New Zealand

New Zealand
New Zealand
Flag Coat of arms

"God Defend New Zealand"
"God Save the Queen"[n 1]
The hemisphere centred on New Zealand
The hemisphere centred on New Zealand
Capital Wellington
41°17′S 174°27′E / 41.283°S 174.45°E / -41.283; 174.45
Largest city Auckland
Official language(s) Māori (4.2%)[n 2]
NZ Sign Language (0.6%)
National language English (98%)
Ethnic groups  78% European/Other[n 3]
14.6% Māori
9.2% Asian
6.9% Pacific peoples
Demonym New Zealander,
Kiwi (colloquial)
Government Parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy
 -  Monarch Elizabeth II
 -  Governor-General Jerry Mateparae
 -  Prime Minister John Key
Independence from the United Kingdom[n 4] 
 -  1st Parliament 25 May 1854 
 -  Dominion 26 September 1907 
 -  Statute of Westminster 11 December 1931 (adopted 25 November 1947) 
 -  Constitution Act 1986 13 December 1986 
 -  Total 268,021 km2 (75th)
103,483 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.6[n 5]
 -  September 2011 estimate 4,414,400[6] (124th)
 -  2006 census 4,027,947[7] 
 -  Density 16.5/km2 (202nd)
42.7/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $117.807 billion[8] (61st)
 -  Per capita $26,966[8] (32nd)
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $140.434 billion[8] (51st)
 -  Per capita $32,145[8] (24th)
Gini (1997) 36.2[9] (medium
HDI (2011) increase 0.908[10] (very high) (5th)
Currency New Zealand dollar (NZD)
Time zone NZST[n 6] (UTC+12)
 -  Summer (DST) NZDT (UTC+13)
(Sep to Apr)
Date formats dd/mm/yyyy
Drives on the left
ISO 3166 code NZ
Internet TLD .nz[n 7]
Calling code +64

New Zealand (Aotearoa in Māori) is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses (the North Island and the South Island) and numerous smaller islands. The country 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 nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Due to its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans. During its long isolation New Zealand developed a distinctive fauna dominated by birds, many of which became extinct after the arrival of humans and introduced mammals. With a mild maritime climate, the land was mostly covered in forest. The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks owe much to the uplift of land and volcanic eruptions caused by the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates clashing underfoot.

Polynesians settled New Zealand in 1250–1300 AD and developed a distinctive Māori culture, and Europeans first made contact in 1642 AD. The introduction of potatoes and muskets triggered upheaval among Māori early during the 19th century, which led to the inter-tribal Musket Wars. In 1840 the British and Māori signed a treaty making New Zealand a colony of the British Empire. Immigrant numbers increased sharply and conflicts escalated into the New Zealand Wars, which resulted in much Māori land being confiscated in the mid North Island. Economic depressions were followed by periods of political reform, with women gaining the vote during the 1890s, and a welfare state being established from the 1930s. After World War II, New Zealand joined Australia and the United States in the ANZUS security treaty, although the United States later suspended the treaty after New Zealand banned nuclear weapons. New Zealanders enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world in the 1950s, but the 1970s saw a deep recession, worsened by oil shocks and the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community. The country underwent major economic changes during the 1980s, which transformed it from a protectionist to a liberalised free-trade economy. Markets for New Zealand's agricultural exports have diversified greatly since the 1970s, with once-dominant exports of wool being overtaken by dairy products, meat, and recently wine.

The majority of New Zealand's population is of European descent; the indigenous Māori are the largest minority, followed by Asians and non-Māori Polynesians. Māori and New Zealand Sign Language are the official languages, with English predominant. Much of New Zealand's culture is derived from Māori and early British settlers. Early European art was dominated by landscapes and to a lesser extent portraits of Māori. A recent resurgence of Māori culture has seen their traditional arts of carving, weaving and tattooing become more mainstream. Many artists now combine Māori and Western techniques to create unique art forms. The country's culture has also been broadened by globalisation and increased immigration from the Pacific Islands and Asia. New Zealand's diverse landscape provides many opportunities for outdoor pursuits and has provided the backdrop for a number of big budget movies.

New Zealand is organised into 11 regional councils and 67 territorial authorities for local government purposes; these have less autonomy than the country's long defunct provinces did. Nationally, executive political power is exercised by the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister. Queen Elizabeth II is the country's head of state and is represented by a Governor-General. The Queen's Realm of New Zealand also includes Tokelau (a dependent territory); the Cook Islands and Niue (self-governing but in free association); and the Ross Dependency, New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica. New Zealand is a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Commonwealth of Nations, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Pacific Islands Forum, and the United Nations.



brown square paper with Dutch writing and a thick red, curved line
Detail from a 1657 map showing the western coastline of "Nova Zeelandia"

Aotearoa (often translated as "land of the long white cloud")[11] is the current Māori name for New Zealand, and is also used in New Zealand English. 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.[12] 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.[13] In 1645 Dutch cartographers renamed the land Nova Zeelandia after the Dutch province of Zeeland.[14][15] British explorer James Cook subsequently anglicised the name to New Zealand.[n 8]

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 Wai Pounamu (the waters of greenstone) or Te Waka o Aoraki (the canoe of Aoraki) for the South Island.[16] Early European maps labelled the islands North (North Island), Middle (South Island) and South (Stewart Island / Rakiura).[17] In 1830 maps began to use North and South to distinguish the two largest islands and by 1907 this was the accepted norm.[18] The New Zealand Geographic Board discovered in 2009 that the names of the North Island and South Island had never been formalised, but there are now plans to do so.[19] The board is also considering suitable Māori names,[20] with Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Wai Pounamu the most likely choices according to the chairman of the Māori Language Commission.[21]


One set of arrows point from Taiwan to Melanesia to Fiji/Samoa and then to the Marquesas Islands. The arrows then spread, some going south to New Zealand and one going north to Hawai'i. A second set start in southern Asia and end in Melanesia.
The Māori people are most likely descended from people that emigrated from Taiwan to Melanesia and then travelled east through to the Society Islands. After a pause of 70–265 years a new wave of exploration led to the discovery and settlement of New Zealand.[22]

New Zealand was one of the last major landmasses settled by humans. Radiocarbon dating, evidence of deforestation[23] and mitochondrial DNA variability within Māori populations[24] suggest New Zealand was first settled by Eastern Polynesians between 1250 and 1300,[16][25] concluding a long series of voyages through the southern Pacific islands.[26] Over the centuries that followed these settlers developed a distinct culture now known as Māori. The population was divided into iwi (tribes) and hapū (subtribes) which would cooperate, compete and sometimes fight with each other. At some point a group of Māori migrated to the Chatham Islands (which they named Rēkohu) where they developed their distinct Moriori culture.[27][28] The Moriori population was decimated between 1835 and 1862, largely due to Māori invasion and enslavement, although European diseases also contributed. In 1862 only 101 survived and the last known full-blooded Moriori died in 1933.[29]

The first Europeans known to have reached New Zealand were Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and his crew in 1642.[30] In a hostile encounter, four crew members were killed and at least one Māori was hit by canister shot.[31] Europeans did not revisit New Zealand until 1769 when British explorer James Cook mapped almost the entire coastline.[30] Following Cook, New Zealand was visited by numerous European and North American whaling, sealing and trading ships. They traded food, metal tools, weapons and other goods for timber, food, artefacts, water, and on occasion sex.[32] The introduction of the potato and the musket transformed Māori agriculture and warfare. Potatoes provided a reliable food surplus, which enabled longer and more sustained military campaigns.[33] The resulting inter-tribal Musket Wars encompassed over 600 battles between 1801 and 1840, killing between 30,000–40,000 Māori.[34] From the early 19th century, Christian missionaries began to settle New Zealand, eventually converting most of the Māori population.[35] The Māori population declined to around 40 percent of its pre-contact level during the 19th century; introduced diseases were the major factor.[36]

A torn sheet of paper
The Waitangi sheet from the Treaty of Waitangi

The British government appointed James Busby as British Resident to New Zealand in 1832[37] and in 1835, following an announcement of impending French sovereignty[clarification needed], the nebulous United Tribes of New Zealand sent a Declaration of the Independence to King William IV of the United Kingdom asking for protection.[37] Ongoing unrest and the dubious legal standing of the Declaration of Independence prompted the Colonial Office to send Captain William Hobson to claim sovereignty for the British Crown and negotiate a treaty with the Māori.[38] The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed in the Bay of Islands on 6 February 1840.[39] In response to the commercially run New Zealand Company's attempts to establish an independent settlement in Wellington[40] and French settlers "purchasing" land in Akaroa,[41] Hobson declared British sovereignty over all of New Zealand on 21 May 1840, even though copies of the Treaty were still circulating.[42] With the signing of the Treaty and declaration of sovereignty the number of immigrants, particularly from the United Kingdom, began to increase.[43]

New Zealand, originally part of the colony of New South Wales, became a separate Crown colony in 1841.[44] The colony gained a representative government in 1852 and the 1st New Zealand Parliament met in 1854.[45] In 1856 the colony effectively became self-governing, gaining responsibility over all domestic matters other than native policy. (Control over native policy was granted in the mid-1860s.)[45] Following concerns that the South Island might form a separate colony, premier Alfred Domett moved a resolution to transfer the capital from Auckland to a locality near the Cook Strait.[46] Wellington was chosen due to its harbour and central location, with parliament officially sitting there for the first time in 1865. As immigrant numbers increased, conflicts over land led to the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s and 1870s, resulting in the loss and confiscation of much Māori land.[47] In 1893 the country became the first nation in the world to grant all women the right to vote[48] and in 1894 pioneered the adoption of compulsory arbitration between employers and unions.[49]

In 1907 New Zealand declared itself a Dominion within the British Empire and in 1947 the country adopted the Statute of Westminster, making New Zealand a Commonwealth realm.[45] New Zealand was involved in world affairs, fighting alongside the British Empire in the first and second World Wars[50] and suffering through the Great Depression.[51] The depression led to the election of the first Labour government and the establishment of a comprehensive welfare state and a protectionist economy.[52] New Zealand experienced increasing prosperity following World War II[53] and Māori began to leave their traditional rural life and move to the cities in search of work.[54] A Māori protest movement developed, which criticised Eurocentrism and worked for greater recognition of Māori culture and the Treaty of Waitangi.[55] In 1975, a Waitangi Tribunal was set up to investigate alleged breaches of the Treaty, and it was enabled to investigate historic grievances in 1985.[39] The government has negotiated settlements of these grievances with many iwi, although Māori claims to the foreshore and seabed have proved controversial in the 2000s.


A smiling man wearing a white shirt with a green tie and black jacket
John Key, the New Zealand Prime Minister


New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy,[56] although its constitution is not codified.[57] Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of New Zealand and the head of state.[58] The Queen is represented by the Governor-General,[59] whom she appoints on the advice of the Prime Minister.[60] The Governor-General can exercise the Crown's prerogative powers (such as reviewing cases of injustice and making appointments of Cabinet ministers, ambassadors and other key public officials)[61] and in rare situations, the reserve powers (the power to dismiss a Prime Minister, dissolve Parliament or refuse the Royal Assent of a bill into law).[62] The powers of the Queen and the Governor-General are limited by constitutional constraints and they cannot normally be exercised without the advice of Cabinet.[62][63]

refer to caption
Elizabeth II
The Queen of New Zealand and her representative, the Governor-General

The Parliament of New Zealand holds legislative power and consists of the Sovereign (represented by the Governor-General) and the House of Representatives.[63] It also included an upper house, the Legislative Council, until this was abolished in 1950.[63] The supremacy of the House over the Sovereign was established in England by the Bill of Rights 1689 and has been ratified as law in New Zealand.[63] The House of Representatives is democratically elected and a Government is formed from the party or coalition with the majority of seats.[63] If no majority is formed a minority government can be formed if support from other parties during confidence and supply votes is assured. The Governor-General appoints ministers under advice from the Prime Minister, who is by convention the Parliamentary leader of the governing party or coalition.[64] Cabinet, formed by ministers and led by the Prime Minister, is the highest policy-making body in government and responsible for deciding significant government actions.[65] By convention, members of cabinet are bound by collective responsibility to decisions made by cabinet.[66]

Judges and judicial officers are appointed non-politically and under strict rules regarding tenure to help maintain constitutional independence from the government.[57] This theoretically allows the judiciary to interpret the law based solely on the legislation enacted by Parliament without other influences on their decisions.[67] The Privy Council in London was the country's final court of appeal until 2004, when it was replaced with the newly established Supreme Court of New Zealand. The judiciary, headed by the Chief Justice,[68] includes the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and subordinate courts.[57]

A block of buildings fronted by a grassy lawn
New Zealand government "Beehive" and the Parliament Buildings (right), in Wellington

Almost all parliamentary general elections between 1853 and 1996 were held under the first past the post voting system.[69] The elections since 1930 have been dominated by two political parties, National and Labour.[69] Since 1996, a form of proportional representation called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) has been used.[57] Under the MMP system each person has two votes; one is for the 65 electoral seats (including seven reserved for Māori), and the other is for a party. The remaining 55 seats are assigned so that representation in parliament reflects the party vote, although a party has to win one electoral seat or 5 percent of the total party vote before it is eligible for these seats. Between March 2005 and August 2006 New Zealand became the only country in the world in which all the highest offices in the land (Head of State, Governor-General, Prime Minister, Speaker and Chief Justice) were occupied simultaneously by women.[70]

Foreign relations and the military

Early colonial New Zealand allowed the British Government to determine external trade and be responsible for foreign policy.[71] The 1923 and 1926 Imperial Conferences decided that New Zealand should be allowed to negotiate their own political treaties, with the first successful commercial treaty being with Japan in 1928. Despite this independence New Zealand readily followed Britain in declaring war on Germany on 3 September 1939 with then Prime Minister Michael Savage proclaiming, "Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand."[72]

A squad of men kneel in the desert sand while performing a war dance
Māori Battalion haka in Egypt, 1941

In 1951 the United Kingdom became increasingly focused on its European interests,[73] while New Zealand joined Australia and the United States in the ANZUS security treaty.[74] The influence of the United States on New Zealand weakened following protests over the Vietnam War,[75] the failure of the United States to admonish France after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior,[76] disagreements over environmental and agricultural trade issues and New Zealand's nuclear-free policy.[77][78] Despite the USA's suspension of ANZUS obligations the treaty remained in effect between New Zealand and Australia, whose foreign policy has followed a similar historical trend.[79] Close political contact is maintained between the two countries, with free trade agreements and travel arrangements that allow citizens to visit, live and work in both countries without restrictions.[80] Currently over 500,000 New Zealanders live in Australia and 65,000 Australians live in New Zealand.[80]

New Zealand has a strong presence among the Pacific Island countries. A large proportion of New Zealand's aid goes to these countries and many Pacific people migrate to New Zealand for employment.[81] Permanent migration is regulated under the 1970 Samoan Quota Scheme and the 2002 Pacific Access Category, which allow up to 1,100 Samoan nationals and up to 750 other Pacific Islanders respectively to become permanent New Zealand residents each year. A seasonal workers scheme for temporary migration was introduced in 2007 and in 2009 about 8,000 Pacific Islanders were employed under it.[82] New Zealand is involved in the Pacific Islands Forum, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (including the East Asia Summit).[80] New Zealand is also a member of the United Nations,[83] the Commonwealth of Nations,[84] the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development[85] and the Five Powers Defence Arrangements.[86]

Infantry from the 2nd Battalion, Auckland Regiment in the Battle of the Somme, September 1916.

The New Zealand Defence Force has three branches: the Royal New Zealand Navy, the New Zealand Army and the Royal New Zealand Air Force.[87] New Zealand's national defence needs are modest due to the unlikelihood of direct attack,[88] although it does have a global presence. The country fought in both world wars, with notable campaigns in Gallipoli, Crete,[89] El Alamein[90] and Cassino.[91] The Gallipoli campaign played an important part in fostering New Zealand's national identity[92][93] and strengthened the ANZAC tradition it shares with Australia.[94] According to Mary Edmond-Paul, "World War I had left scars on New Zealand society, with nearly 18,500 in total dying as a result of the war, more than 41,000 wounded, and others affected emotionally, out of an overseas fighting force of about 103,000 and a population of just over a million."[95] New Zealand also played key parts in the naval Battle of the River Plate[96] and the Battle of Britain air campaign.[97][98] During World War II, the United States had more than 400,000 American military personnel stationed in New Zealand.[99]

In addition to Vietnam and the two world wars, New Zealand fought in the Korean War, the Second Boer War,[100] the Malayan Emergency,[101] the Gulf War and the Afghanistan War. It has contributed forces to several regional and global peacekeeping missions, such as those in Cyprus, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sinai, Angola, Cambodia, the Iran–Iraq border, Bougainville, East Timor, and the Solomon Islands.[102] New Zealand also sent a unit of army engineers to help rebuild Iraqi infrastructure for one year during the Iraq War.

Local government and external territories

The early European settlers divided New Zealand into provinces, which had a degree of autonomy.[103] Due to financial pressures and the desire to consolidate railways, education, land sales and other policies, government was centralised and the provinces were abolished in 1876.[104] As a result, New Zealand now has no separately represented subnational entities. The provinces are remembered in regional public holidays[105] and sporting rivalries.[106]

Since 1876, various councils have administered local areas under legislation determined by the central government.[103][107] In 1989, the government reorganised local government into the current two-tier structure of regional councils and territorial authorities.[108] The 249 municipalities[108] that existed in 1975 have now been consolidated into 67 territorial authorities and 11 regional councils.[109] The regional councils' role is to regulate "the natural environment with particular emphasis on resource management",[108] while territorial authorities are responsible for sewage, water, local roads, building consents and other local matters.[110] Five of the territorial councils are unitary authorities and also act as regional councils.[111] The territorial authorities consist of 13 city councils, 53 district councils, and the Chatham Islands Council. While officially the Chatham Islands Council is not a unitary authority, it undertakes many functions of a regional council.[112]

The Realm of New Zealand is one of 16 realms within the commonwealth[113][114] and comprises New Zealand, Tokelau, the Ross Dependency, the Cook Islands and Niue.[114] The Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand.[115][116] The New Zealand Parliament cannot pass legislation for these countries, but with their consent can act on behalf of them in foreign affairs and defence. Tokelau is a non-self-governing territory that uses the New Zealand flag and anthem, but is administered by a council of three elders (one from each Tokelauan atoll).[117][118] The Ross Dependency is New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica, where it operates the Scott Base research facility.[119] New Zealand citizenship law treats all parts of the realm equally, so most people born in New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau and the Ross Dependency before 2006 are New Zealand citizens. Further conditions apply for those born from 2006 onwards.[120]



See also: Atlas of New Zealand at Wikimedia Commons
Photo of New Zealand from space.
The snow-capped Southern Alps dominate the South Island, while the North Island's Northland Peninsula stretches towards the subtropics.

New Zealand is made up of two main islands and a number of smaller islands, located near the centre of the water hemisphere. The main North and South Islands are separated by the Cook Strait, 22 kilometres (14 mi) wide at its narrowest point.[121] Besides the North and South Islands, the five largest inhabited islands are Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands, Great Barrier Island (in the Hauraki Gulf),[122] d'Urville Island (in the Marlborough Sounds)[123] and Waiheke Island (about 22 km (14 mi) from central Auckland).[124] The country's islands lie between latitudes 29° and 53°S, and longitudes 165° and 176°E.

New Zealand is long (over 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) along its north-north-east axis) and narrow (a maximum width of 400 kilometres (250 mi)),[125] with approximately 15,134 km (9,404 mi) of coastline[126] and a total land area of 268,021 square kilometres (103,483 sq mi)[127] Due to its far-flung outlying islands and long coastline, the country has extensive marine resources. Its Exclusive Economic Zone, one of the largest in the world, covers more than 15 times its land area.[128]

The South Island is the largest land mass of New Zealand, and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps.[129] There are 18 peaks over 3,000 metres (9,800 ft), the highest of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook at 3,754 metres (12,316 ft).[130] Fiordland's steep mountains and deep fiords record the extensive ice age glaciation of this south-western corner of the South Island.[131] The North Island is less mountainous but is marked by volcanism.[132] The highly active Taupo volcanic zone has formed a large volcanic plateau, punctuated by the North Island's highest mountain, Mount Ruapehu (2,797 metres (9,177 ft)). The plateau also hosts the country's largest lake, Lake Taupo,[133] nestled in the caldera of one of the world's most active supervolcanoes.[134]

Photo showing clear blue water, a golden sanded beach and forested hills
Abel Tasman National Park in the South Island

The country owes its varied topography, and perhaps even its emergence above the waves, to the dynamic boundary it straddles between the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates.[135] New Zealand is part of Zealandia, a microcontinent nearly half the size of Australia that gradually submerged after breaking away from the Gondwanan supercontinent.[136] About 25 million years ago, a shift in plate tectonic movements began to contort and crumple the region. This is now most evident in the Southern Alps, formed by compression of the crust beside the Alpine Fault. Elsewhere the plate boundary involves the subduction of one plate under the other, producing the Puysegur Trench to the south, the Hikurangi Trench east of the North Island, and the Kermadec and Tonga Trenches[137] further north.[135]


New Zealand has a mild and temperate maritime climate with mean annual temperatures ranging from 10 °C (50 °F) in the south to 16 °C (61 °F) in the north.[138] Historical maxima and minima are 42.4 °C (108.3 °F) in Rangiora, Canterbury and −25.6 °C (−14.08 °F) in Ranfurly, Otago.[139] Conditions vary sharply across regions from extremely wet on the West Coast of the South Island to almost semi-arid in Central Otago and the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury and subtropical in Northland.[140] Of the seven largest cities, Christchurch is the driest, receiving on average only 640 millimetres (25 in) of rain per year and Auckland the wettest, receiving almost twice that amount.[141] Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch all receive a yearly average in excess of 2,000 hours of sunshine. The southern and south-western parts of the South Island have a cooler and cloudier climate, with around 1,400–1,600 hours; the northern and north-eastern parts of the South Island are the sunniest areas of the country and receive approximately 2,400–2,500 hours.[142]


Kiwi amongst sticks
The endemic flightless kiwi is a national icon.

New Zealand's geographic isolation for 80 million years[143] and island biogeography is responsible for the country's unique species of flora and fauna. They have either evolved from Gondwanan wildlife or the few organisms that have managed to reach the shores flying, swimming or being carried across the sea.[144] About 82 percent of New Zealand's indigenous vascular plants[n 9] are endemic, covering 1,944 species across 65 genera and includes a single family.[145][147] The two main types of forest are those dominated by broadleaf trees with emergent podocarps, or by southern beech in cooler climates.[148] The remaining vegetation types consist of grasslands, the majority of which are tussock.[149]

Before the arrival of humans an estimated 80 percent of the land was covered in forest, with only high alpine, wet, infertile and volcanic areas without trees.[150] Massive deforestation occurred after humans arrived, with around half the forest cover lost to fire after Polynesian settlement.[151] Much of the remaining forest fell after European settlement, being logged or cleared to make room for pastoral farming, leaving forest occupying only 23 percent of the land.[152]

The forests were dominated by birds, and the lack of mammalian predators led to some like the kiwi, kakapo and takahē evolving flightlessness.[153] The arrival of humans, associated changes to habitat, and the introduction of rats, ferrets and other mammals led to the extinction of many bird species, including large birds like the moa and Haast's eagle.[154][155]

Many blackened tree trunks standing in a field.
Burnt forest near Levin, cleared for farming in 1909

Other indigenous animals are represented by reptiles (tuataras, skinks and geckos),[156] frogs, spiders (katipo), insects (weta) and snails.[157][158] Some, such as the wrens and tuatara, are so unique that they have been called living fossils. Three species of bats (one since extinct) were the only sign of native land mammals in New Zealand until the 2006 discovery of bones from a unique, mouse-sized land mammal at least 16 million years old.[159][160] Marine mammals however are abundant, with almost half the world's cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and large numbers of fur seals reported in New Zealand waters.[161] Many seabirds breed in New Zealand, a third of them unique to the country.[162] More penguin species are found in New Zealand than in any other country.[163]

Since human arrival almost half of the country's vertebrate species have become extinct, including at least fifty one birds, three frogs, three lizards, one freshwater fish, four plant species, and one bat.[154] Others are endangered or have had their range severely reduced.[154] However New Zealand conservationists have pioneered several methods to help threatened wildlife recover, including island sanctuaries, pest control, wildlife translocation, fostering, and ecological restoration of islands and other selected areas.[164][165][166][167]


New Zealand has a modern, prosperous and developed market economy with an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) at purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita of roughly US$28,250.[n 10] The New Zealand dollar, informally known as the "Kiwi dollar", is the currency of New Zealand. It also circulates in the Cook Islands (see Cook Islands dollar), Niue, Tokelau, and the Pitcairn Islands.[171] New Zealand was ranked the 3rd "most developed" country in 2010 according to the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index,[172] 4th in the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom published by The Heritage Foundation.[173]

Blue water against a backdrop of snow capped mountatins
Milford Sound, one of New Zealand's most famous tourist destinations[174]

Historically, extractive industries have contributed strongly to New Zealand's economy, focussing at different times on sealing, whaling, flax, gold, kauri gum, and native timber.[175] With the development of refrigerated shipping in the 1880s meat and dairy products were exported to Britain, a trade which provided the basis for strong economic growth in New Zealand.[176] High demand for agricultural products from the United Kingdom and the United States helped New Zealanders achieve higher living standards than both Australia and Western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s.[177] In 1973 New Zealand's export market was reduced when the United Kingdom joined the European Community[178] and other compounding factors, such as the 1973 oil and 1979 energy crisis, led to a severe economic depression.[179] Living standards in New Zealand fell behind those of Australia and Western Europe, and by 1982 New Zealand had the lowest per-capita income of all the developed nations surveyed by the World Bank.[180] Since 1984, successive governments engaged in major macroeconomic restructuring (known first as Rogernomics and then Ruthanasia), rapidly transforming New Zealand from a highly protectionist economy to a liberalised free-trade economy.[181][182]

Unemployment peaked above 10 percent in 1991 and 1992,[183] following the 1987 share market crash, but eventually fell a record low of 3.4 percent in 2007 (ranking fifth from twenty-seven comparable OECD nations).[184] The global financial crisis that followed however had a major impact on New Zealand with the GDP shrinking for five consecutive quarters, the longest recession in over thirty years,[185][186] and unemployment rising back to 7 percent in late 2009.[187] The unemployment rate for youth was 17.4 percent in the June 2011 quarter.[188] New Zealand has experienced a series of "brain drains" since the 1970s[189] that still continue today.[190] Nearly one quarter of highly-skilled workers live overseas, most in Australia and Britain, the most from any developed nation.[191] In recent years, however, a "brain gain" has brought in educated professionals from Europe and lesser developed countries.[192][193]


New Zealand is heavily dependent on international trade,[194] particularly in agricultural products.[195] Exports account for a high 24 percent of its output,[126] making New Zealand vulnerable to international commodity prices and global economic slowdowns. Its principal export industries are agriculture, horticulture, fishing, forestry and mining, which make up about half of the country's exports.[196] Its major export partners are Australia, United States, Japan, China, and the United Kingdom.[126] On 7 April 2008, New Zealand and China signed the New Zealand China Free Trade Agreement, the first such agreement China has signed with a developed country.[197][198] The service sector is the largest sector in the economy, followed by manufacturing and construction and then farming and raw material extraction.[126] Tourism plays a significant role in New Zealand's economy, contributing $15.0 billion to New Zealand’s total GDP and supporting 9.6 percent of the total workforce in 2010.[199] International visitors to New Zealand increased by 3.1 percent in the year to October 2010[200] and are expected to increase at a rate of 2.5 percent annually up to 2015.[199]

A Romney ewe with her two lambs
Wool has historically been one of New Zealand's major exports.

Wool was New Zealand’s major agricultural export during the late 19th century.[175] Even as late as the 1960s it made up over a third of all export revenues,[175] but since then its price has steadily dropped relative to other commodities[201] and wool is no longer profitable for many farmers.[202] In contrast dairy farming increased, with the number of dairy cows doubling between 1990 and 2007,[203] to become New Zealand's largest export earner.[204] In the year to June 2009, dairy products accounted for 21 percent ($9.1 billion) of total merchandise exports,[205] and the country's largest company, Fonterra, controls almost one-third of the international dairy trade.[206] Other agricultural exports in 2009 were meat 13.2 percent, wool 6.3 percent, fruit 3.5 percent and fishing 3.3 percent. New Zealand's wine industry has followed a similar trend to dairy, the number of vineyards doubling over the same period,[207] overtaking wool exports for the first time in 2007.[208][209]


In 2008, oil, gas and coal generated approximately 69 percent of New Zealand's gross energy supply and 31 percent was generated from renewable energy, primarily hydroelectric power and geothermal power.[210] New Zealand's transport network includes 93,805 kilometres (58,288 mi) of roads, worth 23 billion dollars,[211] and 4,128 kilometres (2,565 mi) of railway lines.[212] Most major cities and towns are linked by bus services, although the private car is the predominant mode of transport.[213] The railways were privatised in 1993, then re-purchased by the government in 2004 and vested into a state owned enterprise.[214] Railways run the length of the country, although most lines now carry freight rather than passengers.[215] Most international visitors arrive via air[216] and New Zealand has seven international airports, although currently only the Auckland and Christchurch airports connect directly with countries other than Australia or Fiji.[217] The New Zealand Post Office had a monopoly over telecommunications until 1989 when Telecom New Zealand was formed, initially as a state-owned enterprise and then privatised in 1990.[218] Telecom still owns the majority of the telecommunications infrastructure, but competition from other providers has increased.[219]


Graph with a New Zealand population scale ranging from 0 to almost 7 million on the y axis and the years from 1850 to around 2070 on the x axis. A black line starts at about 100,000 in 1858 and increases steadily to about 4.1 million in 2006. Seven separate red lines then project out from the black line ending in values ranging from roughly 4.5 to 6.5 million in the year 2061; two lines are slightly thicker than the rest.
New Zealand's historical population (black) and projected growth (red)

The population of New Zealand is approximately 4.4 million.[220] New Zealand is a predominantly urban country, with 72 percent of the population living in 16 main urban areas and 53 percent living in the four largest cities of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, and Hamilton.[221] New Zealand cities generally rank highly on international livability measures. For instance, in 2010 Auckland was ranked the world's 4th most liveable city and Wellington the 12th by the Mercer Quality of Life Survey[222]

The life expectancy of a New Zealand child born in 2008 was 82.4 years for females, and 78.4 years for males.[223] Life expectancy at birth is forecast to increase from 80 years to 85 years in 2050 and infant mortality is expected to decline.[224] In 2050 the population is forecast to reach 5.3 million, the median age to rise from 36 years to 43 years and the percentage of people 60 years of age and older to rise from 18 percent to 29 percent.[224]

Ethnicity and immigration

In the 2006 census, 67.6 percent identified ethnically as European and 14.6 percent as Māori.[225] Other major ethnic groups include Asian (9.2 percent) and Pacific peoples (6.9 percent), while 11.1 percent identified themselves simply as a "New Zealander" (or similar) and 1 percent identified with other ethnicities.[226][n 11] This contrasts with 1961, when the census reported that the population of New Zealand was 92 percent European and 7 percent Māori, with Asian and Pacific minorities sharing the remaining 1 percent.[228] While the demonym for a New Zealand citizen is New Zealander, the informal "Kiwi" is commonly used both internationally[229] and by locals.[230] The Māori loanword Pākehā usually refers to New Zealanders of European descent, although some reject this appellation,[231][232] and some Māori use it to refer to all non-Polynesian New Zealanders.[233]

Lion dancers wearing bright red and yellow costumes
New Zealand's fastest growing ethnic groups are Asian. Here, lion dancers perform at the Auckland Lantern Festival.

The Māori were the first people to reach New Zealand, followed by the early European settlers. Following colonisation, immigrants were predominantly from Britain, Ireland and Australia due to restrictive policies similar to the white Australian policies.[234] There was also significant Dutch, Dalmatian,[235] Italian, and German immigration together with indirect European immigration through Australia, North America, South America and South Africa.[236] Following the Great Depression policies were relaxed and migrant diversity increased. In 2009–10, an annual target of 45,000–50,000 permanent residence approvals was set by the New Zealand Immigration Service—more than one new migrant for every 100 New Zealand residents.[237] Twenty-three percent of New Zealand's population were born overseas, most of whom live in the Auckland region.[238] While most have still come from the United Kingdom and Ireland (29 percent), immigration from East Asia (mostly mainland China, but with substantial numbers also from Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong) is rapidly increasing the number of people from those countries.[239] The number of fee-paying international students increased sharply in the late 1990s, with more than 20,000 studying in public tertiary institutions in 2002.[240]


English is the predominant language in New Zealand, spoken by 98 percent of the population.[3] New Zealand English is similar to Australian English and many speakers from the Northern Hemisphere are unable to tell the accents apart.[241] After the Second World War, Māori were discouraged from speaking their own language (te reo Māori) in schools and workplaces and it existed as a community language only in a few remote areas.[242] It has recently undergone a process of revitalisation,[243][244] being declared one of New Zealand's official languages in 1987,[245] and is spoken by 4.1 percent of the population.[3] There are now Māori language immersion schools and two Māori Television channels, the only nationwide television channels to have the majority of their prime-time content delivered in Māori.[246] Many places have officially been given dual Maori and English names in recent years. Samoan is one of the most widely spoken languages in New Zealand (2.3 percent),[n 12] followed by French, Hindi, Yue and Northern Chinese.[3][247][n 13] New Zealand Sign Language is used by approximately 28,000 people and was made New Zealand's second official language in 2006.[248]

Simple white building with two red domed towers
A Ratana church

Education and religion

Primary and secondary schooling is compulsory for children aged 6 to 16, with the majority attending from the age of 5.[249] There are 13 school years and attending public schools is free. New Zealand has an adult literacy rate of 99 percent,[126] and over half of the population aged 15 to 29 hold a tertiary qualification.[249][n 14] There are five types of government-owned tertiary institutions: universities, colleges of education, polytechnics, specialist colleges, and wānanga,[250] and also private training establishments.[251] In the adult population 14.2 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher, 30.4 percent have some form of secondary qualification as their highest qualification and 22.4 percent have no formal qualification.[252]

Christianity is the predominant religion in New Zealand. In the 2006 Census, 55.6 percent of the population identified themselves as Christians, while another 34.7 percent indicated that they had no religion (up from 29.6 percent in 2001) and around 4 percent affiliated with other religions.[253][n 15] The main Christian denominations are Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Presbyterianism and Methodism. There are also significant numbers of Christians who identify themselves with Pentecostal, Baptist, and Latter-day Saint churches and the New Zealand-based Ratana church has adherents among Māori. According to census figures, other significant minority religions include Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.[247][254]


Tall wooden carving showing Kupe above two tentacled sea creatures
Late twentieth-century house-post depicting the navigator Kupe fighting two sea creatures

Early Māori adapted the tropically-based east Polynesian culture in line with the challenges associated with a larger and more diverse environment, eventually developing their own distinctive culture. Social organisation was largely communal with families (whanau), sub-tribes (hapu) and tribes (iwi) ruled by a chief (rangatira) whose position was subject to the community's approval.[256] The British and Irish immigrants brought aspects of their own culture to New Zealand and also influenced Māori culture,[257][258] particularly with the introduction of Christianity.[259] However, Māori still regard their allegiance to tribal groups as a vital part of their identity, and Māori kinship roles resemble those of other Polynesian peoples.[260] More recently American, Australian, Asian and other European cultures have exerted influence on New Zealand. Non-Māori Polynesian cultures are also apparent, with Pasifika, the world's largest Polynesian festival, now an annual event in Auckland.

Two women in long flowing yellow skirts either side of a man in a short black skirt mid dance
Cook Islands dancers at Auckland's Pasifika festival

The largely rural life in early New Zealand led to the image of New Zealanders being rugged, industrious problem solvers.[261] Modesty was expected and enforced through the "tall poppy syndrome", where high achievers received harsh criticism.[262] At the time New Zealand was not known as an intellectual country.[263] From the early 20th century until the late 1960s Māori culture was suppressed by the attempted assimilation of Māori into British New Zealanders.[242] In the 1960s, as higher education became more available and cities expanded[264] urban culture began to dominate.[265] Even though the majority of the population now lives in cities, much of New Zealand's art, literature, film and humour has rural themes.


As part of the resurgence of Māori culture, the traditional crafts of carving and weaving are now more widely practised and Māori artists are increasing in number and influence.[266] Most Māori carvings feature human figures, generally with three fingers and either a natural-looking, detailed head or a grotesque head.[267] Surface patterns consisting of spirals, ridges, notches and fish scales decorate most carvings.[268] The pre-eminent Māori architecture consisted of carved meeting houses (wharenui) decorated with symbolic carvings and illustrations. These buildings were originally designed to be constantly rebuilt, changing and adapting to different whims or needs.[269]

Māori decorated the white wood of buildings, canoes and cenotaphs using red (a mixture of red ochre and shark fat) and black (made from soot) paint and painted pictures of birds, reptiles and other designs on cave walls.[270] Māori tattoos (moko) consisting of coloured soot mixed with gum were cut into the flesh with a bone chisel.[271] Since European arrival paintings and photographs have been dominated by landscapes, originally not as works of art but as factual portrayals of New Zealand.[272] Portraits of Māori were also common, with early painters often portraying them as "noble savages", exotic beauties or friendly natives.[272] The country's isolation delayed the influence of European artistic trends allowing local artists to developed their own distinctive style of regionalism.[273] During the 1960s and 70s many artists combined traditional Māori and Western techniques, creating unique art forms.[274] New Zealand art and craft has gradually achieved an international audience, with exhibitions in the Venice Biennale in 2001 and the "Paradise Now" exhibition in New York in 2004.[266][275]

Refer to caption
Portrait of Hinepare of Ngāti Kahungunu by Gottfried Lindauer, showing chin moko, pounamu hei-tiki and woven cloak

Māori cloaks are made of fine flax fibre and patterned with black, red and white triangles, diamonds and other geometric shapes.[276] Greenstone was fashioned into earrings and necklaces, with the most well-known design being the hei-tiki, a distorted human figure sitting cross-legged with its head tilted to the side.[277] Europeans brought English fashion etiquette to New Zealand, and until the 1950s most people dressed up for social occasions.[278] Standards have since relaxed and New Zealand fashion has received a reputation for being casual, practical and lacklustre.[279][280] However, the local fashion industry has grown significantly since 2000, doubling exports and increasing from a handful to about 50 established labels, with some labels gaining international recognition.[280]


Māori quickly adopted writing as a means of sharing ideas, and many of their oral stories and poems were converted to the written form.[281] Most early English literature was obtained from Britain and it was not until the 1950s when local publishing outlets increased that New Zealand literature started to become widely known.[282] Although still largely influenced by global trends (modernism) and events (the Great Depression), writers in the 1930s began to develop stories increasingly focused on their experiences in New Zealand. During this period literature changed from a journalistic activity to a more academic pursuit.[283] Participation in the world wars gave some New Zealand writers a new perspective on New Zealand culture and with the post-war expansion of universities local literature flourished.[284]


New Zealand music has been influenced by blues, jazz, country, rock and roll and hip hop, with many of these genres given a unique New Zealand interpretation.[285] Māori developed traditional chants and songs from their ancient South-East Asian origins, and after centuries of isolation created a unique "monotonous" and "doleful" sound.[286] Flutes and trumpets were used as musical instruments[287] or as signalling devices during war or special occasions.[288] Early settlers brought over their ethnic music, with brass bands and choral music being popular, and musicians began touring New Zealand in the 1860s.[289][290] Pipe bands became widespread during the early 20th century.[291] The New Zealand recording industry began to develop from 1940 onwards and many New Zealand musicians have obtained success in Britain and the USA.[285] Some artists release Māori language songs and the Māori tradition-based art of kapa haka (song and dance) has made a resurgence.[292]

Radio first arrived in New Zealand in 1922 and television in 1960, while the number of New Zealand films significantly increased during the 1970s.[293] In 1978 the New Zealand Film Commission started assisting local film-makers and many films attained a world audience, some receiving international acknowledgement. Deregulation in the 1980s saw a sudden increase in the numbers of radio and television stations.[293] New Zealand television primarily broadcasts American and British programming, along with a large number of Australian and local shows. The country's diverse scenery and compact size, plus government incentives,[294] have encouraged some producers to film big budget movies in New Zealand.[295] The New Zealand media industry is dominated by a small number of companies, most of which are foreign-owned, although the state retains ownership of some television and radio stations. Between 2003 and 2008, Reporters Without Borders consistently ranked New Zealand's press freedom in the top twenty.[296]


Dark statue with backpack facing a snow capped mountain
Statue of mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary gazing towards Aoraki / Mount Cook

Most of the major sporting codes played in New Zealand have English origins.[297] Golf, netball, tennis and cricket are the four top participatory sports, soccer is the most popular among young people and rugby union attracts the most spectators.[298] Victorious rugby tours to Australia and the United Kingdom in the late 1880s and the early 1900s played an early role in instilling a national identity,[299] although the sport's influence has since declined.[300] Horse racing was also a popular spectator sport and became part of the "Rugby, Racing and Beer" culture during the 1960s.[301] Māori participation in European sports was particularly evident in rugby and the country's team performs a haka (traditional Māori challenge) before international matches.[302]

New Zealand has competitive international teams in rugby union, netball, cricket, rugby league, and softball and has traditionally done well in triathlons, rowing, yachting and cycling. The country has performed well on a medals-to-population ratio at Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games.[298][303] New Zealand's national rugby union team is often regarded as the best in the world, and are the reigning World Cup holders. New Zealand are also the reigning rugby league world champions. New Zealand is known for its extreme sports, adventure tourism[304] and strong mountaineering tradition.[305] Other outdoor pursuits such as cycling, fishing, swimming, running, tramping, canoeing, hunting, snowsports and surfing are also popular.[306] The Polynesian sport of waka ama racing has increased in popularity and is now an international sport involving teams from all over the Pacific.[307]

See also


  1. ^ "God Save the Queen" is officially a national anthem but is generally used only on regal and vice-regal occasions.[1][2]
  2. ^ Language percentages add to more than 100% because some people speak more than one language. They exclude unusable responses and those who spoke no language (e.g. too young to talk).[3]
  3. ^ Ethnicity percentages add to more than 100% because some people identify with more than one ethnic group.[4]
  4. ^ There is a multitude of dates that could be considered to mark independence (see Independence of New Zealand).
  5. ^ The proportion of New Zealand's area (excluding estuaries) covered by rivers, lakes and ponds, based on figures from the New Zealand Land Cover Database,[5] is (357526 + 81936) / (26821559 – 92499–26033 – 19216) = 1.6%. If estuarine open water, mangroves, and herbaceous saline vegetation are included, the figure is 2.2%.
  6. ^ The Chatham Islands have a separate time zone, 45 minutes ahead of the rest of New Zealand.
  7. ^ The territories of Niue, the Cook Islands and Tokelau have their own cctlds, .nu, .ck and .tk respectively.
  8. ^ Zeeland is spelt "Zealand" in English and the Dutch regional language of Zeelandic. New Zealand's name is not derived from the Danish island Zealand.
  9. ^ New Zealand has approximately 4,000 indigenous species of lichens and other non-vascular plants,[145] and only 40 percent of these are endemic.[146]
  10. ^ PPP GDP estimates from different organisations vary. The International Monetary Fund's estimate is US$27,420.[168] The CIA World Factbook estimate is $28,000.[169] The World Bank's estimate is US$29,352.[170]
  11. ^ When completing the census people could select more than one ethnic group (for instance, 53 percent of Māori identified solely as Māori, while the remainder also identified with one or more other ethnicities).[227]
  12. ^ Of the 85,428 people that replied they spoke Samoan in the 2006 Census, 57,828 lived in the Auckland region.[247]
  13. ^ Languages listed here are those spoken by over 40,000 New Zealanders.
  14. ^ Tertiary education in New Zealand is used to describe all aspects of post-school education and training. Its ranges from informal non-assessed community courses in schools through to undergraduate degrees and advanced, research-based postgraduate degrees.
  15. ^ Another 6 percent objected to stating their religion. Statistics NZ do not report a total percentage for "Other" religions. Depending on how many people claimed both Christian and other religions, this could range from 3 to 5 percent. These percentages are based on the usually resident population, excluding another 7 percent of people who did not provide usable information.


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  • Bain, Carolyn (2006). New Zealand. Lonely Planet. ISBN 1741045355. 
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  • Hay, Jennifer; Maclagan, Margaret; Gordon, Elizabeth (2008). Dialects of English: New Zealand English. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748625291. 
  • King, Michael (2003). The Penguin History of New Zealand. New Zealand: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143018674. 
  • Mein Smith, Philippa (2005). A Concise History of New Zealand. Australia: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521542286. 

Further reading

  • Bateman, David, ed (2005). Bateman New Zealand Encyclopedia (6th ed.). ISBN 1869536010. 
  • Sinclair, Keith; revised by Dalziel, Raewyn (2000). A History of New Zealand. ISBN 9780140298758. 
  • Statistics New Zealand. New Zealand Official Yearbook (annual). ISBN 1869537769 (2010).

External links




Coordinates: 42°S 174°E / 42°S 174°E / -42; 174

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