New Zealand comprises the North Island and the South Island (the two principal islands), Stewart Island, and the Chatham Islands. Small outlying islands belonging to New Zealand include the Auckland Islands, the Kermadec Islands, Campbell Island, the Antipodes, Three Kings Island, Bounty Island, the Snares Islands, and the Solander Islands. Dependencies are Tokelau and Ross Dependency. The Cook Islands and Niue, both internally self-governing, are in free association with New Zealand.
The North Island is known for its active volcanic mountains and its hot springs. The country's longest river (the Waikato) and largest lake (Taupo) are both on the North Island. On the South Island, the massive Southern Alps extend almost the length of the island, and in the southwest are beautiful fjords. The largest areas of virgin forest are in the southern and northern extremities of the South Island. Among the unusual animals native to New Zealand are the kiwi, certain species of parrot, the tuatara (survivor of a prehistoric order of reptiles), and various frogs and reptiles. New Zealand has no native land mammals other than bats. Large oyster beds are found in the Foveaux Strait between Stewart Island and the South Island. Extensive areas of New Zealand have been set aside as national parks, including the Fiordland, Mt. Aorangi-Cook, and Tongariro parks.
More than 85% of the population lives in urban areas. In addition to Wellington and Auckland, the principal cities are Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Hutt City, and Invercargill. People of European background constitute almost 70% of the population. The Maori, New Zealand's indigenous inhabitants, now make up about 8% of the population, with most living on the North Island. Almost 5% of the population is of Asian descent, while Pacific Islanders make up over 4%. Both English and Maori are official languages. New Zealand has no established religion; the three largest faiths are Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.