New Zealand is a temperate island nation in the South Pacific Ocean. A former British colony, the majority of the population is of European descent, with a sizeable indigenous Maori minority and smaller minorities of various Polynesian and other groups.
A modern but sparsely populated country, it boasts natural beauty and a wide range of outdoor and adventure activities.
New Zealand consists of two main islands and a number of smaller ones. The regions are listed roughly north to south. These regions are not necessarily official local government Regions.
From North to South:
New Zealand was the last significant land mass to be inhabited by people, both in terms of indigenous settlement and European domination. This, combined with geological youth and geographical isolation, has led to the development of a young, vigorous nation with a well-travelled, well-educated population and some spectacular scenery, flora and fauna.
The Polynesian Maori reached New Zealand in about 800 AD. Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, in 1642, was the first European to discover New Zealand, and his mapped coastline appeared on Dutch maps as "Niew Zeeland" from as early as 1645. British naval Captain James Cook rediscovered, circumnavigated and mapped the islands in 1769. A few people (mostly sealers, whalers, traders and missionaries) settled during the next 80 years and the islands were administered by the British colony in New South Wales.
In 1840, with the assistance of missionaries, the Maori agreed to accept British sovereignty over the islands through the Treaty of Waitangi. More intensive settlement began that same year. A series of land wars between 1843 and 1872, coupled with political maneuvering and the spread of European diseases, broke Maori resistance to land settlement, but left lasting grievances. In recent years the government has sought to address longstanding Maori grievances.
The British colony of New Zealand became an independent dominion in 1907. However the Constitution of Australia permits New Zealand to join as another Australian state. New Zealand has supported Britain (the United Kingdom) militarily in the Boer War of 1901, as well as both World Wars. It also participated in wars in Malaya, Korea and Viet Nam under various military alliances, most notably the ANZUS treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
New Zealand's strongly supported opposition to the testing and use of nuclear weapons and nuclear armed warship visits meant that the Parliament enacted anti-nuclear legislation in the mid-1980s. This lead to the lapsing of participation in the ANZUS defense alliance. The New Zealand military continues to take a prominent role in UN-sanctioned peacekeeping forces worldwide.
New Zealand consists of two main islands and many smaller ones in the South Pacific Ocean approximately 1200km southeast of Australia. It is about the size of the United Kingdom with a population that has just reached 4 million, so many areas are sparsely settled.
Auckland, the largest city (1 million approx) is the largest city in Polynesia.
Lonely Planet has named New Zealand as the world's top travel destination for the second year running (2003/2004).
New Zealand was voted the best long-haul travel destination in the Guardian & Observer’s People’s Choice award (2004). It has won the award in three out of the past four years.
New Zealand has a temperate climate and the nature of the terrain, the prevailing winds and the length of the country lead to sharp regional contrasts. Maximum temperatures rarely exceed 30 C and you have to be in the far south for temperatures to fall much below 0 C. Generally speaking, rainfall is higher in the west than the east of the country due to the north-south orientation of the mountain ranges and the prevailing westerly/north westerly winds.
Situated in the "Roaring Forties", as it is, unsheltered areas of the country can get a bit breezy, especially in the center, through Cook Strait and around Wellington. The winds seem to be more prevalent around the time of the equinox. In the winter, southerly gales can be severe but they also bring snow to the ski-fields and are usually followed by calm clear days.
Predominantly mountainous with some large coastal plains.
The South Island has the Southern Alps which has the highest peak, Mount Cook (3,764 m). The Alps extend up the center of the island causing the west coast to be wet and the east coast to have a much drier climate. The Kaikoura Range is on the east coast and has some spectacular peaks which seem to rise from the sea.
The North Island mountain ranges are not as high nor as spectacular as the South Island mountains. They include the Tararua Range, the Ruahine Range and the Central Plateau which has the three major volcanic peaks: Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu. On the west coast is the single volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki, also known as Mount Egmont.
New Zealand was the filming location for several movies and television series:
International airports at Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown. The main gateways are Auckland and Christchurch, with Auckland servicing more than 20 destinations and a dozen airlines, and Christchurch connecting direct to Australia, Singapore and Tokyo. All the smaller international airports only service flights to Australia and are limited to B737 or similar size aircraft.
Auckland and Wellington have commuter rail services. Inter-city rail passenger services have become increasingly limited, and the focus is now on tourist trains, in particular:
Domestic flights in New Zealand are quite reasonably priced, and is often cheaper than driving or taking the train, especially if crossing between the North and South Islands is required. Air New Zealand and Qantas both offer domestic flight services, and can be booked online with a credit card. Airports generally have shuttle services and taxis. Other forms of public transport such as commuter trains and buses do not often go to the airport.
Driving around the whole island by car is no problem at all. You can reach almost anywhere in a small camper van. You don't need four-wheel drive to reach the best things. The level of traffic is low and there is a great deal of politeness on the roads too. See also: Driving in New Zealand.
Buses are the cheapest way to get around the country. Companies like InterCity coaches and Newmans coaches offer services to most cities and towns. Do be aware that most roads in New Zealand are quite narrow and winding, and that travelling a long distance in a bus can be quite slow and tiring.
Kiwi Experience offer bus trips around New Zealand where you can get on and off as you please.
To get your car between the North and South Islands you will need to take a Ferry across Cook Strait. There are several sailings daily between Wellington and Picton. But be prepared for a delay or a change in sailings if the weather is stormy. The fast ferry doesn't sail in very rough sea - but then you probably won't like the trip either.
Harbor ferries, for commuters, operate in Auckland and Wellington. A number of communities are served by boat, rather than road, while charter boats are available for expeditions in several places. There are regular sightseeing cruises in several tourist destinations, particularly in the Southern Lakes and Fiordland area.
For thrills, there is the uniquely New Zealand designed Jet boat. You can even travel on the very rivers that inspired this craft.
You can bring your own bike, as well as hire a bike in some of the larger cities. You need to wear a helmet while riding. If you hire the bike you should get a helmet there.
Riding bikes in New Zealand can be fun, but be aware of (tourist) busses and trucks, that usually do not keep enough distance while overtaking. You should also be prepared for the large distances between two cities.
Outdoor and adventure activities include:
There's more but we're exhausted just thinking about it.
English is the major language and is written with Commonwealth ("British") spelling. New Zealand English usage is sufficiently different from other forms of English to justify it being classed as a separate dialect, sometimes called Newzilid. Word usage may also differ occasionally, in potentially embarrassing ways for the traveller. Several words that some other English speaking cultures may consider offensive, or have euphemisms for, are considered acceptable usage. For example: A New Zealand bathroom refers to a room containing a bath while the other facilities that an American might refer to as a bathroom or washroom are known as a toilet. The American habit of "bleeping" swear words from broadcasts is considered quaint and rarely done in local programming. The New Zealand broadcasting media is surprising tolerant of swear words when used in context.
The New Zealand accent is somewhat nasalised with flattened vowel sounds. New Zealanders consider their accent to be markedly different from the Australian one and are often mildly offended when mistaken for or confused with Australians. New Zealand terminology and slang, is also markedly different from Australian language.
Maori is actively spoken by a minority of both Maori and language learners. Maori is available as a language to study by, instead of English, at many educational institutes.
The Maori language is spoken by some, but not all, Maori and a few non-Maori. Many place names are in Maori.
See also: Maori phrasebook
The New Zealand Dollar is used for purchasing goods and services in New Zealand. A few traders do accept foreign currency, particularly in tourist destinations.
New Zealanders are some of the highest users of electronic banking services in the world. ATM's (Automatic Teller Machines) are available in most towns, even if they do not have a bank. Also, most shops do have EFT-POS terminals, though not all accept credit cards, so most purchases can be made electronically. Banks offer a wide range of telephone and internet banking services. If you are going to be in New Zealand for a while it may be convenient to open a New Zealand bank account and set up a local debit card, to avoid carrying a lot of cash around.
Because of strong advertising laws, the displayed price is normally the purchase price for most goods sold in New Zealand. Unless it says otherwise the price includes GST (Goods and Services Tax or Sales Tax) of 12.5%. Some shops, especially in tourist destinations, will ship purchases overseas, as export goods are not subject to GST. Ask about this service before making your purchase. Goods purchased and taken with you will be subject to GST.
In accommodation places, restaurants and bars the prices charged include the services provided and tips are not expected, though the practice is known of in some establishments that cater for tourists. However, do not be surprised if you receive bemused looks in some situations. Also do not be offended if your tip is initially refused, as New Zealanders rarely encounter tipping, except from tourists.
New Zealanders have a reputation for enjoying their beer. Although there are now only two major breweries, there are many regional brands, each with their own distinctive taste and staunch supporters. Watch out for brewery owned pubs, the competition's beer is not sold there.
More recently, the wine industry has developed into a significant export industry. Many vineyards now offer winery tours, wine tasting and sales from the vineyard.
Take care when and where you indulge in public. New Zealand has recently enacted liquor ban areas that means alcoholic drinks cannot be consumed or even carried in some streets, such as city centers and popular beaches, at certain times of the day or night. Police can instruct you to empty bottles and arrest you if you do not comply.
In cafes, there is often more than one milk jug which is colour coded; dark blue is normal, light blue is lite and green is super trim.
New Zealand offers a wide range of accommodation.
International quality hotels can be found in the major cities. Motels of a variety of standards from luxury to just adequate can be found on the approaches to most towns. There is a wide range of Backpackers accommodation (more information at http://www.backpack.co.nz/ ) around the country, including a network of Youth Hostels that are members of the Youth Hostel Association (62 in 2004), as well as homestays, farmstays and similar lodgings - some in the most unlikely places. Many will accept a casual traveller, though booking ahead is generally a good idea, especially in the summer, or on weekends, or when there is a big match in town, or anytime really.
There are a number of commercial camping grounds around the country, as well as camping sites within all of the national parks. One way that many tourists travel around New Zealand is in a self-contained campervan, a motorised caravan or large minibus, that can be driven by anyone who holds an ordinary car driver's license.
If you are travelling into the backcountry, the Department of Conservation has many backcountry huts that can be used under a permit system.
Education is a major source of export earnings for the country. For many years New Zealand universities have educated foreign students from the countries of Southeast Asia. In recent years English language schools have been established for students from the region, particularly South Korea and China.
Seasonal work such as fruit picking and other agricultural work is sometimes available for tourists such as backpackers. However, if you are intending to work in New Zealand you should obtain a work permit along with any tourist visas.
If you are wanting to stay in New Zealand long term, you should apply well ahead of time. New Zealand operates a points system for assessing applicants.
New Zealand will accept refugees, though applications should be made beforehand as the country has a formal refugee induction programme. Those who turn up in a New Zealand airport arrival lounge without papers, claiming refugee status, may find themselves put on a return flight to their country of origin or in jail awaiting the outcome of legal proceedings.
The emergency telephone number in New Zealand is 111. Ambulance, Fire and Police can be contacted through this service. Full instructions are on the inside front cover of every telephone book.
New Zealand has a high level of ultra-violet light. Sunglasses and sunscreen are highly recommended.
Visiting the doctor will cost about NZ$50 and may vary between practices and localities. The New Zealand public hospital system is free of charge to citizens but will charge foreign nationals for treatment received. Travel insurance is highly recommended.
Because its economy is based on agriculture, importing even small quantities of most food, as well as unprocessed animal or plant materials is tightly controlled. These restrictions are designed to limit the spread of animal and plant diseases and pests. New Zealand has some very strong biosecurity laws, which are taken seriously by enforcement officials.
At ports of entry, both the Agriculture and Customs Services will inspect passenger baggage and confiscate any prohibited items. The prohibition list includes:
Commercially packaged food is usually allowed through customs, if you are unsure it is best to declare any questionable items as the immigration officers will be able to tell you if it needs to be cleaned or disposed of before entry. Instant fines of several hundred dollars can be issued if prohibited items are not declared. Some items may be taken for sterilisation or fumigation before being permitted.
If not declared or the quarantine section of the arrival card is not correctly completed, an instant fine of $200 or more may apply. More serious breaches may result in a fine (up to $100,000) or a prison term (up to five years).
Internet access is available in cyber cafes.
Many public libraries have public Internet access. Generally there is a charge. Hourly rates are usually in the range of $4 to $8, with a few cheaper or dearer than that.
New Zealand telephone numbers can be looked up online at http://www.whitepages.co.nz/
Most New Zealand television's are equipped to handle Teletext which provides news, weather, sport etc. in text format. The main page is page 100. Page 431 e.g. is Auckland airport arrival and departures. Page 810 provides a caption text service for some TV programs which allows hearing impaired people to read subtitles.