Fast Facts

Population:
4,107,000
Capital:
Wellington; 343,000
Area:
270,534 square kilometers (104,454 square miles)
Language:
English, Maori
Religion:
Protestant, Roman Catholic
Currency:
New Zealand dollar
Life Expectancy:
78
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $20,100
Literacy Percent:
99
Flag: New Zealand
Map: New Zealand

New Zealand is a fertile and mountainous group of islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. "It is a land uplifted high," wrote Abel Tasman, a Dutch navigator who was the first European to sight New Zealand, in 1642. Snowy peaks, fjord-scarred shores, and pastures dotted with sheep define this country.

New Zealand, a parliamentary democracy modeled on that of the United Kingdom, has been a self-governing British dominion since 1907. It became a founding member of the British Commonwealth in 1926.

One in three citizens—Kiwis—lives in or around the city of Auckland. Rugby clubs with names such as Canterbury and Wellington reveal a nation peopled mostly by descendants of British settlers. The indigenous Maori constitute about 15 percent of New Zealanders; recent immigrants—primarily from Samoa and Fiji—make Auckland one of the world's largest Polynesian cities.

The export-driven country, whose chief trading partner used to be the United Kingdom, faltered in 1973 when Britain joined the European Union. The loss of preferential treatment prompted a search for new markets. Japan, Australia, and the U.S. now buy half of all exports, which include wool, mutton, lamb, beef, cheese, fish, and chemicals.

New Zealand plays an active role in helping democratic nations and emerging Pacific island economies. It sent troops to East Timor when violence broke out in 1999, and it provided millions of dollars to the South Pacific island of Niue after it was devastated by a tropical cyclone in 2004. Niue and the Cook Islands enjoy a status of self-government in free association with New Zealand.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Food processing, wood and paper products, textiles, machinery
  • Agriculture: Wheat, barley, potatoes, pulses; wool; fish
  • Exports: Dairy products, meat, wood and wood products, fish, chemicals, wool, mutton

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

Related Features

Take a Nat Geo Trip

Select a destination or trip type to find a trip:

See All Trips »

Travel Photos From Your Shot

  • Picture of canoes on a dock in Alberta, Canada

    Your Canada Photos

    View scenes of Canada's city life and countryside—all taken by our Nat Geo photo community.

See More Your Shot Galleries »