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New Zealand

New Zealand, sovereign state within the British Commonwealth situated in the southwest Pacific Ocean. It is administered by a governor general (representing the British sovereign), a prime minister, and a House of Representatives. The capital is Wellington, on North Island.

Land and climate

Lying some l,200 mi (l,931 km) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand comprises 2 main islands (North, South); Stewart Island; the Chatham Islands, about 400 mi (644 km) east of the South Island; and various minor islands. The total area is 103,883 sq mi (269,057 sq km). The main islands stretch about 1,000 mi (1,609 km) from north to south. They exhibit scenic contrasts ranging from sandy subtropical beaches and smoking volcanoes to lush pastures, majestic forests, placid lakes, glaciers, and snow-capped Alpine peaks.

The North Island (44,281 sq mi/114,688 sq km) is mostly hilly or mountainous. Remarkable thermal springs have been tapped for geothermal power; most of the native Maoris (Polynesians) live in this region. Active volcanoes, such as Mt. Egmont (8,260 ft/2,518 m), are found in Tongariro National Park. The island also has New Zealand's largest lake, Taupo (234 sq mi/629 sq km), and longest, most important river, the Waikato (220 mi/354 km).

The South Island (58,093 sq mi/150,460 sq km), separated from the North Island by Cook Strait, is long and narrow. New Zealand's highest peak, Mt. Cook (12,349 ft/3,764 m) lies in its massive mountain backbone, the Southern Alps. The southwest coast is famed for its fjords. Near Milford Sound are the Sutherland Falls (1,904 ft/580 m), one of the world's highest waterfalls.

Stewart Island (670 sq mi/1,735 sq km) is separated from the South Island by Foveaux Strait. The island is rugged and hilly. The minor islands, except Raoul in the Kermadec group, are uninhabited.

Overall, the climate is pleasant and moderate, without extremes of heat or cold in the lowlands, and rainfall is sufficient.


In New Zealand's population, 9% are Maoris and 87% are descended from British settlers. They live and work together as a peaceful, integrated people. Over 80% of the population reside in urban areas, notably Auckland (the leading port, on North Island), Christchurch, and Wellington. The major cities have state university branches; the literacy rate is 99%.


With only 2% of the land arable, sheep- and cattle-raising are the main sources of income. Principal exports are frozen meat (mainly lamb), wool, and dairy products. Tourism provides income, and privately run industry includes fishing, food processing, textiles, and machinery; mining and forestry are state-owned.


The chief Maori migrations were from 1200 to 1400. Abel Janszoon Tasman, a Dutch navigator, was the first European to sight the islands (1642). Although the Maoris would not let him ashore, the islands were named after the province of Zeeland in The Netherlands. The English navigator Captain James Cook claimed the country in 1770, and the first missionaries arrived in 1814. Systematic colonization was begun by the New Zealand Company in 1840, when the Treaty of Waitangi acknowledged British sovereignty. Despite harsh land disputes with the Maoris (1845–70), the country was given a constitution providing for self-government in 1853. Social welfare programs began in the 1890s, and in 1907 Britain made New Zealand a dominion. New Zealanders fought with the Allies in both World Wars and in Vietnam; the country joined the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954. Nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered ships have been banned from its ports since 1985. In 1997 the government and the Maoris of the South Island came to an agreement regarding restoration of their rights. New Zealand's relationship with France deteriorated following France's attack of the Rainbow Warrior (1985), but was normalized in 1997.


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21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Nebular hypothesis to Norse mythology