New Zealand

Capital: Wellington
Population: 3.8 million
North Island area: 114,300 sq/km
South Island area: 150,500 sq/km
Longest Rivers: Waikato River, in the North Island, Clutha River in the South Island.
Largest Lakes: Lake Taupo in the North Island, Lake Wakatipu in the South Island.
Highest Mountain: Mount Cook (Aoraki) 3,754 m
National animal: the Kiwi bird
National plant: the silver fern
Oldest animal: the Tuatara, a lizard species that originated in the age of the dinosaurs.

Text and photos courtesy of Bruce Thompson

New Zealand Map

Welcome to New Zealand!

About 2,250 km (1,400 miles) off the coast of Australia, lies an island country called New Zealand.  New Zealand is made up of two main islands: the North Island and the South Island.  The smaller Stewart Island is located at the southern end of the South Island.  There are many other small islands located around the coastline.

New Zealanders frequently refer to themselves as kiwis, and are also called kiwis by many people in other countries -- the name having been adopted by New Zealand soldiers in the First World War.  The name comes from the Kiwi bird, a flightless bird that is unique to New Zealand.



Because New Zealand lies across the boundary between two of Earth's crust plates, the North Island has been built up mostly by volcanic activity.  A range of hills extends down the eastern half of the island, from East Cape to Cape Palliser.  The land is mostly heavily forested rugged hill country.  There are plain regions in the central northern half of the island, and between the ranges and the sea to the south.

The South Island, however, has been built up mainly by the collision between the plates, which has raised a high mountain range, called the Southern Alps, down the length of the island.  New Zealand's highest mountain, Mount Cook, which rises to 3,754 metres, is located at the mid-point of the Southern Alps.  The native people of New Zealand, the Maori, call it Aoraki.


Banks Peninsula

Volcanos and Plate Tectonics

There was volcanic activity in the South Island in the past.  Erosion of the Southern Alps has created much of the flat plains in the eastern part of South Island.  The plains have slowly advanced, to link with what used to be an off shore volcano, forming what is now Banks Peninsula.

Most of New Zealand's continuing volcanic activity is currently centered in the North Island, and the off-shore active volcano of White Island.  Mount Ruapehu, in the middle of the North Island is active, and last erupted in 1997.

Mount Ruapehu


New Zealand's seasons are reversed from those of the northern hemisphere.  The summer is from November to April, and winter from June to August.  Summers are hot and the winters generally mild in the north, while the South Island winters are generally cold, with snow falls to low levels in the cold months.

The Southern Alps provide a barrier to the prevailing winds from the west and south-west, so that the West Coast and Fiordland regions of the South Island receive the highest rainfall in New Zealand.  On the eastern side of the Southern Alps, however, rainfall is a lot less and some farming regions suffer drought conditions during the summer.

Visiting the Past

The first European to see New Zealand was the Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman, in 1642.  He was followed in 1769, by the famous British explorer, James Cook, who claimed the land for Great Britain.

During the remainder of the 18th century, and on into the 19th century, Europeans grew more aware of the lands in the southern Pacific and New Zealand was frequented by sealers and whalers.  The first settlers arrived the early 1800s.  Over the next 50 years, as more settlers arrived, the Maori became alarmed at the loss of their land.  This resulted in bitter land wars between the Maori and the British Colonial authorities in the latter half of the century.

New Zealand ceased being a colony and became a Dominion in 1907.  For the first half of the 20th century, New Zealand regarded itself as an outpost of Britain and fought with Britain in both World Wars.  However, the second half of the 20th century has seen New Zealand exercise its independence, and Britain is no longer regarded as the nation's sovereign leader.




New Zealand is a mix of all the cultures that have immigrated since the arrival of the first Polynesian settlers.  However, for most of the European-settled history, the dominant culture was British European.  For a long period of that history, Maori culture was regarded as less significant by non-Maori, but with the awareness of the increasing cultural diversity in New Zealand, Maori culture enjoyed a resurgence in the latter quarter of the 20th century.

New Zealand society contains immigrants from many European, Asian and Pacific island nations, all of whom brought their own cultures to add to the mix.


Official Language

English has been the official language for most of New Zealand's European-settled history, but in the 1990s, the Maori language was also given official status.  This has led to the creation of many bilingual signs and the changing of certain place names from English back to the original Maori.


National Anthem

"God of nations! at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our Free Land.
Guard Pacific's triple star,
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand."

Take a virtual trip through New Zealand by visiting our Postcard Exchange.

You can discover all sorts of interesting things about New Zealand and other places by looking in encyclopedias and books at your school or local library. There are also many wonderful sites on the Internet.


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