New Zealand is a country in the south-western Pacific Ocean consisting of two large islands (the North Island and South Island) and many much smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands. It is called Aotearoa in Māori, which translates as the Land of the Long White Cloud, but this name, while in common usage, has no legal recognition.
It is notable for its geographic isolation, being separated from Australia to the northwest by the Tasman Sea, some 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) across. Its closest neighbours to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga.
The population is mostly of European descent, with Māori being the largest minority. Non-Māori Polynesian and Asian peoples are also significant minorities, especially in the cities.
Elizabeth II is the Queen of New Zealand and is represented by a non-partisan Governor-General; the Queen 'reigns but does not rule', so she has no real political influence. Political power is held by the Prime Minister, who is leader of the Government in the democratically-elected Parliament of New Zealand. The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue, which are entirely self-governing, Tokelau, and the Ross Dependency (New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica).
Local government and external territories
The early European settlers divided New Zealand into provinces. These were abolished in 1876 so that government could be centralised, for financial reasons. As a result, New Zealand has no separately represented subnational entities such as provinces, states or territories, apart from its local government. The spirit of the provinces however still lives on, and there is fierce rivalry exhibited in sporting and cultural events. Since 1876, local government has administered the various regions of New Zealand. In 1989, the government completely reorganised local government, implementing the current two-tier structure of regional councils and territorial authorities.
Today New Zealand has 12 regional councils for the administration of environmental and transport matters and 74 territorial authorities that administer roading, sewerage, building consents, and other local matters. The territorial authorities are 16 city councils, 57 district councils, and the Chatham Islands County Council. Four of the territorial councils (one city and three districts) and the Chatham Islands County Council also perform the functions of a regional council and thus are known as unitary authorities. Territorial authority districts are not subdivisions of regional council districts, and a few of them straddle regional council boundaries.
Regions are (asterisks denote unitary authorities): Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne*, Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington, Marlborough*, Nelson*, Tasman*, West Coast, Canterbury, Otago, Southland, Chatham Islands*.
As a major South Pacific nation, New Zealand has a close working relationship with many Pacific Island nations, and continues a political association with the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau. New Zealand operates Scott Base in its Antarctic territory, the Ross Dependency. Other countries also use Christchurch to support their Antarctic bases and the city is sometimes known as the "Gateway to Antarctica".
New Zealand comprises two main islands (called the North and South Islands in English, Te-Ika-a-Maui and Te Wai Pounamu in Māori) and a number of smaller islands. The total land area of New Zealand, 268,680 square kilometres (103,738 sq mi), is a little less than that of Italy and Japan, and a little more than the United Kingdom. The country extends more than 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) along its main, north-north-east axis, with approximately 15,134 km of coastline. The most significant of the smaller inhabited islands of New Zealand include Stewart Island/Rakiura; Waiheke Island, in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf; Great Barrier Island, east of the Hauraki Gulf; and the Chatham Islands, named Rekohu by Moriori. The country has extensive marine resources, with the fifth-largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world, covering over four million square kilometres (1.5 million sq mi), more than 15 times its land area.
The South Island is the largest land mass, and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps, the highest peak of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook, 3,754 metres (12,316 ft). There are 18 peaks of more than 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) in the South Island. The North Island is less mountainous than the South, but is marked by volcanism. The tallest North Island mountain, Mount Ruapehu (2,797 m / 9,176 ft), is an active cone volcano. The dramatic and varied landscape of New Zealand has made it a popular location for the production of television programmes and films, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Aoraki/Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New ZealandThe climate throughout the country is mild, mostly cool temperate to warm temperate, with temperatures rarely falling below 0°C (32°F) or rising above 30°C (86°F). Conditions vary from wet and cold on the West Coast of the South Island to dry and continental in the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury and subtropical in Northland. Of the main cities, Christchurch is the driest, receiving only some 640 mm (25 in) of rain per year. Auckland, the wettest, receives a little less than three times that amount.
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