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New Zealand is a country in the Pacific Ocean, just southwest of Australia. It consists of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, as well as a number of smaller islands. Some additional territories are associated with it, some as self-governing bodies in free association.
The area was first settled by Polynesians sometime between the 9th and 14th centuries BCE, probably in a series of migrations. The descendants of these original settlers are now known as the Maori, the indigenous population on the islands. Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman was the first European to reach New Zealand, in 1642, but the Maori were hostile to his crew, killing many and dissuading Europeans from visiting the islands again. The name New Zealand, after a Dutch province, originated on Dutch maps around this time.
The next European to venture to the area was Englishman James Cook, in 1768. He successfully made contact and a trade relationship was established. In the early 19th century, Christian missionaries began settling on the islands and converting the Maori. In 1840, Maori leaders and English representatives signed the Treaty of Waitangi, establishing New Zealand as an English colony and granting the Maori British citizenship and property rights.
Europeans continued to settle in the islands after the Treaty of Waitangi, and though the Maori initially benefited from trading with them, land disputes arose. In the 1860s and 70s, the New Zealand Land Wars resulted in devastating land losses for the Maori. In the 1850s, the country was granted limited self-government, and by the end of the century, it was de facto a self-governing nation. It officially became independent in 1947 with the Statute of Westminster.
The English monarch, locally represented by the Governor-General, is the head of state in New Zealand, while the Prime Minister is head of government. The country has a democratically elected single-house Parliament and a Supreme Court. In addition to being the first country to grant women the right to vote, in 1893, New Zealand is the only nation to have had women simultaneously holding all the highest governmental positions, from 2005 to 2006.
People of European descent make up the majority of New Zealanders, while the Maori constitute the second largest ethnic group. Significant minority populations include other Polynesians and Asians. The country has high rates of immigration, mainly from the United Kingdom and Asia. Christianity is the majority religion by a small margin, while important minority religions are the local Ratana, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. English and Maori are both official languages, and the Maori language is enjoying a renaissance.
New Zealand became wealthy following World War II and has a high standard of living. However, the United Kingdom's recent inclusion in the European Union may negatively affect the the country's economy, since it relies on the export of agricultural and farming products, and the United Kingdom has been its most important trade partner.
New Zealand is known worldwide for its excellence in sports, particularly rugby, and its unique flora and fauna. It is home to many species that do not exist anywhere else in the world. It also has a temperate climate year round and stunning geography, as can be seen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films. It is home to a hill with the longest place name in the world: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu.
In the past few decades, the country has become an increasingly popular place to shoot films. In addition to foreign-based productions, some films made by local production companies have gained worldwide critical acclaim. Notable examples include The Piano (1993), Once Were Warriors (1994), and Heavenly Creatures (1994). Both Heavenly Creatures and the Lord of the Rings trilogy were directed by New Zealander filmmaker Peter Jackson.
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