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February 2011

New Zealand

New Zealand

New Zealand, about the size of Colorado, is located in the Pacific Ocean, southeast of Australia. It is an island nation which includes the Antipodes Islands, Auckland Islands, Bounty Islands, Campbell Island, Chatham Islands, and Kermadec Islands. Dependent areas are the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau. The capital city of New Zealand is Wellington, the southernmost national capital in the world; other cities are Auckland, Christchurch, and Hamilton.

The climate is temperate to subtropical, with sharp regional contrasts. The terrain is highly varied and consists of snowcapped mountains to lowland plains; Aoraki-Mount Cook (3,754 m) is the highest point of elevation and the Pacific Ocean (0 m), at sea level, is the lowest point. Current environmental issues include deforestation, soil erosion, and native flora and fauna hard-hit by invasive species.

Most of the 4 million New Zealanders are of British origin. About 15% claim descent from the indigenous Maori population, which is of Polynesian origin. Nearly 76% of the people, including a large majority of Maori, live on the North Island. Nearly 85% of New Zealand's population lives in urban areas (with almost one-third in Auckland alone. New Zealanders colloquially refer to themselves as "Kiwis," after the country's native bird. Official languages are English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language.

In 1840, the Polynesian Maori entered into an agreement with Britain, the Treaty of Waitangi, which recognized the British monarch as sovereign. 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 United Kingdom militarily in both World Wars. In recent years, the government has sought to address longstanding Maori grievances. Since 1907, New Zealand's government has been a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy; Queen Elizabeth II has been chief of state since 1952.

Natural hazards such as volcanic activity and earthquakes are common, though usually not severe. However, on February 22, 2011, an earthquake struck the South Island of New Zealand, near the city of Christchurch.

For more information on the earthquake, see the United States Geological Survey (USGS) web site.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes, 1/2011; 2/2011

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