New Zealand (Māori: Aotearoa [aɔˈtɛaɾɔa]) is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It consists of two main landmasses – the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui) and the South Island (Te Waipounamu) – and more than 700 smaller islands, with a total area of 268,021 square kilometers (103,500 sq mi). New Zealand is about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of the islands of New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga. The country’s varied topography and sharp mountain peaks, including the Southern Alps, owe much to tectonic uplift and volcanic eruptions. The capital of New Zealand is Wellington, the most populous city is Auckland.
Due to their remoteness, the New Zealand islands were the last major habitable areas to be settled by humans. Between about 1280 and 1350, Polynesians began settling on the islands and then developed a distinctive Māori culture. In 1642, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to see New Zealand. In 1840, representatives of the United Kingdom and Māori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which declared British sovereignty over the islands. In 1841 New Zealand became a colony within the British Empire and in 1907 a dominion; it gained full legal independence in 1947, and the British monarch remained head of state. Today, the majority of New Zealand’s 5 million residents are of European descent; the indigenous Māori are the largest minority, followed by Asians and Pacific Islanders. Accordingly, New Zealand culture derives primarily from Māori and early British settlers, with recent expansion being due to increased immigration. The official languages are English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language, with English predominating.
New Zealand is a developed country and ranks high internationally, particularly in the areas of education, protection of civil liberties, government transparency and economic freedom. In the 1980s it experienced major economic changes that transformed it from a protectionist to a liberalized free trade economy. The service sector dominates the economy, followed by industry and agriculture; International tourism is a significant source of income. At the national level, the legislature rests with an elected unicameral parliament, while executive political power is exercised by the cabinet headed by the Prime Minister, currently Jacinda Ardern. Queen Elizabeth II is the country’s monarch and is represented by a Governor-General, currently Dame Patsy Reddy. In addition, New Zealand is organized into 11 regional councils and 67 local government units for local government purposes. The kingdom of New Zealand also includes Tokelau (a dependent territory); the Cook Islands and Niue (Self-Governing States in Free Association with New Zealand); and the Ross Dependency, which is New Zealand’s territorial claim in Antarctica.
New Zealand is a member of the United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations, ANZUS, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, ASEAN Plus Six, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Pacific Community and Pacific Islands Forum.