of New Zealand’s population lives in the North Island, with about 1.6 million people living in the Auckland urban area.
New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of Universal Time (GMT).
The New Zealand climate is temperate, with average temperatures ranging from 8 C in July to 17 C in January. However, summer temperatures reach the low 30s C in many places.
New Zealand’s seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere:
Summer: December to February
Autumn: March to May
Winter: June to August
Spring: September to November
While physical evidence suggests that New Zealand, or Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud) has been inhabited for about 1000 years, Maori history suggests a longer inhabitation.
A number of Maori tribal histories tell of inhabitation stretching back to creation, while others tell of a migration from Polynesia about 900 years ago.
Isolated from the rest of the world, the Maori developed a strong society structure unified by a common language and customs. However the Maori dominance in New Zealand was not to last.
It was Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who was the first European to visit New Zealand in 1642, but European settlement did not begin until after 1769 when Englishman Captain James Cook sailed around and mapped New Zealand.
Contact between Maori and European cultures began in the seventieth century, and by the end of the eighteenth century small mainly English settlements had been established. These were mostly designed to gather resources such as seals, whales, flax and timber, and to trade with the Maori.
By the 1830s these settlements had grown, with about 2000 Europeans living amongst 200,000 Maori. In 1835 the British recognised Maori sovereignty, and in 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Maori chiefs and the government of Great Britain. The nation of New Zealand was created.
For the next 100 years the country was the target of huge migration from Europe. The Maori, despite resisting the inflow, were marginalised and their numbers dropped to around 40,000. Land, language and culture was swamped by the European tide. Since the mid 1970s there has been a national realisation of the impact of the colonial process and there is a slow Maori renaissance underway.
New Zealand became an independent nation in 1947 and is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations. Though small, it has taken strong international stands, most noticeably against nuclear power.