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 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, vigourous nation with a well-travelled, well-educated population and some spectacular scenery, flora and fauna.
The Polynesian Maori reached New Zealand in about the 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.
English is the major language and is written with "British" spelling. 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.
Many place names are Maori words. Maori Pronunciation Guide
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.
Predominately 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 Ngarahoe and Mount Ruapehu. On the west coast is the single volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki, also known as Mount Egmont.
About 80% of the population lives in cities;
All but essential shops and services are closed by law on Christmas Day (25th December), Good Friday, Easter Sunday and the morning of ANZAC Day (April 25th).
Most retail businesses open during other public holidays, which are January 1st, January 2nd, Waitangi Day (6 February), Queen's Birthday (Celebrated on the first Monday in June), Labour Day (Last Monday of October), Boxing Day (December 26th) plus the Anniversary day of each region.
Since 1984 the government has accomplished major economic restructuring, transforming New Zealand from an agrarian economy dependent on concessionary British market access to a more industrialized, free market economy that can compete globally. This dynamic growth has boosted real incomes (but left behind many at the bottom of the ladder), broadened and deepened the technological capabilities of the industrial sector, and contained inflationary pressures. While per capita incomes have been rising, however, they remain below the level of the four largest EU economies, and there is some government concern that New Zealand is not closing the gap. New Zealand is heavily dependent on trade - particularly in agricultural products - to drive growth, and it has been affected by the global economic slowdown and the slump in commodity prices.
food processing, wood and paper products, textiles, machinery, transportation equipment, banking and insurance, tourism, mining
products : wheat, barley, potatoes, pulses, fruits, vegetables; wool, beef, dairy products; fish
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:
The main gateways are Auckland and Christchurch, with Auckland servicing more than 20 destinations and a dozen airlines, and Christchurch connecting direct to to Australia, Singapore and Tokyo. All the smaller international airports only service flights to Australia and are limited to B737 or similar size aircraft.
WTO dispute with USA on steel tariffs.
New Zealand has a zero tolerance for nuclear power which has seen its relationship with the USA deteriorate from the 1980s, as it will not allow nuclear powered ships or vessels carrying nuclear weapons to enter its harbours. The US Navy operates on a "neither confirm nor deny" policy in relation to nuclear weapons on US vessels. Hence the NZ government does not allow US (or British) ships into its harbours. This has led to a cooling in relationships and the demise of the ANZAC Treaty.