The lovely island country of New Zealand lies about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) southeast of Australia in the Southwest Pacific Ocean. New Zealand belongs to a large island group called Polynesia and the country farthest south of all the Pacific nations. Unlike the rest of the countries of Polynesia, New Zealand is a highly developed nation with a modern economy.
The country consists of two main islands — the North Island and the South Island — and several dozen much smaller islands. The North and South islands extend in a curve more than 1,000 miles long. Most of the smaller islands are hundreds of miles from the main ones.
Once part of the British Empire New Zealand is now an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of countries that once lived under British law and government.
New Zealand has a mild moist climate like that of the Pacific Northwest Coast of the US, but since New Zealand lies south of the equator, its seasons are opposite those of the Northern Hemisphere. Snowy mountains, green lowlands, sandy beaches, and many lakes and waterfalls grace the landscape throughout New Zealand. The Mount Cook region, on the South Island, has some of the country’s most spectacular scenery.
The first people to live in New Zealand were a brown skinned people called Maoris who came from Polynesian islands northeast of New Zealand. Today, only about 12 per cent of the people are Maoris. Most New Zealanders are descendants of Europeans who began to settle there in the 1800’s.
New Zealand’s standard of living ranks among the highest in the world. The country’s economy, which depends largely on agriculture for many years, now also includes important manufacturing and service industries.
The New Zealand way of life combines an easy informality with a British and Polynesian sense of politeness. Since the arrival of British settlers around 1800, many New Zealanders have kept close cultural and emotional ties to Britain, and many New Zealand customs resemble British customs. But New Zealand has developed a feeling of national identity as a Pacific nation of both British and Polynesian heritage.