Haere mai ki Aotearoa!
Welcome to Aotearoa, the current Māori name for New Zealand meaning 'Land of the Long White Cloud'. New Zealand is situated between latitude 34°S and 45°S in the South Pacific ocean and is approximately 2,250 km (1,400 mi) east of Australia.
It is a uniquely beautiful country with a huge array of mind-blowing scenery. Sweeping coastlines, snowy peaks, vast mountain chains, sandy beaches, active volcanic features and glacial lakes, lush sub-tropical rainforests, unique fuana and flora, rolling green hills and massive skies and views, all packed into a clean tiny country still exploring its identity.
New Zealand is the last significant land mass to be inhabited by humans. The first inhabitants migrated from the Polynesian homeland of (mythical) Hawaiki about 1,000 years ago. Over the years, they developed their own distinct culture - the Māori. From the early 19th Century European settlers, mostly from England, followed by ship and landed in droves which forced the Māoris to petition the British crown to protect their land rights from the immigrants rampant land grabbing. This led, in 1840, to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between representatives of the British Crown and Māori chiefs of the North Island tribes, forming what is considered the first and founding document of New Zealand nationhood. The Treaty, which is nine different documents (only one of which is written in English), was over a period of time collectively signed by about 540 chiefs, including at least 13 females. The Treaty was not taken to all parts of New Zealand and some chiefs refused to sign.
The Māoris ceded New Zealand sovereignty to the British crown in return for protection and Māori ownership of land and traditional gathering and fishing rights. The terms of the Treaty are to this day still being negotiated, and with the passage of time the country is reaching understanding and the formation of a unique joint heritage between Māoris and Europeans. Colonial links with Britain were only severed in the last thirty years and today New Zealand is a young multicultural country marching with pride and enthusiasm into the 21st century.
New Zealand is comprised of the North Island and the South Island, together with numerous smaller islands. Stewart Island is third largest by land area, and Waiheke Island is third largest by population. It packs a lot of sights, sounds and massive landscapes into its small geographical size, and at a leisurely pace the highlights can mostly be seen in about a month. New Zealand is over 1,600 km (990 mi) along its north-north-east axis with a maximum width of 400 km (250 mi), and approximately 15,134 km (9,404 mi) of coastline and a total land area of 267,710 km² (103,483 sq²). It runs roughly north-south with mountain ranges down much of it length and its most inland point is 119.44 km (74.22 mi) from the Pacific Ocean and The Tasman Sea (reputedly at Bannockburn, Near Cromwell, in Central Otago, South Island).
In the midst of world-wide concern with climate change, New Zealand's geographical isolation has helped it maintain its clean green identity. The country, only slightly larger than Great Britain (population sixty million), is sparsely populated with just over four million people, the major concentration being in the three major cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. This uncluttered atmosphere coupled with the astounding scenery makes New Zealand a prime tourist destination.
The scenery in both islands is unsurpassed in natural pristine beauty and the locals are famously friendly, outgoing, somewhat reserved initially yet polite, and enjoy extending hospitality. This is best demonstrated by the Māori proverb: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! (What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!).
New Zealand is the first major country in the world to see the new day, it is 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+12) and 20 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (PST). Daylight Saving (GMT+13) begins on the last Sunday in September and ends on the first Sunday in April.
English, Māori (also known as te reo Māori) and New Zealand Sign Language are the official languages of New Zealand. 98% of the people speak English, whereas only about 14% speak Māori. English is universal, and is written with Commonwealth (British) spelling.
There are international airports at Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Rotorua and Queenstown. The main gateways are Auckland and Christchurch, with Auckland servicing more than 20 destinations and more than 20 airlines, and direct connections from Christchurch to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Nadi and Tokyo. The others are largely restricted to flights to and from Australia.
For more comprehensive travel and general information on New Zealand see WikiTravel.