New Zealand is a country of two major islands and a number of smaller islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. New Zealand's most common name in the indigenous Māori; language is Aotearoa, which is popularly taken to mean Land of the Long White Cloud. When early Māori settlers approached New Zealand they saw a white cloud stretching across the horizon and sky. A former Māori name for New Zealand was Niu Tireni, a transliteration of the English name. The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, called it Nu Tirani.
New Zealand is the most geographically-isolated country on Earth. Closest neighbour Australia is 2,000 km to the northwest of the main islands. The only landmass to the south is Antarctica, and to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga.
New Zealand is one of the most recently settled major land masses. Polynesian settlers arrived probably some time between 500 and 1300 AD, and established the indigenous Māori;culture.
The first Europeans known to reach New Zealand were led by Abel Janszoon Tasman, who sailed up the west coast of the South and North islands in 1642. The Dutch thought it was a single land which they named Staaten Landt. It was later named "Nieuw Zeeland" after the area in Batavia where they had been based, which in turn was named after their province of Zeeland. In 1769 Captain James Cook began extensive surveys of the islands. This led to European whaling expeditions and eventually significant European colonisation. The Treaty of Waitangi on February 6, 1840 between the British government and the Māori established British sovereignty over New Zealand.
New Zealand is a party to the ANZUS security treaty between Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. In 1985 New Zealand refused to allow US nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships to enter its ports, causing the US to abrogate its ANZUS responsibilities to New Zealand in 1986. New Zealand has not formally withdrawn from the treaty.
New Zealand is a member of the following geo-political organizations:
When originally settled, New Zealand was divided 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 entity such as a province, state or territory 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. Due to its colonial heritage, New Zealand local government was modelled fairly closely on British local government structures, with city, borough, and county councils. Over the years some of these councils merged or had boundary adjustments by mutual agreement, and a few new ones were created. Finally, in 1989, the government performed a complete reorganisation of local government, and implemented the current two-tier structure of regional councils and territorial authorities.
Today New Zealand has 16 regions 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 Council. Four of the territorial councils (unitary authorities) have regional functions as well, within their areas. The Chatham Islands Council similarly combines functions. The 12 larger regions each have a separately-elected regional council. A few territorial authorities straddle regional council boundaries.
New Zealand is composed of two main islands and a number of smaller islands. The South Island is the largest land mass, and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps, the highest peak of which is Mount Cook, at 3754 metres. There are 18 peaks of more than 3000 metres 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 (2797 metres), is an active cone volcano.
The total land area of New Zealand, 268,680 km², is somewhat less than that of Japan or of the British Isles, and slightly larger than Colorado in the USA. The country extends more than 1600 km along its main, north-northeast axis.