New Zealand is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean.
The country geographically comprises two main landmasses - that of the North Island, or Te Ika-a-Māui, and the South Island, or Te Waipounamu - and numerous smaller islands.
New Zealand is situated some 1,500 kilometres (900 mi) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and roughly 1,000 kilometres (600 mi) south of the Pacific island areas of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga.
Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans.
During its long isolation, New Zealand developed a distinctive biodiversity of animal, fungal and plant life.
The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks, such as the Southern Alps, owe much to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions.
New Zealand's capital city is Wellington.
Its most populous city is Auckland.
Polynesians settled New Zealand in 1250-1300 CE and developed a distinctive Māori culture.
Abel Tasman, a Dutch explorer, was the first European to sight New Zealand in 1642 CE.
In 1840, the British Crown and Māori signed the Treaty of Waitangi, making New Zealand a British colony. Today, the majority of New Zealand's population of 4.5 million is of European descent; the indigenous Māori are the largest minority, followed by Asians and Pacific Islanders.
Reflecting this, New Zealand's culture is mainly derived from Māori and early British settlers, with recent broadening arising from increased immigration.
The official languages are English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language, with English predominant.
The country's economy was historically dominated by the export of wool, but exports of dairy products, meat, and wine, along with tourism, are more significant today.
Nationally, legislative authority is vested in an elected, unicameral Parliament, while executive political power is exercised by the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister, who is currently John Key.
Queen Elizabeth II is the country's head of state and is represented by a Governor-General.
In addition, New Zealand is organised into 11 regional councils and 67 territorial authorities for local government purposes.
The Realm of New Zealand also includes Tokelau (a dependent territory); the Cook Islands and Niue (self-governing states in free association with New Zealand); and the Ross Dependency, which is New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica.
New Zealand is a member of the United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations, ANZUS, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Pacific Islands Forum and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
The Māori people are most likely descended from people who emigrated from Taiwan to Melanesia and then travelled east through to the Society Islands.
After a pause of 70 to 265 years, a new wave of exploration led to the discovery and settlement of New Zealand.
"God Defend New Zealand"
"God Save the Queen"
• 95.9% English
• 4.2% Māori
• 0.6% NZ Sign Language
Ethnic groups (2013)
• 74.0% European
• 14.9% Māori
• 11.8% Asian
• 7.4% Pacific peoples
• 1.2% Middle Eastern, Latin American, African
• 1.7% Other
• New Zealander Kiwi
Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
• Monarch: Elizabeth II
• Prime Minister
(House of Representatives)
Independence from the United Kingdom
• 17 January 1853
• 26 September 1907
Statute of Westminster Adoption Act
• 25 November 1947
• 13 December 1986
• Total: 268,021 km2 (75th) - 103,483 sq mi
• Water (%): 1.6
• Population: June 2014 estimate
4,537,081 (123rd) - 2013 census 4,242,048
• Density: 16.5/km2 (205th) - 42.7/sq mi
GDP (PPP): 2013 estimate
• Total: $122.193 billion
• Per capita: $30,493
New Zealand dollar (NZD)
• NZST (UTC+12)
• NZDT (UTC+13) (Sep to Apr)
Date format: dd/mm/yyyy
Drives on the left
Calling code: +64
ISO 3166 code: NZ
Internet TLD: .nz
Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted New Zealand in 1642 and called it Staten Landt, supposing it was connected to a landmass of the same name at the southern tip of South America.
In 1645 Dutch cartographers renamed the land Nova Zeelandia after the Dutch province of Zeeland.
British explorer James Cook subsequently anglicised the name to New Zealand.
Aotearoa (often translated as "land of the long white cloud") is the current Māori name for New Zealand.
It is unknown whether Māori had a name for the whole country before the arrival of Europeans, with Aotearoa originally referring to just the North Island.
Māori had several traditional names for the two main islands, including Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui) for the North Island and Te Waipounamu (the waters of greenstone) or Te Waka o Aoraki (the canoe of Aoraki) for the South Island.
Early European maps labelled the islands North (North Island), Middle (South Island) and South (Stewart Island / Rakiura).
In 1830, maps began to use North and South to distinguish the two largest islands and by 1907 this was the accepted norm.
The New Zealand Geographic Board discovered in 2009 that the names of the North Island and South Island had never been formalised, and names and alternative names were formalised in 2013.
This set the names as North Island or Te Ika-a-Māui, and South Island or Te Waipounamu.
Note that for each island, either its English or Māori name can be used, or both can be used together.