The island is part of the Bismarck Archipelago, and is often described as having the shape of a musket. The tropicalisland of New Ireland is long, narrow and mountainous. For much of its 320 km length, it is less than 10 km across, yet the central mountainous spine is very steep and rugged. The highest peak is Lambel (2,150 metres or 7,054 feet). The island lies between one and five degrees south of the equator.
Also part of the province are numerous smaller islands, including New Hanover, Mussau, Djaul, Tabar, Lihir, Feni, Anir and Tanga.
The land area of the province is around 9600 square km.
Chinese and South-East Asian contact appears to have been longstanding, though evidence is thin.
Dutch explorers made the first European contact in 1516. Missionary activity did not begin until 1877, and New Ireland was colonised by Germany in 1886, along with the rest of the northern half of present-day Papua New Guinea.