In the South Island the Māori population is increasing, and the Canterbury area contained nearly 6% of the Māori population in 1996.
New Zealand is part of the largely submerged continent of Zealandia, which stretches from the north of New Caledonia to the south of New Zealand's subantartic islands. 93% of Zealandia is underwater. For more information see "The New Zealand continent".
New Zealand is an island nation. The three main islands which make up New Zealand are the North Island, the South Island, and Stewart Island, but a number of smaller offshore islands are also included :
- The Chatham Islands
- The Kermadec Islands
- Campbell Island
- The Antipodes Islands
- The Bounty Islands
- The Auckland Islands
New Zealand also has part jurisdiction over the territories of Tokelau and the Ross Dependency, and is involved in Antartica.
Click here for a map (80k) showing New Zealand's geographical position.
Approximately 23% of the country is forested, as compared with 80% originally. Most of the remaining forested areas are protected.
New Zealand is a very mountainous country. Under a quarter of the land is less than 200 metres above sea level. It lies on a fault line which forms part of the Pacific "Rim of Fire", although there have been only two major volcanic eruptions in the relatively recent past. One was the huge eruption which resulted in the creation of Rangitoto Island in Waitemata Harbour (Auckland) about 600 years ago, and the second was the 10th June 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera.
More recent minor eruptions occurred at Mount Ruapehu, when the mountain erupted in 1995 and then again in 1996. Small earthquakes are relatively common. A Richter magnitude shock of 6 or over occurs around once a year, but a shock of 7 or over occurs approximately only once in 10 years.
Lake Taupo, situated in the Volcanic Plateau area of the North Island, fills a crater which had been formed by the world's largest known eruption. This happened in two sections, around 1 800 and 26 000 years ago. The volcanic dust which arose from the eruption, bringing with it changes in the skies, could be seen as far away as Rome and China.
The North Island is mainly made up of coastal plains and small mountain ranges. The main volcanic mountains in the North Island are : Mount Tongariro (1 967 metres), Mount Ngaruahoe (2 287 metres), Mount Taranaki (or Egmont) (2 518 metres) and Mount Ruapehu, the largest, at (2 797 metres)
In the South Island, it is the higher Southern Alps which run the length of the island. The Southern Alps count 360 glaciers, of which the largest are : the Tasman, Murchison, Mueller, Godley and the Hooker glaciers. These five are situated on the East coast of the South Island. On the West coast, the largest glaciers are the Fox and the Franz Josef glaciers.
At least 223 named peaks in the Southern Alps are higher than 2.300 metres. Some of the highest mountains or peaks in the South Island are : Torres ( 3 163 metres) Teichelmann (3 160 metres) Sefton (3 157 metres) Malte Brun (3 155 metres) and Haast (3 138 metres).
Mount Cook (or Aoraki, in Māori), in the South Island, is the highest mountain in New Zealand (3 754 metres). The largest lake is Lake Taupo, and the river with the greatest flow is the Clutha. The longest river in the North Island is the Waikato.
N New Zealand has a maritime climate, affected by latitude and the proximity of the ocean. The country's mountain ranges, and in particular those of the South Island, create different climactic conditions between the North and the South Islands. The Southern Alps also form a climatic barrier between the east and west coasts of the South Island.
The North Island has a generally more temperate climate, while winter conditions in certain areas of the South Island may drop to near arctic conditions. New Zealand's weather is inclined to be very changeable. A brisk rain shower will give way just as suddenly to sunny skies, or a bracing wind.
In general the country experiences high rainfall, particularly in Winter. The East Coast of New Zealand is the driest area, while the West Coast of the South Island has one of the highest annual rainfalls in the world.
January and February are the warmest months in New Zealand ; July and August are the coolest.