New Zealand profile
New Zealand, a wealthy Pacific nation, is dominated by two cultural groups: New Zealanders of European descent, and the minority Maori, whose Polynesian ancestors arrived on the islands around 1,000 years ago.
Agriculture is the economic mainstay, but manufacturing and tourism are important and there is a world-class film industry.
New Zealand has diversified its export markets and has developed strong trade links with Australia, the US, and Japan. In April 2008 it became the first Western country to sign a free trade deal with China.
British sovereignty was established under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi - a pact between Maori chiefs and the British government over land rights.
At a glance
- Politics: John Key led the National Party to victory in elections in 2008 and 2011
- Economy: The country officially went into recession in September 2008, for the first time in ten years
- International: New Zealand troops have taken part in regional peacekeeping efforts and have been deployed in Afghanistan
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
The treaty gave rise to land claims which culminated in the "New Zealand Wars", a series of skirmishes between colonial forces and Maori in the North Island.
The government awarded money and land in settlements during the 1990s, but the land issue remains controversial.
In 1984 the government embarked on a dramatic and controversial economic reform programme, which lifted controls on wages, prices and interest rates and removed agricultural subsidies.
The landscape is diverse, and sometimes spectacular. This has fuelled tourism; visitors are drawn to the glacier-carved mountains, lakes, beaches and thermal springs. Because of the islands' geographical isolation, much of the flora and fauna is unique to the country.
New Zealand plays an active role in Pacific affairs. It has constitutional ties with the Pacific territories of Niue, the Cook Islands and Tokelau.
Its troops served in East Timor when violence broke out in the territory in 1999 and were part of a multinational force intended to restore order to the Solomon Islands in 2003. Further afield, New Zealand forces have backed peacekeeping and development efforts in Afghanistan.
But its anti-nuclear stance - including a ban on nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed vessels from its waters - put it at odds with the US in the 1980s.
A significant amount of New Zealand's electricity is generated by hydropower sources and the country has a range of renewable energy sources at its disposal.
Migration patterns have changed, with most incomers coming from Asia and Pacific island states, rather than from the UK and Australia. Officials estimate that Asians will make up 13% of the population by 2021 from about 9% in 2009.