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Overview and Geography of New Zealand

The History, Government, Industry, Geography and Biodiversity of New Zealand

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New Zealand Flag

The New Zealand flag is blue with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant with four red five-pointed stars edged in white centered in the outer half of the flag; the stars represent the Southern Cross constellation.

Source: CIA World Factbook, 2007
Updated June 18, 2014

Population: 4,154,311 (2008 estimate)
Capital: Wellington
Area: 103,737 square miles (268,680 sq km)
Coastline: 9,404 miles (15,134 km)
Official Languages: English and Maori
Highest Point: Mount Cook (Aoraki) at 12,349 ft (3,764 m)

New Zealand is an island country located 1,000 miles (1,600 km) southeast of Australia in Oceania. It consists of several islands, the largest of which are the North, the South, Stewart and Chatham Islands. The country has a liberal political history, gained early prominence in women's rights and has a good record in ethic relations, especially with its native Maori. In addition, New Zealand is sometimes called the "Green Island" because its population has high environmental awareness and its low population density gives the country a large amount of pristine wilderness and a high level of biodiversity.

History of New Zealand

In 1642, Abel Tasman, a Dutch Explorer, was the first European to discover New Zealand. He was also the first person to attempt mapping the islands with his sketches of the North and South islands. In 1769, Captain James Cook reached the islands and became the first European to land on them. He also began a series of three South Pacific voyages where he extensively studied the area's coastline.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries Europeans began to officially settle on New Zealand. These settlements consisted of several lumbering, seal hunting and whaling outposts. The first independent European colony was not established until 1840, when the United Kingdom took of the islands. This led to several wars between the British and the native Maori. On February 6, 1840, both parties signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which promised to protect Maori lands if the tribes recognized British control.

Shortly after signing this treaty though, British encroachment on Maori lands continued and wars between the Maori and British grew stronger during the 1860s with the Maori land wars. Prior to these wars constitutional government began to develop during the 1850s. In 1867, the Maori were allowed to reserve seats in the developing parliament.

During the late 19th century, parliamentary government became well established and women were given the right to vote in 1893.

Government of New Zealand

Today, New Zealand has a parliamentary governmental structure and is considered an independent part of the Commonwealth of Nations. It has no formal written constitution and was formally declared a dominion in 1907.

Branches of Government in New Zealand

New Zealand has three branches of government, the first of which is the executive. This branch is headed by Queen Elizabeth II who serves as the chief of state but is represented by a governor general. The prime minister, who serves as the head of government, and the cabinet are also a part of the executive branch. The second branch of government is the legislative branch. It is composed of the parliament. The third is the four-level branch comprised of District Courts, High Courts, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. In addition, New Zealand has specialized courts, one of which is the Maori Land Court.

New Zealand is divided into 12 regions and 74 districts, both of which have elected councils, as well as several community boards and special-purpose bodies.

New Zealand's Industry and Land Use

One of the largest industries in New Zealand is that of grazing and agriculture. From 1850 to 1950, much of the North Island was cleared for these purposes and since then, the rich pastures present in the area have allowed for successful sheep grazing. Today, New Zealand is one of the world's main exporters of wool, cheese, butter and meat. Additionally, New Zealand is large producer of several types of fruit, including kiwi, apples and grapes.

In addition, industry has also grown in New Zealand and the top industries are food processing, wood and paper products, textiles, transportation equipment, banking and insurance, mining and tourism.

Geography and Climate of New Zealand

New Zealand consists of a number of different islands with varying climates. Most of the country has mild temperatures with high rainfall. The mountains however, can be extremely cold.

The main portions of the country are the North and South islands that are separated by the Cook Strait. The North Island is 44,281 sq mi (115,777 sq km) and consists of low, volcanic mountains. Because of its volcanic past, the North Island features hot springs and geysers.

The South Island is 58,093 sq mi (151,215 sq km) and contains the Southern Alps-a northeast-southwest oriented mountain range covered in glaciers. Its highest peak is Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki in the Maori language, at 12,349 ft (3,764 m). To the east of these mountains, the island is dry and made up of the treeless Canterbury Plains. On the southwest, the island's coast is heavily forested and jagged with fjords. This area also features New Zealand's largest national park, Fiordland.

Biodiversity in New Zealand

One of the most important features to note about New Zealand is its high level of biodiversity. Because most of its species are endemic (i.e.- native only on the islands) the country is considered a biodiversity hotspot. This has led to the development of environmental consciousness in the country as well as eco-tourism

Facts About New Zealand

  • There are no native snakes in New Zealand
  • 76% of New Zealanders live on the North Island
  • 15% of New Zealand's energy comes from renewable sources
  • 32% of New Zealand's population lives in Auckland

To learn more visit this site's Geography and Maps of New Zealand page.

References

Central Intelligence Agency. (2010, April 22). CIA - The World Factbook -- New Zealand. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/nz.html

Infoplease.com. (n.d.) New Zealand: History, Geography, Government, and Culture - Infoplease.com. Retrieved from: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107834.html

United States Department of State. (2010, February). New Zealand (02/10). Retrieved from: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35852.htm

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