New Zealand is located in the Southwest Pacific Ocean and consists of two main Islands as well as a number of smaller ones. The principal Islands are the North and South Islands which are separated by the Cook Strait.
North Island has a mountainous center with many hot springs and volcanic peaks. South Island is much more mountainous with the Southern Alps, which has some 350 glaciers, running across the length of the Island. Much of the lowlands are broken and hilly while plains are not prominent on either Island.
It is estimated the Mäori inhabited New Zealand around 800AD. Around eight hundred years later the Western world discovered New Zealand. In 1642, in a bid to locate the mysterious, rich land Australia, the Dutch Explorer, Abel Tasman caught sight of the West Coast of the South Island.
The First European to set foot on New Zealand soil was Captain James Cook of England, in 1769. He also made the first, but inaccurate map of the country.
Settlers from England started to arrive in the 1830's, and by 1840 a Treaty was signed between the crown and the chiefs of the Mäori tribes. The Treaty of Waitangi handed sovereignty of New Zealand to the Crown, and is a matter of dispute even today, as the Mäori translation is not quite the same as the English.
One hundred and seven years later, in 1947 New Zealand declared independence, and became its own country.
New Zealand has a modern, prosperous, developed economy with an estimated GDP (PPP) of USD $119.549 billion (2010). New Zealander's have a high level of life satisfaction as measured by international surveys. The country was ranked 20th on the 2009 Human Development Index and 15th in The Economist's 2005 worldwide quality-of-life index.
New Zealand is a country heavily dependent on free trade. Its principal export industries are agriculture, horticulture, fishing and forestry. These make up about half of the country's exports. Its major export partners are Australia, US, Japan, China, and UK. Tourism plays a significant role in New Zealand's economy.
New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, so January and February are the warmest months, autumn is from March to May, winter is from June to August, and spring runs from September to November.
New Zealand does not have a large temperature range, lacking the extremes that are found in most continental climates. However, the weather can change unexpectedly as cold fronts or tropical cyclones quickly blow in.
The climate is temperate with relatively mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. The weather varies a lot between different regions — the far north is subtropical while the south gets icy wind straight from Antarctica. The far north of the country has an average temperature of about 15°C, while the Deep South has a cooler 9°C average.
While New Zealand is culturally and linguistically part of Polynesia, forming the south-western anchor of the Polynesian Triangle, much of contemporary New Zealand culture is derived from British roots. It also includes significant influences from American, Australian and M?ori cultures, along with those of other European cultures and — more recently — non-Mäori Polynesian and Asian cultures.
Celebration of Diwali and Chinese New Year are held in several of the larger cities. The world's largest Polynesian festival, Pasifika, is an annual event in Auckland.
New Zealand cuisine is largely driven by local ingredients and seasonal variations. Occupying an Island nation with a primarily agricultural economy, New Zealanders enjoy quality local produce from land and sea. Similar to the cuisine of Australia, the cuisine of New Zealand is a diverse British-based cuisine with Mediterranean and Pacific Rim influences.
Historical influences came from Mäori culture, and New American cuisine, Southeast Asian, East Asian and Indian traditions have become popular since the 1970s.