Official name: New Zealand
Area: 268,680 square kilometers (103,737 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Cook (3,764 meters/12,349 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern
Time zone: 12 midnight = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 450 kilometers (280 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest
Land boundaries: None
Coastline: 15,134 kilometers (9,404 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
New Zealand lies in the southwestern Pacific Ocean and consists of two main islands and a number of smaller ones. The main North and South Islands, separated by the Cook Strait, lie on an axis running from northeast to southwest, except for the low-lying Northland Peninsula on the North Island. With a total area of 268,680 square kilometers (103,737 square miles), New Zealand is roughly the size of the state of Colorado.
New Zealand has three island dependencies in the Pacific Ocean.
The Cook Islands are located roughly halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, in the middle of the South Pacific. The islands have local self-government but voluntarily rely on New Zealand to represent their interests in foreign affairs and defense. The Cook Islands consist of two island chains: seven low-lying coral atolls in the north, and eight larger and more elevated volcanic islands in the south.
Niue Island, which extends over more than 263 square kilometers (102 square miles), is one of the world's largest coral islands. Located east of the Cook Islands, Niue also governs itself in local affairs but depends on New Zealand in international matters.
Tokelau, another territory of New Zealand, is an island chain in the middle of the South Pacific northwest of the Cook Islands. It consists of three small coral atolls and surrounding islets.
Besides these three Pacific island groups, New Zealand also claims land in Antarctica in and near the Ross Sea.
New Zealand has a mild oceanic climate with little seasonal variation. Mean annual temperatures range from about 11°C (52°F) in the southern part of South Island to 15°C (59°F) in Northland, the northernmost part of the North Island. Daytime high temperatures in summer generally vary from 21°C to 27° C (70° to 81°F); winter highs are usually at least 10°C (50°F). Temperatures rarely extend beyond the extremes of -10°C (14°F) and 35°C (95°F). Due to prevailing westerly and north-westerly winds, the western mountain slopes of both islands receive the heaviest rainfall. Average annual rainfall for the country as a whole ranges from 64 to 152 centimeters (25 to 60 inches). Precipitation amounts vary widely, however; on South Island, for example, central Otago Harbour receives as little as 30 centimeters (12 inches) per year, while southwestern Fiordland can get as much as 800 centimeters (315 inches).
New Zealand is very mountainous; more than 75 percent of its land exceeds an altitude of 200 meters (656 feet). The South Island covers an area of 149,883 square kilometers (57,870 square miles). Its major regions are the Canterbury Plains to the east; the central mountain highlands, which cover much of the island; and a narrow western coast. The North Island, which spans an area of 114,669 square kilometers (44,274 square miles), is characterized by hill country. The mountain highland here is narrow and lies to the east. North and west of the Kaimanawa Mountains is a volcanic plateau. There is little coastal lowland; even in Taranaki, where it is widest, Mount Egmont (also called Mount Taranaki) rises well over 2,438 meters (8,000 feet). The narrow northern peninsular section of the North Island is mostly low-lying, though its surface is broken and irregular in many places.
New Zealand lies in the South Pacific Ocean to the southeast of Australia, across the Tasman Sea. At the Tamaki Isthmus on the North Island, these two bodies of water are separated by only 2 to 3 kilometers (1 to 2 miles) of land.
The North and South Islands are separated by the Cook Strait, which is 26 to 145 kilometers (16 to 90 miles) wide. The Foveaux Strait lies between the South Island and Stewart Island to the southeast. The North Island's bays include North and South Taranaki Bights to the west, Palliser Bay to the south, the wide Hawke Bay to the east, and the even wider Bay of Plenty to the northeast. The South Island's major bays include Golden Bay and Tasman Bay in the north, Karamea Bight at the northern end of the west coast, and Canterbury Bight and Pegasus Bay to the east.
New Zealand's largest island, aside from its two primary landmasses, is Stewart Island to the southeast, which covers an area of 1,746 square kilometers (674 square miles). Other islands include the Chatham Islands (963 square kilometers/372 square miles) to the east and several other mostly uninhabited outlying islands, including the Auckland Islands (567 square kilometers/219 square miles).
North Island has a more heavily indented coastline than South Island. The long arm of land that juts out to the northwest has so deep an indentation at its midsection that the land mass narrows to a width of only 2 or 3 kilometers (1 or 2 miles) at Auckland. The east coast and northern tip of Northland have multiple bays and harbors, while the west coast is almost completely smooth. The northern and southern ends of the South Island have numerous indentations, while the long eastern and western coastlines are smoother. In the east, the Banks Peninsula juts out somewhat less than halfway down the coast. The coast of Fiordland to the southeast is broken up into numerous sounds and inlets. The northernmost part of North Island has many sand dunes.
New Zealand has many lakes. Those in the South Island are particularly noted for their magnificent scenery. The country's largest natural lake is Lake Taupo on the North Island, followed by Lakes Te Anau and Wakatipu on the South Island.
The rivers are shallow and swift, and only a few are navigable. The longest river is the Waikato (425 kilometers/264 miles), which flows north-westward across the North Island and empties into the Tasman Sea, as do the Wanganui and Rangitikei. Rivers that flow into the Pacific from the South Island include the Clutha, the Taieri, and the Clarence; the Mataura, Wairau, and Oreti flow from the South Island into the Foveaux Strait. The Clutha is the South Island's longest river, and its volume is the greatest of any river in the country.
There are no deserts in New Zealand.
Much of the land surrounding the mountain ranges and the Volcanic Plateau on North Island is hilly. North of Hawke Bay in the east, deeply corrugated embankments flank the mountain ranges. On the South Island, broken mounds dot the central section of the narrow coastal strip.
New Zealand has several species of flightless birds, of which the most famous is the kiwi, the national emblem. These birds were able to evolve and survive on the islands because the environment lacked predators.
The Canterbury Plains on the east coast of South Island are New Zealand's largest plains area, stretching 320 kilometers (200 miles) in length and reaching widths of 64 kilometers (40 miles). The North Island has coastal plains bordering the Bay of Plenty and Hawke Bay in the Taranaki region to the west, the Manawatu-Wanganui area south of the Volcanic Plateau, and the Waikato, Auckland, and Northland regions to the north.
The terrain of Northland, the northern-most part of the North Island, includes peat bogs and swamplands.
Three-fourths of New Zealand is mountainous. Of the two main islands, South Island is by far the most rugged. A massive mountain chain called the Southern Alps runs the entire length of the island—some 483 kilometers (300 miles)—and outlying ranges extend to the north and the southwest. This range includes New Zealand's highest peak, Mount Cook (3,764 meters/12,349 feet), as well as about 350 glaciers, the largest of which is the Tasman Glacier (29 kilometers/18 miles long). There are at least 223 named peaks that are higher than 2,300 meters (7,546 feet) on the South Island. In contrast, the highest peak on the North Island, Ruapehu, reaches an elevation of only 2,797 meters (9,177 feet). The southernmost section of the South Island mountain system is Fiordland, at the island's southwestern edge. It is named for its deep, canyon-like valleys that are watered at the coast by saltwater fjords and inland by freshwater lakes.
The mountains of the North Island are a continuation of the South Island system. The Tararua, Ruahine, Kaimanawa, and Huiarau ranges extend across the island on the same southwest-to-northeast axis as the higher mountains to the south. The landscape to the west is dominated by the extinct volcano of Mount Taranaki (Mount Egmont), at an elevation of 2,518 meters (8,260 feet).
At 40,600 meters (133,209 feet) long, the Bulmer Caverns in Mount Owen on South Island are among the longest in the world. Their average depth is 749 meters (2,457 feet).
The wide Volcanic Plateau, with its terrain of lava, pumice stone, and volcanic ash, lies north and west of the Kaimanawa range on the North Island. Hill country with short but steep slopes occupies most of its rim. The elevation of the plateau decreases and its slopes become gentler toward the western coast.
Lake Benmore is New Zealand's largest artificial lake. The 8,879-meter (29,132-foot) Kaimai Tunnel at Apata is New Zealand's longest railroad tunnel, as well as the longest in the Southern Hemisphere.
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