New Zealand is a temperate island nation in the South Pacific Ocean. A former British colony, the population majority is of European descent, with a sizeable indigenous Maori minority and smaller minorities of various Polynesian and other groups.
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. The British proclaimed their sovereignty over the islands in 1840 and began settlement that same year. A series of land wars between 1843 and 1872 ended with the defeat of the native peoples. The British colony of New Zealand became an independent dominion in 1907 and supported the UK militarily in both World Wars. New Zealand's full participation in number of defense alliances lapsed by the 1980s as a result of its strongly supported anti-nuclear stance. The New Zealand military now takes a prominent role in UN-sanctioned peacekeeping forces worldwide. In recent years the government has sought to address longstanding Maori grievances.
New Zealand is also known by the Maori name of Aotearoa, which is usually translated as "(Land of the) long white cloud".
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.
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 centre, 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 centre 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.
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:
See also: Driving in New Zealand.
English is the major language and is written with "British" spelling. A small number of Maori words has been received into New Zealand English. 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.
The Maori language is spoken by some, but not all, Maori and a few non-Maori. All Maori speak English as well. Many place names are Maori.
One of the best ways to see New Zealand is on foot. New Zealand has a number of national parks and other wilderness and forested areas, much of which is managed by the Department of Conservation. The activity known in other countries as hiking, trekking or bushwalking is known as Tramping in New Zealand and is a very popular activity for visitors and locals.
For info on hiking, see New Zealand Tramper.
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.