New Zealand was a founder member of the Commonwealth in 1931 when its independence was recognised under the Statute of Westminster.
Sir Don McKinnon of New Zealand was Commonwealth Secretary-General 2000–08.
Six New Zealanders have won overall Commonwealth Writers’ Prizes: Witi lhimaera in 1987 (Best First Book); Janet Frame in 1989; John Cranna in 1990 (Best First Book); Lloyd Jones in 2007; Craig Cliff in 2011 (Best First Book); and Emma Martin in 2012 (Short Story Prize). Another, Eleanor Catton, took the Man Booker Prize in 2013.
New Zealand’s Maori name is Aotearoa, meaning ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’. A well-watered and fertile mountainous island country in the South Pacific, New Zealand consists of two large islands (North Island and South Island), Stewart Island and a number of offshore islands. It is somewhat isolated, being about 1,600 km east of Australia, the nearest land mass. Other neighbouring countries are Vanuatu and Tonga.
Wellington (capital, pop. 190,065 in 2013; greater Wellington includes Lower Hutt, Porirua and Upper Hutt), Auckland (427,110; greater Auckland includes Manukau, North Shore and Waitakere), Manukau (greater Auckland, 401,883), Christchurch (353,349), North Shore (greater Auckland, 273,594), Waitakere (greater Auckland, 206,244), Hamilton (170,571), Tauranga (120,414), Dunedin (112,032), Lower Hutt (greater Wellington, 97,653), Palmerston North (78,195), Hastings (64,002), Nelson (60,561), Napier (58,221), Rotorua (53,268), New Plymouth (52,695), Porirua (greater Wellington, 51,537), Whangarei (49,182) and Invercargill (47,898).
There are 94,280 km of roads, 66 per cent paved. The railway network, privatised in 1993 and subsequently renationalised, extends over 3,900 km, with many scenic routes.
There are 13 major commercial ports, including those in Whangarei (shipping oil products), Tauranga (timber and newsprint) and Bluff (alumina and aluminium) as well as container ports in Auckland, Wellington, Lyttleton (near Christchurch) and Dunedin.
There are international airports in Auckland (23 km to the south of the city), Christchurch (10 km north-west), Wellington (8 km south- east), Hamilton and Dunedin.
New Zealand is a member of Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
New Zealand being in the ‘Pacific ring of fire’, volcanic activity has shaped the landscape. Earthquakes, mostly shallow, are common, and volcanic eruptions occur in the North Island and offshore to the Kermadec Islands. Some 75 per cent of the country is higher than 200 metres above sea level. Around one- tenth of the North Island (113,729 sq km) is mountainous. Its Rotorua area, a much-visited tourist attraction, has boiling mud pools and geysers. The South Island (150,437 sq km) is very mountainous; the Southern Alps extend almost its entire length; they have many outlying ranges to the north and south-west; there are at least 223 peaks over 2,300 metres above sea level and 360 glaciers. There are numerous lakes, mostly at high altitude, and many rivers, mostly fast-flowing and difficult to navigate, which are important sources of hydroelectricity (which provides more than 90 per cent of the country’s power). Stewart Island, named after Captain Stewart, who first charted the island in 1809, and (further out) the Auckland Islands lie south of the South Island. The Chatham and Pitt Islands are 850 km east of Christchurch. In addition, the Kermadec Islands were annexed in 1887 and the Ross Dependency in Antarctica was acquired in 1923. The country has a long coastline (15,130 km) in relation to its area.
Temperate marine climate influenced by the surrounding ocean, the prevailing westerly winds, and the mountainous nature of the islands. The weather tends to be changeable. Winds can be very strong, sometimes damaging buildings and trees. Rain, sometimes very heavy, occurs throughout the year. Cold southerly winds bring snow in winter, sometimes in spring. At Wellington, yearly average rainfall is 1,270 mm (143 mm in July, and averaging 87 mm from November to February); average January temperature is 13–20°C, and July temperature 6–11°C. Most of the country experiences at least 2,000 hours of sunshine annually. In recent years, weather patterns have been affected by La Niña and El Niño; some unusually high temperatures have been recorded; and drought and unusually heavy rainfall have occurred.
The most significant environmental issues are deforestation and soil erosion and the impact on native flora and fauna of species introduced from other countries.
Forest cover includes species of conifer, kauri (North Island only) and beech – forest covers 31 per cent of the land area, having increased at 0.3 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. A great range of flora, depending on latitude and altitude, from subtropical rainforest to alpine, with 25 per cent of plants growing above the tree-line. Many species are unique to New Zealand. Arable land comprises two per cent of the total land area.
Fauna are often also unique because of geographical isolation, and include such flightless birds as the kiwi, kakapo and weka, and a great diversity of seabirds, as well as 400 kinds of marine fish and many sea-mammals including 32 whale species. The introduction of land-mammals (unknown before the arrival of humans, save for three species of bat) by successive settlers, Polynesian and European, has seriously damaged the habitat of many species, including the flightless birds – of which the moa, adzebill and flightless goose have become extinct – and reduced the forest area.