Capital city: Wellington
Population: 4.5 million (newzealand.govt.nz)
Government: Unitary parliamentary democracy, constitutional monarchy
Currency: New Zealand dollar ($, NZD)
Main languages: English, Maori, New Zealand Sign Language
Main religions: Christianity, although atheism and agnosticism are also prevalent
New Zealand is an archipelago consisting of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, along with over 700 offshore islands. The two main islands form a long, narrow shape and the majority of the smaller islands are within 50 kilometres of their coasts. The country is known for its stunning scenery and outstanding natural beauty, which has attracted filmmakers from around the world.
Although the Maori culture in New Zealand dates back to at least the fourteenth century, the culture of the modern country is largely inherited from the British and European settlers who arrived during the nineteenth century. Today, New Zealand is a multiracial nation and over half a million people there identify themselves as ethnically Maori, while the cultural influences of several other Pacific Island nations are keenly felt too. For more information, visit the Te Ara cultural website.
New Zealanders have an active outdoor lifestyle, enjoying camping, trekking and mountain biking in their unique countryside. The geography also enables mountain skiing in winter while the coastal beach resorts offer a sun seeker’s paradise in summer. Rugby is the national sport, with the mighty All Blacks among the world’s powerhouse nations, while a number of other sports are available across the country. Outside the world of sport, you can experience Maori culture or explore the dramatic locations which provided the backdrop for the Lord of the Rings films.
Food and drink
New Zealand food unites European and Oceanic cultures in a style unique to the Pacific Rim. Fresh fish and other seafood such as mussels, crayfish and oysters come from the Maori tradition, while the British influence can be seen in beef dishes and the famous New Zealand lamb. Food and drink is there to be shared in the manaakitanga tradition. New Zealand is also a leading producer of wine and the classic wine route is a popular attraction for food and drink lovers.
While the vast majority of New Zealanders speak English, Maori and New Zealand Sign Language also have official language status in the country, having been recognised by the government in 1987 and 2006 respectively.
The New Zealand accent is considered similar to the Australian accent, but has several subtle differences – although this is usually more obvious to Australians and New Zealanders than people from other countries. The vocabulary used in New Zealand also differs somewhat from that of British English or Australian English.
New Zealand has a temperate climate with mild, wet winters and warm summers, although the seasonal variance is not as extreme as in some countries. As an island nation, New Zealand’s weather can change very quickly. Despite being under 800 kilometres apart, the average annual rainfall in Auckland on the North Island is double that of Christchurch on the South Island, thanks in part to the meteorological effects of the mountainous central regions on both islands.
Safety and security
New Zealand is a generally very safe country to visit or live in, with the greatest risks coming from petty crime. The New Zealand Police website has some good tips on keeping safe, as well as useful information about local laws and customs. Because New Zealand is located in a seismic zone it is at an elevated risk of earthquakes, and there are also a number of active volcanoes in the country. In the event of a natural disaster, follow the advice of the local authorities and emergency services.