New Zealand is a country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two large islands (the North Island and the South Island) and numerous smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Chatham Islands. The indigenous Māori named New Zealand Aotearoa, which is usually translated into English as The Land of the Long White Cloud. The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue, which are self-governing but in free association; Tokelau; and the Ross Dependency (New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica).
New Zealand is notable for its geographic isolation, being separated from Australia to the northwest by the Tasman Sea, approximately 2000 kilometres (1250 miles) across. Its closest neighbours to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga. In its long isolation New Zealand developed a distinctive fauna dominated by birds, many of which became extinct after the arrival of humans and the mammals they introduced.
The population is mostly of European descent, with the indigenous Māori being the largest minority. Asians and non-Maori Polynesians are also significant minorities, especially in the cities. Elizabeth II, as the Queen of New Zealand, is the Head of State and, in her absence, is represented by a non-partisan Governor-General. The Queen 'reigns but does not rule.' She has no real political influence, and her position is essentially symbolic. Political power is held by the democratically elected Parliament of New Zealand under the leadership of the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government.
New Zealand comprises two main islands (called the North and South Islands in English, Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu in Māori) and a number of smaller islands located near the centre of the water hemisphere. The North and South Islands are separated by the Cook Strait, which is 20km wide at its narrowest point. The total land area, 268,680 square kilometres (103,738 sq mi), is a little less than that of Italy and Japan, and a little more than the United Kingdom. The country extends more than 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) along its main, north-north-east axis, with approximately 15,134 km (9,404 mi) of coastline. The most significant of the smaller inhabited islands include Stewart Island/Rakiura; Waiheke Island, in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf; Great Barrier Island, east of the Hauraki Gulf; and the Chatham Islands, named Rēkohu by Moriori. The country has extensive marine resources, with the seventh-largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world, covering over four million square kilometres (1.5 million sq mi), more than 15 times its land area.
The South Island is the largest land mass of New Zealand, and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps, the highest peak of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook at 3754 metres (12,320 ft). There are eighteen peaks over 3,000 metres (10,000 ft) in the South Island. The North Island is less mountainous than the South, but is marked by volcanism. The highest North Island mountain, Mount Ruapehu (2,797 m / 9,177 ft), is an active cone volcano. The dramatic and varied landscape of New Zealand has made it a popular location for the production of television programmes and films, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the The Last Samurai.
The country owes its varied topography, and perhaps even its emergence above the waves, to the dynamic boundary it straddles between the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates. New Zealand is part of Zealandia, a continent nearly half the size of Australia that is otherwise almost completely submerged. About 25 million years ago, a shift in plate tectonic movements began to pull Zealandia apart forcefully, with this now being most evident along the Alpine Fault and in the highly active Taupo volcanic zone.
New Zealand from space. The snow-capped Southern Alps dominate the South Island, while the North Island's Northland Peninsula stretches towards the subtropics.
New Zealand is culturally and linguistically part of Polynesia, and constitutes the south-western anchor of the Polynesian Triangle.
The latitude of New Zealand (ranging from approximately 34 to 47°S) corresponds closely to that of Italy in the Northern Hemisphere. However, its isolation from continental influences and exposure to cold southerly winds and ocean currents gives the climate a much milder character. The climate throughout the country is mild and temperate, mainly maritime, with temperatures rarely falling below 0 °C (32 °F) or rising above 30 °C (86 °F) in populated areas. Temperature maxima and minima throughout the historical record are 42.4 °C (108.3 °F) in Rangiora, Canterbury and -21.6 °C (-6.9 °F) in Ophir, Otago. Conditions vary sharply across regions from extremely wet on the West Coast of the South Island to semi-arid (Köppen BSh) in the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury and subtropical in Northland. Of the main cities, Christchurch is the driest, receiving only 640 mm (25 in) of rain per year; Auckland, the wettest, receives almost twice that amount. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch all receive a yearly average in excess of 2000 hours of sunshine per annum. The southern and south-western parts of South Island have a cooler and cloudier climate, with around 1400-1600 sunshine hours per annum; whilst the northern and north-eastern parts of the South Island are the sunniest areas of the country and receive approximately 2400-2500 sunshine hours per annum.
Because of its long isolation from the rest of the world and its island biogeography, New Zealand has extraordinary flora and fauna, descended from Gondwanan wildlife or since arriving by flying, swimming or being carried across the sea. About 80% of New Zealand's flora is endemic, including 65 endemic genera. The two main types of forest are those dominated by podocarps and/or the giant kauri, and in cooler climates the southern beech. The remaining vegetation types in New Zealand are grasslands of tussock and other grasses, usually in sub-alpine areas, and the low shrublands between grasslands and forests.
Until the arrival of humans, 80% of the land was forested. Until 2006, it was thought, barring three species of bat (one now extinct), there were no non-marine native mammals. However, in 2006, scientists discovered bones that belonged to a long-extinct, unique, mouse-sized land animal in the Otago region of the South Island. New Zealand's forests were inhabited by a diverse range of megafauna, including the flightless moas (now extinct), four species of kiwi, the kakapo and the takahē, all endangered by human actions. Unique birds capable of flight included the Haast's eagle, which was the world's largest bird of prey (now extinct), and the large kākā and kea parrots. Reptiles present in New Zealand include skinks, geckos and living fossil tuatara. There are four endemic species of primitive frogs. There are no snakes and there is only one venomous spider, the katipo, which is rare and restricted to coastal regions. However, there are many endemic species of insects, including the weta, one species of which may grow as large as a house mouse and is the heaviest insect in the world.
New Zealand has suffered a high rate of extinctions, including the moa species, the huia, laughing owl and flightless wrens (which formerly occupied the roles elsewhere occupied by mice). This is due to human activities such as hunting and pressure from introduced feral animals, such as weasels, stoats, cats, goats, deer and brushtailed possums. Five indigenous vascular plant species are now believed to be extinct, including Adam's mistletoe and a species of forget-me-not.
However, New Zealand has led the world in island restoration projects where offshore islands are cleared of introduced mammalian pests and native species are reintroduced. Several islands located near to the three main islands are wildlife reserves where common pests such as possums and rodents have been eradicated to allow the reintroduction of endangered species to the islands. A more recent development is the mainland ecological island.
Much of contemporary New Zealand culture is derived from British roots. It also includes significant influences from American, Australian and Māori cultures, along with those of other European cultures and – more recently – non-Māori Polynesian and Asian cultures. Large festivals in celebration of Diwali and Chinese New Year are held in several of the larger centres. The world's largest Polynesian festival, Pasifika, is an annual event in Auckland. Cultural links between New Zealand and the United Kingdom and Ireland are maintained by a common language, sustained migration from the United Kingdom and Ireland, and many young New Zealanders spending time in the United Kingdom/Ireland on their "overseas experience" (OE). The music and cuisine of New Zealand are similar to that of Britain and the United States, although both have some distinct New Zealand and Pacific qualities.
Māori culture has undergone considerable change since the arrival of Europeans; in particular the introduction of Christianity in the early 19th century brought about fundamental change in everyday life. Nonetheless the perception that most Māori now live similar lifestyles to their Pākehā neighbours is a superficial one. In fact, Māori culture has significant differences, for instance the important role which the marae and the extended family continues to play in communal and family life. As in traditional times, karakia are habitually performed by Māori today to ensure the favorable outcome of important undertakings, but today the prayers used are generally Christian. Māori still regard their allegiance to tribal groups as a vital part of personal identity, and Māori kinship roles resemble those of other Polynesian peoples. As part of the resurgence of Māori culture that came to the fore in the late 20th century, the tradition-based arts of kapa haka (song and dance), carving and weaving are now more widely practiced, and the architecture of the marae maintains strong links to traditional forms. Māori also value their connections to Polynesia, as attested by the increasing popularity of waka ama (outrigger canoe racing), which is now an international sport involving teams from all over the Pacific.
Although films have been made in New Zealand since the 1920s, it was only from the 1970s that New Zealand films began to be produced in significant numbers. Films such as Sleeping Dogs and Goodbye Pork Pie achieved local success and launched the careers of actors and directors including Sam Neill, Geoff Murphy and Roger Donaldson. In the early 1990s, New Zealand films such as Jane Campion's Academy Award-winning film The Piano, Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors and Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures began to garner international acclaim. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Jackson filmed The Lord of the Rings film trilogy in New Zealand, using a mostly New Zealand crew and many New Zealand actors in minor parts. Whale Rider, originally a novel by Witi Ihimaera, was produced in 2002 and received recognition from various festivals and awards. Many non-New Zealand productions, primarily from Hollywood but also from Bollywood, have been made in New Zealand.
Wording courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.org/