New Zealand country profile

  • 9 September 2015
  • From the section Asia
New Zealand

New Zealand is a wealthy Pacific nation dominated by two cultural groups: New Zealanders of European descent; and the Maori, the descendants of Polynesian settlers.

It is made up of two main islands and numerous smaller ones. Around three-quarters of the population lives on the North Island, which is also home to the capital, Wellington.

Agriculture is the economic mainstay, but manufacturing and tourism are important. 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.


New Zealand

Capital: Wellington

  • Population 4.5 million

  • Area 270,534 sq km (104,454 sq miles)

  • Major languages English, Maori

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 79 years (men), 83 years (women)

  • Currency New Zealand dollar

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Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general

Prime minister: John Key

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John Key, who has been prime minister since the end of 2008, secured a third term in office for his National Party in the elections of September 2014.

His party's 2008 victory ended nine years of Labour-led government, and the 2014 election result showed a swing to conservative parties, with the liberal Labour and Green parties losing ground.

Mr Key confirmed his popularity with New Zealanders, increasing his vote despite a tumultuous campaign marked by allegations of dirty tricks.

His National Party won 61 of 121 seats, making him the first New Zealand leader to be able to govern in his own right since the country introduced proportional voting in 1996.


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Broadcasters enjoy one of the world's most liberal media arenas.

The broadcasting sector was deregulated in 1988, when the government allowed competition to the state-owned Television New Zealand (TVNZ). Privately-owned TV3 is TVNZ's main competitor.

Satellite platform SKY TV is the leading pay TV provider. Freeview carries free-to-air digital terrestrial and satellite TV.

The New Zealand Herald newspaper has the biggest circulation.


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Waitangi Day is a national holiday

Some key dates in New Zealand's history.

c. 1200-1300 AD - Ancestors of the Maori arrive by canoe from other parts of Polynesia. Their name for the country is Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud).

1642 - Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sights the south island and charts some of the country's west coast. It subsequently appears on Dutch maps as Nieuw Zeeland, named after the Dutch province of Zeeland.

1769 - British captain James Cook explores coastline, also in 1773 and 1777.

1840 - Treaty of Waitangi between British and several Maori tribes pledges protection of Maori land and establishes British law in New Zealand.

1947 - New Zealand gains full independence from Britain.

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