New Zealand is a group of South Pacific islands east of Australia. It is part of both Australasia and Polynesia which are regions of Oceania. New Zealand has two main islands and a number of outlying smaller islands.
New Zealand has three official languages, English, Te Reo Māori, and New Zealand sign language. English is the dominant language while Te Reo Māori is the native language. Around 69% of the population is of European decent. The native Maori comprise around 15% of the population, while Asians make up nearly 10%.
New Zealand was the last country on Earth to be discovered and inhabited. It is arguably the most geographically isolated country in the world. The country has a low population density of around 17 people per km. Over half of the country's citizens identify as Christians while one-third claim no religious affiliation.
The landscapes of New Zealand are beautiful and varied. It is a mountainous country with the biggest range located in the South Island. Called the Southern Alps, they extend in a north-south direction for 450 km (280 mi). There are over 24 peaks higher than 3000 metres (9842 feet) and the top 30 peaks are over 2950 metres (9678 feet). While there are some significant plains in New Zealand, most of the country outiside of the main mountain ranges is hilly.
There is a main belt of mountains in the North Island although not as significant as the South. It is divided into different sections with names like Rimutaka, Tararua, Ruahine, and Urewera. There are also a number of significant volcanic peaks including Mt Ruapehu, the highest peak in the North Island. Lake Taupo in the centre of the island is the scene of the biggest volcanic eruption in the world for the last 70,000 years. It also had a smaller eruption around the year 180 AD which is the biggest eruption in the world for the last 5000 years. Nearby Rotorua has volcanic features that rival other volcanic sites around the world such as Yellowstone.
Both islands have rich temperate rain forests and unique bird species. The coast line is quite long for a small country and amounts to nearly the same size as the coastline in continental USA. The best beaches can be found in the north and eastern coasts of both main islands. The western coasts have more rugged beaches, black volcanic sand, and bigger surf.
New Zealand's climate is temperate, although the extreme north is considered sub-tropical and is dubbed 'The Winterless North'. Due to high mountain ranges and volcanoes, New Zealand has a superb ski industry and because winter is the opposite time of the year to the Northern Hemisphere, it is a major destination for skiers in the Northern Hemispehere.
The mountainous terrain of New Zealand exists because the islands straddle the boundary of the Pacific and Australian plates. It is part of the notorious 'Pacific Ring of Fire', so earthquakes and eruptions are common. While this can be hazardous at times, it is also why New Zealand has spectacular landscapes.
Top 10 places to visit
Fiordland National Park is a vast area of fiords, steep mountains, lush rain forests, and thousands of waterfalls including some of the tallest on Earth;
Queenstown is a town that never sleeps. During the winter it is one of the Southern Hemisphere's premier skiing destinations. In summer there is trekking and sight-seeing. It is self-named 'The Adrenalin Capital of the World' and deservedly so. It hosts multiple sites for jet boating and bungee jumping, which are both New Zealand inventions;
Abel Tasman National Park has the best beaches in the country. The beaches are in their natural state, so imagine golden sand, and native forests existing in a sunny climate. Even outside the park, there are scenic towns with great beaches such as Kaiteriteri.
Rotoruais famous for its varied volcanic attractions and rich Maori culture. It is near New Zealand's biggest city, (Auckland), which helps make Rotorua the most popular tourist destination in the country.
The Bay of Islands is a group of scenic islands in the sub-tropical north. A great place for bathing on beaches, fishing, boating, and just enjoying the warm climate. It is also rich in colonial history.
Coromandel Peninsula near Auckland is surrounded on nearly every side by the sea. It has stunning beaches and cliffs. Inland the landscape contains many extinct volcanic cones that rise above the rich temperate rain forest that exists here.
Mount Cook National Park is home to New Zealand's highest peaks. This is where Sir Edmund Hillary trained before he became the first man to climb Mount Everest. The park also contains a number of other tall mountain peaks and glaciers.
Tongariro National Park and Lake Taupo in the central North Island is home to most of the country's volcanoes. Including the highest volcano as well as Lake Taupo the largest lake. This lake is the crater of the Earth's most destructive super volcano.
Westland National Park is a popular place for visitors. Located on the South Island's Westcoast, it is home to steep mountain peaks, lush rain forests, and glaciers that come closer to the coast than anywhere else in the world outside the polar regions.
Poor Knights Islands are a small group of uninhabited islands off the east coast of Northland in the North Island. They are a nature reserve that contain the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve. Diving pioneer Jacques Cousteau classed it as one of the top 10 dive spots in the world
Top 5 cities by population
Auckland is the country's biggest city. It is located on a volcanic field with suburbs extending up and around extinct volcanic cones. There are two natural harbours and a number of outlying islands. With so much water surrounding Auckland, it seems natural that Aucklanders take to boating and hence, why the city is dubbed 'The City of Sails'. There are actually more boats per capita here, than any other city in the world.
Wellington the capital city, is located around a beautiful harbour with the suburbs built on steep hills that surround the CBD. Wellington is very similar to San Francisco. Think of hills, wooden homes, and views of a spectacular harbour and outlying mountains. The city also has a number of beaches, with being only one 5 minutes from the CBD.
Christchurch is a city that looks like it belongs in England. It was purposefully designed and constructed this way, but it is ironic to think that it is also the most distant city in the world from England. Unfortunately, the city centre was recently devastated by a series of earthquakes. The city is now in rebuild mode and will eventually have many low-rise modern structures and buildings intermingled with older buildings that were saved. Now is a good time to visit, as you can see still see some of the devastation, but also the birth of a different Christchurch arising from the rubble.
Hamilton is New Zealand's largest inland city. Located in the Waikato this district is the richest dairy area in the world. The city is built on the banks of the Waikato, the biggest river in the country and the surrounded lush countryside epitomizes rural New Zealand with rolling green hills and sheep. The famous Waitomo Caves are located nearby as is the sea side settlement of Raglan, which has the best surf break in the country.
Dunedin is the Gaelic name for Edinburgh, and even though it doesn't look like that Scottish city, it could easily be mistaken as being Scotland. The landscape was chosen by Scottish settlers because it looked similar to Scotland and naturally they wanted the buildings to look like home too. Today there may not be a large population of Scottish people, but its buildings, landscape, and the statue of Robbie Burns in the city centre keep its Scottish heritage alive. That aside, the city and surrounds are endowed with a beautiful harbour, beaches, and even wildlife reserves where penguins and the giant albatross exist.