New Zealand - A World in Miniature
New Zealand has a rich and fascinating history, reflecting thier unique mix of Māori and European culture. Today New Zealand is home to more than 5 million people. Māori were the first to arrive in New Zealand, journeying in canoes from Hawaiki about 1,000 years ago. A Dutchman, Abel Tasman, was the first European to sight the country but it was the British who made New Zealand part of their empire.
In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, an agreement between the British Crown and Māori. It established British law in New Zealand and is considered New Zealand’s founding document and an important part of the country's history. The building where the treaty was signed has been preserved and, today, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a popular attraction.
You'll find amazing Māori historic sites and taonga (treasures) - as well as beautiful colonial-era buildings - dotted throughout the country. A walk around any New Zealand city today shows what a culturally diverse and fascinating country they have become.
People and Culture
New Zealanders are friendly and down-to-earth people who embrace the spirit of manaakitanga, or hospitality. With a patchwork history of Māori, European, Pacific Island and Asian influences, New Zealand's population is a melting-pot of cultures.
Today, the population of New Zealand is made up of people from a range of backgrounds; 70% are of European descent, 16.5% are indigenous Māori, 15.1% Asian and 8.1% non-Māori Pacific Islanders.
Geographically, over three-quarters of the population live in the North Island, with one-third of the total population living in Auckland. The other main cities of Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton are where the majority of the remaining Kiwis dwell.
You'll find a variety of awesome landscapes in New Zealand, all within easy reach of each other.
Spectacular glaciers, picturesque fiords, rugged mountains, vast plains, rolling hillsides, subtropical forest, volcanic plateau, miles of coastline with gorgeous sandy beaches - it’s all there. No wonder New Zealand is becoming so popular as a location for movies.
Lying in the south-west Pacific, New Zealand consists of two main islands - the North Island and the South Island. Stewart Island and many smaller islands lie offshore.
The North Island of New Zealand has a 'spine' of mountain ranges running through the middle, with gentle rolling farmland on both sides. The central North Island is dominated by the Volcanic Plateau, an active volcanic and thermal area. The massive Southern Alps form the backbone of the South Island. To the east of the Southern Alps is the rolling farmland of Otago and Southland, and the vast, flat Canterbury Plains.
Geothermal Areas and Hot Springs
This subterranean activity blesses New Zealand with some spectacular geothermal areas and relaxing hot springs, as well as providing electricity and heating in some areas. Rotorua is the main hub for geothermal attractions, with plenty of mud pools, geysers, and hot springs in its active thermal areas — not to mention its trademark ‘Sulphur City’ smell. First settled by Maori who used the hot springs for cooking and bathing, Rotorua soon attracted European residents. The reputed health benefits of its hot pools quickly earned the area the name of ‘Cureland’.
Beyond Rotorua, you can enjoy hot springs and other thermal activity in most regions of the North Island north of Turangi, as well as in Hanmer Springs and the West Coast in the South Island.
Sandy Beaches to Rugged Coastlines
New Zealand has over 15,000 kilometres of beautiful and varied coastline. In the Far North and on most of the East Coast of the North Island you’ll find long sandy beaches perfect for swimming, surfing and sunbathing. The North Island’s west coast has dark sandy beaches, with sand heavy in iron. The north of the South Island has some beautiful sandy beaches, while the coastline around the rest of the South Island tends to be wilder and more rugged.
Mountain Ranges to Fertile Farmland
About a fifth of the North Island and two-thirds of the South Island are mountains. Stretching from the north of the North Island to the bottom of the South, these mountains are caused by the collision of the Australian and Pacific Plates.
Over millions of years, alluvial deposits (eroded from the mountains by rivers) formed the vast Canterbury Plains in the South Island and a number of smaller plains in the North. These alluvial plains contain some of New Zealand’s most fertile and productive farmland.
New Zealand’s Southern Alps have a number of glaciers, the largest being Tasman glacier, which you can view by taking a short walk from Mount Cook village. New Zealand’s most famous glaciers are the Franz Josef and Fox on the South Island’s West Coast. Gouged out by moving ice over thousands of years, these spectacular glaciers are easily accessible to mountaineers and hikers. You can walk up to the glaciers or do a heli-hike — fly up by helicopter and walk down.
Over thousands of years, the process of subduction has seen parts of the New Zealand landscape become submerged. The Marlborough Sounds and Fiordland are examples of high mountain ranges that have ‘sunk’ into the sea, creating spectacular sounds and fiords. These areas provide some of New Zealand most picturesque scenery, with steep lush hills plunging down to the deep still bays below. Clear, deep still water surrounded by beautiful bush makes these areas ideal for boating and kayaking.
National Parks and Marine Reserves
Over 20 percent of New Zealand is covered in national parks, forest areas and reserves - and these are the best places to observe their native flora and fauna. The 14 national parks contain an incredible variety of unspoiled landscape and vegetation. The mainland also has two World Heritage Areas - Tongariro in the Central North Island and Te Wahipounamu in the south-west of the South Island.
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