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New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses (the North Island and the South Island), and numerous smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Chatham Islands. The indigenous Māori language name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, commonly translated as land of the long white cloud. The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue (self-governing but in free association); Tokelau; and the Ross Dependency (New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica).

New Zealand is notable for its geographic isolation: it is situated about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) southeast of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and its closest neighbours to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga. During its long isolation New Zealand developed a distinctive fauna dominated by birds, a number of which became extinct after the arrival of humans and the mammals they introduced.

The majority of New Zealand's population is of European descent; the indigenous Māori are the largest minority. Asians and non-Māori Polynesians are also significant minority groups, especially in urban areas. The most commonly spoken language is English.

New Zealand is a developed country that ranks highly in international comparisons on many topics, including education, economic freedom, and lack of corruption. Its cities also consistently rank among the world's most liveable.

Elizabeth II, as the Queen of New Zealand, is the country's head of state and is represented by a Governor-General, and executive political power is exercised by the Cabinet of New Zealand.

It is unknown whether the Māori had a name for New Zealand as a whole before the arrival of Europeans, although they referred to the North Island as Te Ika a Māui (the fish of Māui) and the South Island as Te Wai Pounamu (the waters of greenstone) or Te Waka o Aoraki (the canoe of Aoraki). Until the early 20th century, the North Island was also referred to as Aotearoa (colloquially translated "land of the long white cloud"); in modern Māori usage, this name refers to the whole country. Aotearoa is also commonly used in this sense in New Zealand English, where it is sometimes used alone, and in some formal uses combined with the English name to express respect to the original inhabitants of the country, for example in the form of "[Organisation name] of Aotearoa New Zealand".

The first European name for New Zealand was Staten Landt, the name given to it by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who in 1642 became the first European to see the islands. Tasman assumed it was part of a southern continent connected with land discovered in 1615 off the southern tip of South America by Jacob Le Maire, which had been named Staten Landt, meaning "Land of the (Dutch) States-General".

The name New Zealand originated with Dutch cartographers, who called the islands Nova Zeelandia, after the Dutch province of Zeeland. No one is certain exactly who first coined the term, but it first appeared in 1645 and may have been the choice of cartographer Johan Blaeu. British explorer James Cook subsequently anglicised the name to New Zealand. There is no connection to the Danish island Zealand[citation needed].

Although the North and South Islands have been known by these names for many years, the New Zealand Geographic Board has stated that as of 2009, they have no official names. The board intends to make these their official names, along with alternative Māori names. Some early maps refer to what is currently known as the South Island as the Middle Island. Although several Māori names have been used, Maori Language Commissioner Erima Henare sees Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Wai Pounamu respectively as the most likely choices.

New Zealand is one of the most recently settled major landmasses. The first known settlers were Eastern Polynesians who, according to most researchers, arrived by canoe in about AD 1250–1300. Some researchers have suggested an earlier wave of arrivals dating to as early as AD 50–150; these people then either died out or left the islands. Over the following centuries these settlers developed into a distinct culture now known as Māori. The population was divided into iwi (tribes) and hapū (subtribes) which would cooperate, compete and sometimes fight with each other. At some point a group of Māori migrated to the Chatham Islands where they developed their distinct Moriori culture.

The first Europeans known to have reached New Zealand were Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman and his crew in 1642. Māori killed four of the crew and no Europeans returned to New Zealand until British explorer James Cook's voyage of 1768–71. Cook reached New Zealand in 1769 and mapped almost the entire coastline. Following Cook, New Zealand was visited by numerous European and North American whaling, sealing and trading ships. They traded European food and goods, especially metal tools and weapons, for Māori timber, food, artefacts and water. On occasion, Europeans traded goods for sex.

The potato and the musket transformed Māori agriculture and warfare, although the resulting Musket Wars died out once the tribal imbalance of arms had been rectified. From the early nineteenth century, Christian missionaries began to settle New Zealand, eventually converting most of the Māori population, although their initial inroads were mainly among the more disaffected elements of society.

Becoming aware of the lawless nature of European settlement and of increasing French interest in the territory, the British government appointed James Busby as British Resident to New Zealand in 1832. Busby failed to bring law and order to European settlement, but did oversee the introduction of the first national flag on 20 March 1834, after an unregistered New Zealand ship was seized in Australia. In October 1835, the nebulous United Tribes of New Zealand sent the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand to King William IV of the United Kingdom, asking him for protection. Ongoing unrest and the legal standing of the Declaration of Independence prompted the Colonial Office to send Captain William Hobson RN to New Zealand to claim sovereignty for the British Crown and negotiate a treaty with the Māori.[i] The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed in the Bay of Islands on 6 February 1840. The drafting was done hastily and confusion and disagreement continue to surround the translation. The Treaty however remains regarded as New Zealand's foundation as a nation and is revered by Māori as a guarantee of their rights.

In response to New Zealand Company attempts to establish a separate colony in Wellington, and French claims in Akaroa, Hobson, now Lieutenant-Governor, declared British sovereignty over all of New Zealand on 21 May 1840. The two proclamations published in the New Zealand Advertiser and Bay Of Islands Gazette issue of 19 June 1840 "assert[s] on the grounds of Discovery, the Sovereign Rights of Her Majesty over the Southern Islands of New Zealand, commonly called 'The Middle Island' (South Island) and 'Stewart's Island' (Stewart Island/Rakiura); and the Island, commonly called 'The Northern Island', having been ceded Sovereignty to Her Majesty." The second proclamation expanded on how sovereignty over the "Northern Island" had been ceded under the treaty signed that February.

Under British rule, New Zealand had initially been part of the colony of New South Wales, but became a separate Crown colony in 1841. Hobson initially selected Okiato as the capital in 1840, before moving the seat of government to Auckland in 1841. Increasing numbers of European settlers came to New Zealand particularly from the British Isles. The Māori were initially eager to trade with the 'Pakeha', as they called them, and many iwi became wealthy. As settler numbers increased, conflicts over land led to the New Zealand Land Wars of the 1860s and 1870s, resulting in the loss and confiscation of much Māori land. The details of European settlement and the acquisition of land from Māori remain controversial.

Representative government for the colony was provided for in 1852 when the United Kingdom passed the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852. The 1st New Zealand Parliament met in 1854. In 1856 the colony became effectively self-governing with the grant of responsible government over all domestic matters other than native policy. Power in this respect would be transferred to the colonial administration in the 1860s.

In 1863 Premier Alfred Domett moved a resolution that the capital transfer to a locality in Cook Strait, apparently due to concern that the South Island might form a separate colony. Commissioners from Australia (chosen for their neutral status) advised that Wellington was suitable because of its harbour and central location, and parliament officially sat there for the first time in 1865. In 1893 the country became the first nation in the world to grant all women the right to vote.

In 1907 New Zealand declared itself a Dominion within the British Empire. In 1947 the country adopted the Statute of Westminster, making New Zealand a Commonwealth realm, although in practice Britain had long since ceased to play a significant role in governing New Zealand. As the country became more politically independent, however, it became more dependent economically; in the 1890s, refrigerated shipping allowed the export of meat and dairy products to Britain, a trade which provided the basis for strong economic growth in New Zealand.

New Zealand was an enthusiastic member of the British Empire, fighting in the Boer War, World War I and World War II, especially in the Battle of Britain, and supporting Britain in the Suez Crisis. The country was very much a part of the world economy and suffered as others did in the Great Depression of the 1930s. The depression led to the election of the first Labour government, which established a comprehensive welfare state and a protectionist economy.

New Zealand experienced increasing prosperity following World War II. However, some social problems were developing; Māori had begun to leave traditional rural life and move to the cities in search of work. A Māori protest movement eventually developed, which criticised Eurocentrism and worked for more recognition of Māori culture and the Treaty of Waitangi, which they felt had not been fully honoured.

In 1975, a Waitangi Tribunal was set up to investigate alleged breaches of the Treaty, and it was enabled to investigate historic grievances in 1985. In common with other developed countries, social developments accelerated in the 1970s and social and political mores changed.

Britain's membership of the European Economic Community in 1973 drastically reduced access for New Zealand exporters to their previous largest market. In 1953 two-thirds of New Zealand's exports went to Britain, by 2003 this figure had reduced to 4.65%. This and the oil shocks of the 1970s led to significant economic and social changes during the 1980s under the 4th Labour government largely led by Finance Minister Roger Douglas, whose policies are commonly referred to as Rogernomics.

New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Although it has no codified constitution, the Constitution Act 1986 is the principal formal statement of New Zealand's constitutional structure. The constitution has been described as "largely unwritten" and a "mixture of statutes and constitutional convention." Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and is titled Queen of New Zealand under the Royal Titles Act 1974. She is represented by the Governor-General, whom she appoints on the exclusive advice of the Prime Minister. The current Governor-General is Anand Satyanand.

The Governor-General exercises the Crown's prerogative powers, such as the power to appoint and dismiss ministers and to dissolve Parliament, and in rare situations, the reserve powers. The Governor-General also chairs the Executive Council, which is a formal committee consisting of all ministers of the Crown. The main constitutional function of the governor-general is to "arrange for the leader of the majority political party to form a government"; by constitutional convention, the governor-general "acts on the advice of ministers who have majority support in parliament." Legislative power is held by the democratically elected Parliament of New Zealand, and the rest of the cabinet. The Queen and Governor-General cannot normally exercise any power without the advice of the Cabinet, except in circumstances where there is no cabinet or cabinet has lost the confidence of Parliament.

Members of the Executive Council are required to be Members of Parliament, and most are also in cabinet. Cabinet is the most senior policy-making body and is led by the Prime Minister, who is also, by convention, the Parliamentary leader of the governing party or coalition. This is the highest policymaking body in the government.

The New Zealand Parliament comprises one chamber, the House of Representatives, which usually seats 120 members.

Parliamentary general elections are held every three years under a form of proportional representation called Mixed Member Proportional. The Economist magazine explains:

Under the MMP system, a party has either to win a constituency seat or more than 5% of the total party vote in order to gain representation in parliament. The government can continue to rule only if it retains majority support in the House of Representatives, or can secure the support of other political parties to give it a majority to pass legislation and survive parliamentary confidence votes.

The 2008 general election created an 'overhang' of two extra seats, occupied by the Māori Party, due to that party winning more seats in electorates than the number of seats its proportion of the party vote would have given it.

From October 2005 until November 2008, the Labour-led government was in formal coalition with the Progressive Party, Jim Anderton being its only MP. In addition, New Zealand First and United Future provided confidence and supply in return for their leaders being ministers outside cabinet. An arrangement was also made with the Green Party, which gave a commitment not to vote against the government on confidence and supply. In 2007 Labour also had the proxy vote of Taito Phillip Field, a former Labour MP. These arrangements assured the government of a majority of seven MPs on confidence votes.

Labour was defeated by the National Party in the general elections of 8 November 2008. Following the victory, National leader John Key moved quickly to form a government, negotiating coalition agreements with the right-wing ACT party, led by Rodney Hide, the centrist United Future party, albeit with its single seat held by leader Peter Dunne, and the Māori Party, led by Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples. Each of these leaders hold ministerial posts but remain outside of Cabinet. There are three parties in Opposition: the Labour Party, led by Phil Goff; the Greens, co-led by Metiria Turei and Russel Norman and the Progressive Party, under Jim Anderton.

The highest court in New Zealand is the Supreme Court of New Zealand, established in 2004 following the passage of the Supreme Court Act 2003. The act abolished the option to appeal to the Privy Council in London. The current Chief Justice is Dame Sian Elias. New Zealand's judiciary also includes the Court of Appeal; the High Court, which deals with serious criminal offences and civil matters at the trial level and with appeals from lower courts and tribunals; and subordinate courts.

While the Judiciary can sometimes place limits on acts of Parliament, and the 1990 New Zealand Bill of Rights enables some review by the Judiciary of executive action, there is no document ascertaining formal power of judicial review. Its constitutional independence from Parliament is maintained by non-political appointments and strict rules regarding tenure in office.

New Zealand is the only country in the world in which all the highest offices in the land have been occupied simultaneously by women: (Queen) Elizabeth II, (Governor-General) Dame Silvia Cartwright, (Prime Minister) Helen Clark, (Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives) Margaret Wilson and (Chief Justice) Dame Sian Elias were all in office between March 2005 and August 2006. New Zealand's largest listed company, Telecom New Zealand, had a woman – Theresa Gattung – as its CEO at the time.

New Zealand maintains a strong profile on environmental protection, human rights and free trade, particularly in agriculture. New Zealand is a member of Commonwealth of Nations, OECD, Five Powers Defence Arrangements, APEC, East Asia Summit, and the United Nations. New Zealand is party to a number of free trade agreements, of which the most important are the New Zealand – China Free Trade Agreement and Closer Economic Relations with Australia.

For its first hundred years, New Zealand followed the United Kingdom's lead on foreign policy. In declaring war on Germany on 3 September 1939, Prime Minister Michael Savage proclaimed, "Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand."

The two world wars had a marked impact, with New Zealand losing many young men in places like Gallipoli (where the ANZAC tradition was formed with Australia), Crete, El Alamein and Cassino. New Zealand also played a key part with Britain in the two famous battles, the naval Battle of the River Plate and the Battle of Britain fought in the air. During the Pacific part of World War II, the United States had more than 400,000 American military personnel stationed in New Zealand to prepare for crucial battles such as Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Saipan and Iwo Jima.

After the war the United States exerted an increased influence on culture and the New Zealand people gained a clearer sense of national identity. New Zealand joined Australia and the United States in the ANZUS security treaty in 1951, and later fought alongside the United States in both the Korean and the Vietnam Wars. In contrast, the United Kingdom became increasingly focused on its European interests following the Suez Crisis, and New Zealand was forced to develop new markets after the UK joined the EEC in 1973.

New Zealand has traditionally worked closely with Australia, whose foreign policy followed a similar historical trend. This close bond was formed in Gallipoli and is part of the ANZAC spirit, which forms a cornerstone in both countries. In turn, many Pacific Islands such as Western Samoa have looked to New Zealand's lead. The American influence on New Zealand was weakened by the disillusionment with the Vietnam War, the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior by France (which Britain and the US failed to criticise), and by disagreements over environmental and agricultural trade issues and New Zealand's nuclear-free policy.

While the ANZUS treaty was once fully mutual between Australia, New Zealand and the United States, this is no longer the case. In February 1985, New Zealand refused nuclear-powered or -armed ships access to its ports. New Zealand became a Nuclear-free zone in June 1987, the first Western-allied state to do so. In 1986, the United States announced that it was suspending its treaty security obligations to New Zealand pending the restoration of port access.

The New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 prohibits the stationing of nuclear weapons on the territory of New Zealand and the entry into New Zealand waters of nuclear armed or propelled ships. This legislation remains a source of contention and the basis for the United States' continued suspension of treaty obligations to New Zealand.

Within New Zealand, there have been various wars between iwi, and between the British settlers and iwi. New Zealand has fought in the Second Boer War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency (and committed troops, fighters and bombers to the subsequent confrontation with Indonesia), the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Afghanistan War. It has also sent a unit of army engineers to help rebuild Iraqi infrastructure for one year during the Iraq War. As of October 2009, New Zealand forces were still active in Afghanistan.

The New Zealand Defence Force has three branches: the New Zealand Army, the Royal New Zealand Navy and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. New Zealand considers its own national defence needs to be modest; it dismantled its air combat capability in 2001. New Zealand has contributed forces to recent regional and global peacekeeping missions, including those in Cyprus, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sinai, Angola, Cambodia, the Iran/Iraq border, Bougainville, East Timor, and the Solomon Islands.

The early European settlers divided New Zealand into provinces. These were abolished in 1876 so that government could be centralised, for financial reasons. As a result, New Zealand has no separately represented subnational entities such as provinces, states or territories, apart from local government. However the spirit of the provinces lives on, and there is fierce rivalry exhibited in sporting and cultural events. Since 1876, local government has administered the various regions of New Zealand.

In 1989, the government completely reorganised local government, implementing the current two-tier structure of regional councils and territorial authorities constituted under the Local Government Act 2002. The Resource Management Act 1991 replaced the Town and Country Planning Act as the main planning legislation for local government.

New Zealand has 12 regional councils for the administration of regional environmental and transport matters and 73 territorial authorities that administer roading, sewerage, building consents, and other local matters. The territorial authorities are 16 city councils, 57 district councils, and the Chatham Islands Council.

Four of the territorial councils (one city and three districts) and the Chatham Islands Council also perform the functions of a regional council and are known as unitary authorities. Territorial authority districts are not subdivisions of regional council districts, and a few of them straddle regional council boundaries.

The regions are (asterisks denote unitary authorities): Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne*, Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington, Marlborough*, Tasman*, Nelson*, West Coast, Canterbury, Otago, Southland, Chatham Islands*.

As a major South Pacific nation, New Zealand has a close working relationship with many Pacific Island nations, and continues a political association with the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. New Zealand operates Scott Base in its Antarctic territory, the Ross Dependency. Other countries also use Christchurch to support their Antarctic bases and the city is sometimes known as the "Gateway to Antarctica".



New Zealand is made up of two main islands, the North and South Islands, Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu respectively in Māori, and a number of smaller islands, located near the centre of the water hemisphere. The North and South Islands are separated by Cook Strait, 20 kilometres wide at its narrowest point. The total land area, 268,021 square kilometres (103,483 sq mi), is a little less than that of Italy or Japan, and a little more than the United Kingdom.

The country extends more than 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) along its main, north-north-east axis, with approximately 15,134 km (9,404 mi) of coastline. The most significant of the smaller inhabited islands include Stewart Island/Rakiura; Waiheke Island, in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf; Great Barrier Island, east of the Hauraki Gulf; and the Chatham Islands, named Rēkohu by Moriori. The country has extensive marine resources, with the seventh-largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world, covering over four million square kilometres (1.5 million square miles), more than 15 times its land area.

The dramatic and varied landscape of New Zealand has made it a popular location for the production of television programmes and films, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Last Samurai. The South Island is the largest land mass of New Zealand, and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps. There are 18 peaks over 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) the highest of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook at 3,754 metres (12,316 ft). The top of South Island contains areas of forest in the Kahurangi and other national parks. The south-western corner of South Island is Fiordland, an area of high mountains cut through with steep fjords.

The North Island is less mountainous but is marked by volcanism. The highly active Taupo volcanic zone has formed a large volcanic plateau, the North Island's highest mountain, Mount Ruapehu 2,797 metres (9,177 ft), and a deep caldera filled by Lake Taupo, the country's largest lake. The island's north is a flatter area, once covered by huge kauri trees.

The country owes its varied topography, and perhaps even its emergence above the waves, to the dynamic boundary it straddles between the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates. New Zealand is part of Zealandia, a microcontinent nearly half the size of Australia that gradually submerged after breaking away from the Gondwanan supercontinent. About 25 million years ago, a shift in plate tectonic movements began to contort and crumple the region. This is now most evident in the Southern Alps, formed by compression of the crust beside the Alpine Fault. Elsewhere the plate boundary involves the subduction of one plate under the other, producing the Puysegur Trench to the south, the Hikurangi Trench east of the North Island, and the Kermadec and Tonga Trenches further north.

The latitude of New Zealand, from approximately 34 to 47° S, corresponds closely to that of Italy in the Northern Hemisphere. However, its isolation from continental influences and exposure to cold southerly winds and ocean currents give the climate a much milder character. The climate throughout the country is mild and temperate, mainly maritime, with temperatures rarely falling below 0 °C (32 °F) or rising above 30 °C (86 °F) in populated areas. Historical maxima and minima are 42.4 °C (108.3 °F) in Rangiora, Canterbury and −21.6 °C (−6.9 °F) in Ophir, Otago.

Conditions vary sharply across regions from extremely wet on the West Coast of the South Island to almost semi-arid in Central Otago and the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury and subtropical in Northland. Of the main cities, Christchurch is the driest, receiving only 640 millimetres (25 in) of rain per year; Auckland, the wettest, receives almost twice that amount. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch all receive a yearly average in excess of 2000 hours of sunshine. The southern and south-western parts of the South Island have a cooler and cloudier climate, with around 1400–1600 hours; the northern and north-eastern parts of the South Island are the sunniest areas of the country and receive approximately 2400–2500 hours.

Because of its long isolation from the rest of the world and its island biogeography, New Zealand has extraordinary flora and fauna, descended from Gondwanan wildlife or since arriving by flying, swimming or being carried across the sea. About 80% of New Zealand's flora is endemic, including 65 endemic genera. The two main types of forest are those dominated by podocarps and/or the giant kauri, and in cooler climates the southern beech. The remaining vegetation types in New Zealand are grasslands of tussock and other grasses, usually in sub-alpine areas, and the low shrublands between grasslands and forests.

Until the arrival of humans, 80% of the land was forested. A diverse range of megafauna inhabited the forests, including the flightless moas (now extinct), four species of kiwi, the kakapo and the takahē, all endangered by human actions. Unique birds capable of flight included the Haast's eagle, which was the world's largest bird of prey (now extinct), and the large kaka and kea parrots.

Reptiles present in New Zealand include skinks, geckos and the living fossil tuatara. There are four endemic species of primitive frogs. There are no snakes and there is only one venomous spider, the katipo, which is rare and restricted to coastal regions. There are many endemic species of insect, including the weta, one species of which may grow as large as a house mouse and is the heaviest insect in the world. It was long thought that New Zealand never had any non-marine native mammals, barring three species of bat (one now extinct). However in 2006 scientists discovered bones over 15 million years old from a unique, mouse-sized land mammal in the Otago region of the South Island.

New Zealand's native wildlife has suffered a high rate of extinctions, including around fifty bird species such as the moa, huia, laughing owl, adzebills, and flightless wrens (which occupied the roles elsewhere occupied by mice). This is due to human activities such as hunting, and pressure from introduced feral animals, such as weasels, stoats, cats, goats, deer and brushtailed possums. Five indigenous vascular plant species are now believed to be extinct, including Adam's mistletoe and a species of forget-me-not. Several species have been rediscovered after being thought extinct, with the takahe being the largest.

New Zealand has led the world in island restoration projects, where offshore islands are cleared of introduced mammalian pests and native species are reintroduced. Several islands, including two of the Chatham Islands, are wildlife reserves where common pests such as possums and rodents have been eradicated to allow the reintroduction of endangered species to the islands. A more recent development is the analogous mainland ecological island. Active management has helped increase the population of certain species dramatically. For instance, only five Black Robins remained in 1980, including just one fertile female. There are now around 250, all descended from that one bird.

New Zealand has a modern, prosperous, developed economy with an estimated GDP (PPP) of US$119.549 billion (2010). The country has a relatively high standard of living with an estimated GDP per capita of US$31,067 in 2010, comparable to that of Southern Europe. New Zealand is a market economy which is greatly dependent on global trade. Since 2000 New Zealand has made substantial gains in median household income. During the financial crisis of 2007–2010 GDP shrank for five consecutive quarters, the longest recession in over thirty years.

New Zealanders have a high level of life satisfaction as measured by international surveys; this is despite GDP per capita levels lower than many other OECD countries. The country was ranked 20th on the 2009 Human Development Index and 15th in The Economist's 2005 worldwide quality-of-life index. The country was ranked 1st in social capital and 10th in overall prosperity in the 2009 Legatum Institute prosperity index. In addition, the 2009 Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranked Auckland 4th place and Wellington 12th place in the world on its list. Taxation in New Zealand is lighter than in other OECD countries. New Zealand has a relatively laissez-faire capitalist economy according to the Fraser Institute think tank.

The service sector is the largest sector in the economy (68.8% of GDP), followed by manufacturing and construction (26.9% of GDP) and the farming/raw materials extraction (4.3% of GDP).

New Zealand is heavily dependent on free trade, particularly in agricultural products. Exports account for around 24% of its output, which is a relatively high figure (it is around 50% for many smaller European countries).[ii] This makes New Zealand particularly vulnerable to international commodity prices and global economic slowdowns. Its principal export industries are agriculture, horticulture, fishing and forestry. These make up about half of the country's exports. Its major export partners are Australia 20.5%, US 13.1%, Japan 10.3%, China 5.4%, UK 4.9% (2006). Tourism plays a significant role in New Zealand's economy. In 2010 the sector contributed $15.0 billion (or 9.1%) to New Zealand’s total GDP and supported 184,800 full-time equivalent jobs (9.6% of the total workforce in New Zealand). Tourists to New Zealand are expected to increase at a rate of 2.5% annually up to 2015.

The New Zealand dollar is the currency of New Zealand. It also circulates in the Cook Islands (see also Cook Islands dollar), Niue, Tokelau, and the Pitcairn Islands. It is sometimes informally known as the "Kiwi dollar".

The Economist magazine's outlook for New Zealand (2009) foresees the government's fiscal position to remain tenuous because of "weak revenue growth and rising expenditure". Government debt is expected to balloon from 25% (2008) to 40% (2013). GDP growth will contract in 2009 by 2.6%, then average 2.2% from 2010 to 2013 (although there are "downside risks" which may hamper this growth). Government will continue to pursue foreign trade. Inflation will be 1.4% in 2009, 1.3% in 2010 and average 2.3% from 2011 to 2013. The New Zealand dollar is expected to weaken against the dollar through 2010, but begin strengthening again beginning 2011 (but the report notes that exchange rates are volatile and hard to predict).

Historically, New Zealand enjoyed a high standard of living which relied on its strong relationship with the United Kingdom, and the resulting stable market for its commodity exports. New Zealand's economy was also built upon on a narrow range of primary products, such as wool, meat and dairy products. High demand for these products created sustained periods of economic prosperity, such as the New Zealand wool boom of 1951. However, in 1973 the United Kingdom joined the European Community which effectively ended this particularly close economic relationship between the two countries. During the 1970s other factors such as the oil crises (1973 and 1979) undermined the viability of the New Zealand economy; which for periods before 1973 had achieved levels of living standards exceeding both Australia and Western Europe. These events led to a protracted and very severe economic crisis, during which living standards in New Zealand fell behind those of Australia and Western Europe, and by 1982 New Zealand was the lowest in per-capita income of all the developed nations surveyed by the World Bank.

Since 1984, successive governments have engaged in major macroeconomic restructuring, transforming New Zealand from a highly protectionist and regulated economy to a liberalised free-trade economy. These changes are commonly known as Rogernomics and Ruthanasia after Finance Ministers Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson. A recession began after the 1987 share market crash and caused unemployment to reach 10% in the early 1990s. Subsequently the economy recovered and New Zealand’s unemployment rate reached a record low of 3.4% in the December 2007 quarter, ranking fifth from twenty-seven OECD nations with comparable data. In 2009, New Zealand's economy ranked as the fifth freest in the world according the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom.

The current government's economic objectives are centred on pursuing free-trade agreements and building a "knowledge economy". On 7 April 2008, New Zealand and China signed the New Zealand China Free Trade Agreement, the first such agreement China has signed with a developed country. Ongoing economic challenges for New Zealand include a current account deficit of 2.9% of GDP, slow development of non-commodity exports and tepid growth of labour productivity. New Zealand has experienced a series of "brain drains" since the 1970s, as well as educated youth leaving permanently for Australia, Britain or the United States. "Kiwi lifestyle" and family/whanau factors motivates some of the expatriates to return, while career, culture, and economic factors tend to be predominantly 'push' components, keeping these people overseas. In recent years, however, a brain gain brought in educated professionals from poor countries, as well as Europe, as permanent settlers.

In 2003 New Zealand decriminalised the sex trade, a move which has attracted international attention.

Since 2000, New Zealand's fashion industry has grown significantly, doubling exports within a ten year period, according to The Economist magazine. The nation now has "a vibrant and steadily expanding fashion industry, with some 50 established labels, up from a handful ten years ago, half of which sell abroad." Much of this activity is based in Auckland. Clothing exports in 2007 were $315 million, up from $194 million ten years earlier. This is a remarkable turnabout for a nation which has had a reputation for lackluster fashion – "Visiting diplomats have remarked upon the penchant among New Zealand women for short haircuts, backpacks and sensible shoes ... One ambassador accused them of dressing like soldiers; another said they looked as though they were going to a funeral."

In 2008, oil, gas and coal generated approximately sixty-nine percent of New Zealand's gross energy supply and thirty-one per cent was generated from renewable energy, primarily hydroelectric power and geothermal power.

Agriculture has been and continues to be the main export industry in New Zealand. In the year to June 2009, dairy products accounted for 21% ($9.1 billion) of total merchandise exports, and the largest company of the country, Fonterra, a dairy cooperative, controls almost one-third of the international dairy trade. Other agricultural items were meat 13.2%, wool 6.3%, fruit 3.5% and fishing 3.3%. New Zealand also has a thriving wine industry, which had a bumper year in 2007; wine became New Zealand's "12th most valuable export" in that year, overtaking wool exports.

Cows and sheep are rarely housed, but are sometimes fed supplements such as hay and silage, particularly in winter. Pigs are usually kept indoors, either in gestation crates, farrowing crates, fattening pens, or group housing.

In 1984, the New Zealand Labour Party ended all farm subsidies.

The population of New Zealand is approximately 4.3 million,[iv] of which approximately 78% identify with European ethnic groups. The term Pākehā usually refers to New Zealanders of European descent, although some reject this appellation, and some Māori use it to refer to all non-Māori and non-Polynesian New Zealanders. Most European New Zealanders are of British and Irish ancestry, although there has been significant Dutch, Dalmatian, Italian, and German immigration together with indirect European immigration through Australia, North America, South America and South Africa.

According to the 2006 census projections, by 2026 European children will make up 64% of all New Zealand children, compared with 73% in 2006. Māori children will make up 29%, from 24% in 2006, and Asian and Pacific children will make up about 18% each, compared with 9% and 12% in 2006, respectively. The fertility rate as of March 2009 was 2.2 per woman, compared to approximately 2 for the previous 30 years, with the total number of births higher than at any point since 1961. A second fertility estimate was 2.02 children per woman. The fertility rate is expected to decline over the next forty years, according to one estimate.

The life expectancy of a child born in 2008 was 82.4 years for a girl, and 78.4 years for a boy. Life expectancy at birth (males and females) is forecast to increase from 80 years to 85 years in 2050. Further, infant mortality is expected to decline substantially from 2009 to 2050. While the overall population is expected to grow to 5,349,000 in 2050, the median age (half younger, half older) will rise from 36 years in 2009 to 43 years in 2050 and the percentage of people sixty years of age and older will rise from 18% (2009) to 29% (2050).

Note: Years rounded to whole number. Source: United Nations.

Indigenous Māori people are the largest non-European ethnic group, accounting for 14.6% of the population in the 2006 census. While people could select more than one ethnic group, slightly more than half (53%) of all Māori residents identified solely as Māori. People identifying with Asian ethnic groups account for 9.2% of the population, increasing from 6.6% in the 2001 census, while 6.9% of people are of Pacific Island origin. (These percentages add to more than 100% because people can identify with more than one ethnic group.) Based on the census of 1961, the population of New Zealand comprised 92% European and 7% Maori, with the latter required to show at least half "Maori blood". Asian and Pacific minorities shared the remaining 1%.

New Zealand immigration policy is relatively open; its government is committed to increasing its population by about 1% annually. In 2008–09, a target of 45,000 was set by the New Zealand immigration Service (plus a 5,000 tolerance). Twenty-three percent of the population was born overseas, one of the highest rates in the world. At present, immigrants from the United Kingdom and Ireland constitute the largest single group, accounting for 29% of those born overseas but immigrants are drawn from many nations, and increasingly from East Asia (mostly mainland China, but with substantial numbers also from Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong).

While the demonym is New Zealander, New Zealanders informally call themselves Kiwis.

Until 1987, English was New Zealand's only official language, and remains predominant in most settings; Māori became an official language under the 1987 Māori Language Act and New Zealand Sign Language under the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006. The two official spoken languages are also the most widely used; English is spoken by 98% of the population and Māori by 4.1%. Samoan is the most widely spoken non-official language (2.3%),[v] followed by French, Hindi, Yue and Northern Chinese.

New Zealand has an adult literacy rate of 99%, and 14.2% of the adult population has a bachelor's degree or higher. For 30.4% of the population, some form of secondary qualification is their highest, while 22.4% of New Zealanders have no formal qualification.

According to the 2006 census, Christianity is the predominant religion in New Zealand, held by 55.6% of the population, a decrease from 60.6% at the 2001 census. Another 34.7% indicated that they had no religion, up from 29.6% in 2001, and around 4% affiliated with other religions. The main Christian denominations are Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Presbyterianism and Methodism. There are also significant numbers who identify themselves with Pentecostal and Baptist churches and with the LDS (Mormon) church. The New Zealand-based Ratana church has adherents among Māori. According to census figures, other significant minority religions include Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.

In a survey of the OECD amongst 30 democratic nations, New Zealand ranked an above-average 8th place in terms of the happiness of its populace (defined by the averaged responses to questions about personal contentment and positive feelings experienced recently) even though the country was noted as ranking relatively low amongst the surveyed nations in personal wealth (defined by averaged personal income).

New Zealand is a predominantly urban country, with 72% of the population living in 16 main urban areas and 53% living in the four largest cities of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, and Hamilton.

While New Zealand is culturally and linguistically part of Polynesia, forming the south-western anchor of the Polynesian Triangle, much of contemporary New Zealand culture is derived from British roots. It also includes significant influences from American, Australian and Māori cultures, along with those of other European cultures and – more recently – non-Māori Polynesian and Asian cultures. Large festivals in celebration of Diwali and Chinese New Year are held in several of the larger centres. The world's largest Polynesian festival, Pasifika, is an annual event in Auckland.

Cultural links between New Zealand and the United Kingdom are maintained by a common language, sustained migration from the United Kingdom, and many young New Zealanders spending time in the United Kingdom on their "overseas experience" (OE). The music and cuisine of New Zealand are similar to that of Australia, Canada, UK, and the US, although both have distinct New Zealand and Pacific qualities.

Māori culture has undergone considerable change since the arrival of Europeans; in particular the introduction of Christianity in the early 19th century brought about fundamental change in everyday life. Nonetheless the perception that most Māori now live similar lifestyles to their Pākehā neighbours is a superficial one. In fact, Māori culture has significant differences, for instance the important role which the marae and the extended family continue to play in communal and family life.

As in traditional times, Māori habitually perform karakia to ensure the favourable outcome of important undertakings, but today the prayers used are generally Christian. Māori still regard their allegiance to tribal groups as a vital part of personal identity, and Māori kinship roles resemble those of other Polynesian peoples.

As part of the resurgence of Māori culture that came to the fore in the late 20th century, the tradition-based arts of kapa haka (song and dance), carving and weaving are now more widely practiced, and the architecture of the marae maintains strong links to traditional forms. Māori also value their connections to Polynesia, as attested by the increasing popularity of waka ama (outrigger canoe racing), which is now an international sport involving teams from all over the Pacific.

Use of the Māori language (te reo Māori) as a living, community language remained only in a few remote areas in the post-war years, but is currently undergoing a process of revitalisation,[100] thanks in part to Māori language immersion schools and two Māori Television channels.[101] These are the only nationwide television channels to have the majority of its prime-time content delivered in Māori, primarily because only 4% of the population speak the language. However, partly in recognition of the importance of Māori culture to New Zealand, the language was declared one of New Zealand's official languages in 1987.[100]

Although films have been made in New Zealand since the 1920s, it was only from the 1970s that New Zealand films began to be produced in significant numbers. Films such as Sleeping Dogs and Goodbye Pork Pie achieved local success and launched the careers of actors and directors including Sam Neill, Geoff Murphy and Roger Donaldson. In the early 1990s, New Zealand films such as Jane Campion's Academy Award-winning film The Piano, Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors and Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures began to garner international acclaim.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Jackson filmed The Lord of the Rings film trilogy in New Zealand, using mostly New Zealand crew and extras. Whale Rider, originally a novel by Witi Ihimaera, was produced in 2002 and received recognition from various festivals and awards. New Zealand features as a primary or additional location for many international productions, examples include The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Bridge to Terabithia and Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai.

The New Zealand media industry is dominated by a small number of companies, most of which are foreign-owned,[iii] although the state retains ownership of some television and radio stations. New Zealand television broadcasts mostly American and British programming, along with a small number of Australian and New Zealand shows.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority and the New Zealand Press Council can investigate allegations of bias and inaccuracy in the broadcast and print media. Combined with New Zealand's libel laws, this means that the New Zealand news media is fairly tame by international standards, but also reasonably fair and impartial. New Zealand receives high rankings in press freedom. Between 2003 and 2008, Reporters Without Borders has consistently ranked the country in the top twenty, placing it seventh in 2008.[102]

Sport has a major role in New Zealand's culture, with the unofficial national sport of rugby union being particularly influential. Other popular participatory sports include cricket, bowls, netball, soccer, motorsports, golf, swimming and tennis.[103] New Zealand has strong international teams in several sports including rugby union, netball, cricket,[104][105] rugby league, and softball. New Zealand also has traditionally done well in the sports of rowing, yachting and cycling. The country is internationally recognised for performing well on a medals-to-population ratio at Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games.[106][107]

Rugby union, commonly referred to as rugby, is closely linked to the country's national identity. The national rugby team, the All Blacks, has the best win to loss record of any national team,[108] and is well known for the haka (a traditional Māori challenge) performed before the start of international matches.[109] Five New Zealand-based teams compete in the southern hemisphere Super 15 rugby union competition, with the country's premier domestic competition being the ITM Cup, in which 14 provincial teams compete.

Rugby league is also widely played in New Zealand. The New Zealand Warriors compete in the Australian NRL competition, and in 2008 the national side, the Kiwis, won the Rugby League World Cup.[110]

Cricket was introduced to New Zealand in the 1800s[104] and is reputedly the second most popular sport in the country, with one source stating there are 98,000 registered cricket players.[111] The New Zealand team is known as the Blackcaps[112] and the national women's team is the White Ferns.[111]

Horse racing is a popular spectator sport which has spawned such national icons as Cardigan Bay and Phar Lap, and was part of the traditional "Rugby, Racing and Beer" culture.

New Zealand is also well known for its extreme sports and adventure tourism.[113] Its reputation in extreme sports extends from the establishment of the world's first commercial bungy jumping site at Queenstown in the South Island in November 1988.[114] There is a culture of longboarding in urban areas.[115] The country also has a strong mountaineering tradition, with the country's most famous climber being the late Sir Edmund Hillary, jointly with Tenzing Norgay the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

New Zealand ranks highly in international comparisons on human development, quality of life, life expectancy, literacy, public education, peace,[116] prosperity, economic freedom, ease of doing business, lack of corruption, press freedom, and the protection of civil liberties and political rights.[117]

The country's major cities also consistently rank among the world's most liveable.[119]

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