New Zealand overview

New Zealand lies in the southern Pacific Ocean, about 1,600 kilometres (990 miles) or three hours by air from Australia.

Two main islands

New Zealand has two main islands – the North and South Islands – and many small islands. With a total land area of approximately 270,000 square kilometres (104,000 square miles), it is roughly the size of Japan, the British Isles or the American state of California. It is 1,600 kilometres (990 miles) long and 450 kilometres (280 miles) across at its widest part.

Summer is from December to February and winter from June to August.

Earliest arrivals

Māori are the tangata whenua ("people of the land") or indigenous people of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and arrived by sea in several "waves" of migration about 1,000 years ago.

Dutch navigator Abel Tasman sailed up the West Coast on a voyage of discovery in 1642, but did not stay long after Māori prevented his only attempt at landing on New Zealand shores.

Europeans did not rediscover New Zealand until 1769, when the British naval captain James Cook and his crew on the Endeavour laid claim to the territory.

The beginnings of government

European settlement began with sealers, whalers, missionaries and traders. As it grew, settlement caused concern for both Māori and law-abiding settlers, but it was not until 1840 that a formal agreement was signed between the Māori people of New Zealand and the European settlers. This agreement, named as the Treaty of Waitangi after the town where it was signed, is New Zealand’s founding document.

The signing of the Treaty between more than 500 Māori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown is remembered on February 6 each year as New Zealand’s national day, Waitangi Day.

New Zealand became a self-governing British colony in 1856, a Dominion in 1907 and a fully independent states of the Commonwealth in 1947. The Governor General represents the Queen of England in New Zealand.

The democratic government operates under the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system with 121 members of parliament. āori New Zealanders may vote as part of the general electorate, or in a specially allocated Māori seat. 

New Zealand's economy

New Zealand’s primary manufacturing industries are food processing (meat and dairy) and engineering. The country competes internationally in food processing technology, telecommunications, plastics, textiles, plantation forest products, electronics, climbing equipment, and clothing and footwear. There is growing interest in specialised lifestyle products such as yachts, wine and film. All of these industries are reflected in the wide range of companies listed on New Zealand’s stock exchange, the NZX.

New Zealand’s economy relies heavily on overseas trade. It is a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Set up in 1989 with 21 member economies around the Pacific Rim, APEC’s goal is to achieve free trade and have no tariff barriers.

In 1983 New Zealand and Australia signed the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER), the most comprehensive trade agreement for both countries. It now has more than 80 treaties, protocols and arrangements.

New Zealand is also a member of the United Nations and party to about 2,500 international treaties. Many of these are environmental agreements such as the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992). 

More information:

New Zealand's North Island: The North Island is defined by its vibrant cities, inviting vistas and intriguing natural landforms.

New Zealand's South Island: The South Island features friendly towns, spectacular landscapes and breathtaking adventures.

New Zealand creativity: New Zealand’s art and culture draw from many ethnic origins, producing a captivating blend of Māori, European, Asian and Pacific themes.

New Zealand cuisine: New Zealand’s diverse climates allow many varieties of fresh foods to be cultivated and harvested.

New Zealand events: New Zealand attracts thousands of international visitors to the events it hosts each year, ranging from arts festivals to adventure races.

New Zealand indulgence: From international hotels to intimate and luxurious lodges, beach resorts and health spas, New Zealand offers some truly indulgent experiences.

New Zealand nature: With a third of its land protected in parks and reserves, New Zealand’s wilderness is always within reach.

New Zealand outdoors: Adventure tourism has surged in popularity since New Zealand launched the world’s first commercial bungy-jumping experience in Queenstown in 1988.

New Zealand people: One of the best things about New Zealand is its warm and friendly people.

New Zealand sport: Sport is a big part of New Zealand life. New Zealanders play it, watch it and support all those who wear the silver fern, the symbol of the country’s sporting representatives.

New Zealand wine: The wine industry in New Zealand has achieved remarkable success and a great international reputation.

Visiting New Zealand information: Helpful tips and information for an enjoyable stay in New Zealand.