Elizabeth II, as the Queen of New Zealand, is the country’s head of state and is represented by a non-partisan Governor-General. The Queen has no real political influence, and her position is essentially symbolic. Political power is held by the democratically elected Parliament of New Zealand under the leadership of the Prime Minister, who is the head of government.
New Zealand comprises two main islands, the North and South Islands, Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu respectively in Maori, and a number of smaller islands, located near the centre of the water hemisphere. Cook Strait, 20 kilometres wide at its narrowest point, separates the North and South Islands.
The most significant of the smaller inhabited islands include Stewart Island/Rakiura; Waiheke Island, in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf; Great Barrier Island, east of the Hauraki Gulf; and the Chatham Islands, named Rekohu by Moriori. The country has extensive marine resources, with the seventh-largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world, covering over four million square kilometres (1.5 million square miles), more than 15 times its land area.
The South Island is the largest land mass of New Zealand, and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps, the highest peak of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook at 3754 metres (12,320 ft). There are 18 peaks over 3000 metres (9843 ft) in the South Island. The North Island is less mountainous but is marked by volcanism. The highest North Island mountain, Mount Ruapehu (2797 m, 9177 ft), is an active cone volcano. The dramatic and varied landscape of New Zealand has made it a popular location for the production of television programmes and films, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the The Last Samurai.
New Zealand is culturally and linguistically part of Polynesia, and is the south-western anchor of the Polynesian Triangle.
The latitude of New Zealand, from approximately 34 to 47° S, corresponds closely to that of Italy in the Northern Hemisphere. However, its isolation from continental influences and exposure to cold southerly winds and ocean currents give the climate a much milder character. The climate throughout the country is mild and temperate, mainly maritime, with temperatures rarely falling below 0 °C (32 °F) or rising above 30 °C (86 °F) in populated areas. Historical maxima and minima are 42.4 °C (108.3 °F) in Rangiora, Canterbury and -21.6 °C (-6.9 °F) in Ophir, Otago.] Conditions vary sharply across regions from extremely wet on the West Coast of the South Island to semi-arid (Köppen BSh) in the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury and subtropical in Northland. Of the main cities, Christchurch is the driest, receiving only 640 mm (25 in) of rain per year; Auckland, the wettest, receives almost twice that amount. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch all receive a yearly average in excess of 2000 hours of sunshine. The southern and south-western parts of South Island have a cooler and cloudier climate, with around 1400–1600 hours; the northern and north-eastern parts of the South Island are the sunniest areas of the country and receive approximately 2400–2500 hours.
New Zealand’s historical population (black) and projected growth (red).
Ethnicity and Immigration
New Zealand has a population of about 4.3 million,] of which approximately 78% identify with European ethnic groups. New Zealanders of European descent are collectively known as Pakeha; this term generally refers to New Zealanders of European descent but some Maori use it to refer to all non-Maori New Zealanders.] Most European New Zealanders are of British and Irish ancestry, although there has been significant Dutch, Dalmatian, Italian, and German immigration together with indirect European immigration through Australia, North America, South America and South Africa. According to the 2001 census projections, by 2021 European children will make up 63% of all New Zealand children, compared with 74% in 2001. The fertility rate as of February 2008 was 2.2 per woman, compared to approximately 2 for the previous 30 years, with the total number of births higher than at any point since 1961. The life expectancy of a child born in 2008 was 81.9 years for a girl, and 77.9 years for a boy.
Indigenous Maori people are the largest non-European ethnic group, accounting for 14.6% of the population in the 2006 census. While people could select more than one ethnic group, slightly more than half (53%) of all Maori residents identified solely as Maori. People identifying with Asian ethnic groups account for 9.2% of the population, increasing from 6.6% in the 2001 census, while 6.9% of people are of Pacific Island origin. (These percentages add to more than 100% because people can identify with more than one ethnic group.)
According to the 2006 census, Christianity is the predominant religion in New Zealand, held by 55.6% of the population, a decrease from 60.6% at the 2001 census. Another 34.7% indicated that they had no religion, up from 29.6% in 2001, and 5% affiliated with other religions. The main Christian denominations are Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Presbyterianism and Methodism. There are also significant numbers who identify themselves with Pentecostal and Baptist churches and with the LDS (Mormon) church. The New Zealand-based Ratana church has adherents among Maori. According to census figures, other significant minority religions include Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.
Until 1987, English was New Zealand’s only official language, and remains predominant in most settings; Maori became an official language under the 1987 Maori Language Act and New Zealand Sign Language under the 2006 New Zealand Sign Language Act.] The two official spoken languages are also the most widely used; English is spoken by 98% of the population and Maori by 4.1%. Samoan is the most widely spoken non-official language (2.3%), followed by French, Hindi, Yue and Northern Chinese.
Much of contemporary New Zealand culture is derived from British roots. It also includes significant influences from American, Australian and Maori cultures, along with those of other European cultures and – more recently – non-Maori Polynesian and Asian cultures. Large festivals in celebration of Diwali and Chinese New Year are held in several of the larger centre. The world’s largest Polynesian festival, Pasifika, is an annual event in Auckland. Cultural links between New Zealand and the United Kingdom are maintained by a common language, sustained migration from the United Kingdom, and many young New Zealanders spending time in the United Kingdom on their “overseas experience” (OE). The music and cuisine of New Zealand are similar to that of Australia, Canada, UK, and the US, although both have distinct New Zealand and Pacific qualities.
Maori culture has undergone considerable change since the arrival of Europeans; in particular the introduction of Christianity in the early 19th century brought about fundamental change in everyday life. Nonetheless the perception that most Maori now live similar lifestyles to their Pakeha neighbours is a superficial one. In fact, Maori culture has significant differences, for instance the important role which the marae and the extended family continue to play in communal and family life. As in traditional times, Maori habitually perform karakia to ensure the favorable outcome of important undertakings, but today the prayers used are generally Christian. Maori still regard their allegiance to tribal groups as a vital part of personal identity, and Maori kinship roles resemble those of other Polynesian peoples. As part of the resurgence of Maori culture that came to the fore in the late 20th century, the tradition-based arts of kapa haka (song and dance), carving and weaving are now more widely practiced, and the architecture of the marae maintains strong links to traditional forms. Maori also value their connections to Polynesia, as attested by the increasing popularity of waka ama (outrigger canoe racing), which is now an international sport involving teams from all over the Pacific.
Sport has a major role in New Zealand’s culture, with the unofficial national sport of rugby union being particularly influential. Other popular participatory sports include cricket, bowls, netball, soccer, motorsport, golf, swimming and tennis.] New Zealand has strong international teams in several sports including rugby union, netball, cricket, rugby league, and softball. New Zealand also has traditionally done well in the sports of rowing, yachting and cycling. The country is internationally recognised for performing well on a medals-to-population ratio at Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games.
Rugby union, commonly referred to as rugby, is closely linked to the country’s national identity. The national rugby team, the All Blacks, has the best win to loss record of any national team,] and is well known for the haka (a traditional Maori challenge) performed before the start of international matches. Rugby league is also widely played in New Zealand. The New Zealand Warriors compete in the Australian NRL competition, and in 2008 the national side, the Kiwis, won the Rugby League World Cup.
Horse racing is a popular spectator sport which has spawned such national icons as Cardigan Bay and Phar Lap, and was part of the traditional “Rugby, Racing and Beer” culture.
New Zealand is also well known for its extreme sports and adventure tourism. Its reputation in extreme sports extends from the establishment of the world’s first commercial bungee jumping site at Queenstown in the South Island in November 1988. Mountaineering is also popular, with the country’s most famous climber being the late Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.