With a patchwork history of Māori, European, Pacific Island and Asian cultures, New Zealand has become a melting-pot population – but one with some uniting features that make it unique in the world.
Today, of the 4.4 million New Zealanders (informally known as Kiwis), approximately 69% are of European descent, 14.6% are indigenous Māori, 9.2% Asian and 6.9% non-Māori Pacific Islanders.
Geographically, over three-quarters of the population live in the North Island, with one-third of the total population living in Auckland. The other main cities of Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton are where the majority of the remaining Kiwis dwell.
Spectacular glaciers, picturesque fiords, rugged mountains, vast plains, rolling hillsides, subtropical forest, volcanic plateau, miles of coastline with gorgeous sandy beaches – it’s all here. No wonder New Zealand is becoming so popular as a location for movies.
Lying in the south-west Pacific, New Zealand consists of two main islands – the North Island and the South Island. Stewart Island and many smaller islands lie offshore.
The North Island of New Zealand has a ‘spine’ of mountain ranges running through the middle, with gentle rolling farmland on both sides. The central North Island is dominated by the Volcanic Plateau, an active volcanic and thermal area. The massive Southern Alps form the backbone of the South Island. To the east of the Southern Alps is the rolling farmland of Otago and Southland, and the vast, flat Canterbury Plains.
New Zealand is the first country in the world to see the sun.
In Summer, New Zealand uses ‘Daylight Saving’, with clocks put forward one hour to GMT +13. Daylight saving begins on the last Sunday in September and ends on the first Sunday of the following April, when clocks are put back to GMT+12.
New Zealand has a largely temperate climate. While the far north has subtropical weather during summer, and inland alpine areas of the South Island can be as cold as -10°C (14°F) in winter, most of the country lies close to the coast, which means mild temperatures.
The average New Zealand temperature decreases as you travel south. January and February are the warmest months, and July is the coldest month of the year. In summer, the average maximum temperature ranges between 20-30ºC (70-90°F) and in winter between 10-15ºC (50-60°F). You can check on weather conditions in New Zealand on the New Zealand Met Service website.
As New Zealand lies in the Southern Hemisphere, it has opposite seasons to those living in the northern half of the world.
Summer: December – February
Autumn/Fall: March – May
Winter: June – August
Spring: September – November
New Zealand weather can change unexpectedly. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather and temperature if you’re going hiking or doing other outdoor activities. We are well known for having four seasons in one day.
New Zealand observes daylight saving which means during summer months daylight can last up until 9.30pm. New Zealand experiences relatively little air pollution compared to many other countries, which makes the UV rays in our sunlight very strong. The sunniest areas are Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Nelson/Marlborough
The sunlight here can quickly burn skin quickly especially between 10am and 4pm, even on cloudy days. Be ‘SunSmart’ by using these three simple steps when you go outdoors:
1. Stay in the shade whenever possible.
2. Wear a shirt, hat and sunglasses.
3. Use SPF 30+ sunscreen. Reapply every 2 hours.
New Zealand’s average rainfall is high and evenly spread throughout the year. Over the northern and central areas of New Zealand more rain falls in winter than in summer, whereas for much of the southern part of New Zealand, winter is the season of least rainfall. As well as producing areas of stunning native forest, the high rainfall makes New Zealand an ideal place for farming and horticulture.
Snow typically appears during the months of June through October, though cold snaps can occur outside these months. Most snow in New Zealand falls in the mountainous areas, like the Central Plateau in the north, and the Southern Alps in the south. It also falls heavily in inland Canterbury and Otago.
Plants and Fauna
New Zealand’s high rainfall and high sunshine hours give the country a lush and diverse flora – with 80% of it being native.
You’ll be amazed by New Zealand’s evergreen native forests that include rimu, totara, many varieties of beech, and the largest native tree of them all, the giant kauri. Underneath the trees you’ll find a dense and luxurious undergrowth including countless native shrubs, a variety of ferns, and many mosses and lichens.
The yellow flowers of the kowhai tree are some of the prettiest you’ll ever see, and if you visit the North Island, you won’t be far from the beautiful Pohutukawa tree. Its bright red flowers bloom in December, giving it the title of New Zealand’s Christmas tree.
Before humans settled in New Zealand, it would have been an extremely noisy place! Large tracts of lush native bush supported an incredible variety of bird life. As they evloved, wings became unnecessary for some birds, as they had no natural predators to fly away from. As a result, several of New Zealand’s native birds became flightless, including the kakapo parrot, the kiwi, the takahe, and the world’s largest bird, the (now extinct) moa.
As Maori and Europeans settled New Zealand, they hunted birds and brought predators including rats and stoats. This, and loss of habitat, led to the extinction of a number of birds including the moa and huia.
New Zealand’s national symbol is a nocturnal flightless bird with nostrils on the end of its large beak. The kiwi is now endangered, and difficult to see in the wild. However there are a number of ‘kiwi houses’ at zoos and wildlife parks. While they may look cute, kiwi can be fierce and highly terriorial.
These are some other well-known New Zealand native birds:
• The playful kea is one of the most intelligent birds in the world and will happily attack a car in order to steal a windscreen wiper or other bits of rubber!
• The loveable weka is a flightless bird with a penchant for shiny objects.
• The takahe has a beautiful indigo plumage and bright red beak.
• The tui is famed for its beautiful singing and white ‘parson’s collar’.
• The morepork owl is so named because of the sound of its call, often heard at night.
The tuatara is a unique relic of the past – the only beak-headed reptile left in the world. Every species of this reptile family, except the tuatara, died out around 65 million years ago. Tuatara can live for over 100 years, and are only found on protected offshore islands. Tuatara are not a threat to humans.
New Zealand has abundant and diverse marine life, and whale watching and swimming with dolphins are two of our most highly recommended experiences. The small Hector’s dolphin is the world’s rarest dolphin and only found in New Zealand waters. Seals, penguins and a whole host of fish and shellfish also thrive in New Zealand’s fertile marine environment.
National Parks and Marine Reserves
Over 20 percent of New Zealand is covered in national parks, forest areas and reserves – and these are the best places to observe our native flora and fauna. Our mainland also has two World Heritage Areas – Tongariro in the Central North Island and Te Wahipounamu in the south-west of the South Island.
Our 14 national parks contain an incredible variety of unspoiled landscape and vegetation. Administered and maintained by the Department of Conservation, these parks provide opportunity for a wide variety of activities including hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, kayaking and trout fishing.
For a look at native sea creatures, visit one of New Zealand’s 34 marine reserves. A strict no-take policy operates in these areas, which means no fishing or gathering seafood. These underwater wonderlands, which include the world-renowned Poor Knights Islands, are best enjoyed on boat cruises and diving or snorkelling trip