The first Polynesian settlers to the country arrived around the tenth century A.D. Although Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first sighted the country in 1642 the first European settlement was not until British Captain James Cook landed there in 1749. Between 1843 and 1872 a series of wars were fought between Europeans and Mäori. The government continues to attempt to deal with Mäori grievances and customary rights.

New Zealand was loyal to Britain in both World Wars, but began to rely more on the United States of America after World War II. The country has always been involved overseas, but New Zealand’s search for independence saw it become less reliant on other countries and become more involved in standing up for other Pacific Island nations.

More: New Zealand history

Back to top


It is an isolated Pacific nation 2000 km from Australia, its nearest neighbour. To the south is Antartica, while the Pacific Island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga are situated to the North. The size of New Zealand can reasonably be compared to Japan, the British Isles or Colorado in the United States.

The Southern Alps run through the centre of the South Island, isolating either side of the island. The most mountainous area in the North Island is a highly volcanic area in the centre that includes the active Mount Ruapehu volcano.

Although New Zealand has a similar latitude to Portugal, it has a similar temperature to western Britain. Overall New Zealand has a very changing weather pattern, with a number of dry spells that may cause drought in some areas, such as Marlbrough in the South Island. Most months are very wet and damp overall, but the climate is reasonably pleasant.

More: New Zealand geography

Back to top


New Zealand is an independent Commonwealth country formed after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. Although the Treaty of Waitangi is recognised as the founding document of New Zealand, it only became fully independent in 1947 after forty-six years of partial independence.

The country consists of two main islands appropriately named the North Island and South Island. In addition to two main islands, there are also several smaller islands spread over a large area of the Pacific. Tokelau is governed by New Zealand, while the Cook Islands and Niue are dependent territories.

Back to top

CIA Overview

The Polynesian Mäori reached New Zealand in about A.D. 800. In 1840, their chieftains entered into a compact with Britain, the Treaty of Waitangi, in which they ceded sovereignty to Queen Victoria while retaining territorial rights. In that same year, the British began the first organized colonial settlement. A series of land wars between 1843 and 1872 ended with the defeat of the native peoples. The British colony of New Zealand became an independent dominion in 1907 and supported the UK militarily in both World Wars. New Zealand's full participation in a number of defense alliances lapsed by the 1980s. In recent years, the government has sought to address longstanding Mäori grievances.

Surface Area: 268,680 square km (includes Antipodes Islands, Auckland Islands, Bounty Islands, Campbell Island, Chatham Islands, and Kermadec Islands)
Population: 3,908,037 (July 2002 est.)
Located in: Oceania, islands in the South Pacific Ocean
Capital City: Wellington
Head of State: Queen ELIZABETH II, represented by Governor General Dame Silvia CARTWRIGHT
Prime Minister: Helen CLARK
Independent since: 26 September 1907 (from UK)
Currency: New Zealand dollar (NZD)
Flag (image):