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New Zealand - Overview

The capital of New Zealand is Wellington although the largest city is Auckland. There are two official languages in the country, English and Maori. New Zealand sign language also has the status of an official language. Around three quarters of the population have European heritage with nearly 15% having a Maori background. Other heritages which can be found in the country include Asians and Polynesians. New Zealand is located in the GMT +12 time zone. The currency is the New Zealand dollar.

The culture of the country has been strongly influenced by the native Maoris and the early European settlers. The Maori culture is seeing something of a revival and now their art is becoming part of the mainstream, with some artists combining Maori art with that of other cultures. The Maoris were the first people to inhabit New Zealand although their history there dates back to 1000AD, making New Zealand one of the youngest countries in the world in terms of human habitation. A Dutch explorer called Abel Tasman visited the islands in 1642, followed by James Cook in 1769. Britain formally took control of the islands in 1840.

The government of New Zealand is a democracy and the country is part of the Commonwealth. The head of state is still officially Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, and New Zealand is governed by a Prime Minister although Britain has a Governor-General in the country.

New Zealand is an island country with two main islands, known as North Island and South Island. In addition there are a number of smaller islands dotted around the coastline. The country lies 1500km to the east of Australia. The landscape in the country is varied, from dense forests to open countryside and in recent years a number of large budget films have been produced in New Zealand.

The two islands are separated by a stretch of water known as the Cook Strait. This is 22km wide at the narrowest point between the two islands. The islands along the coastline which are inhabited include Stewart Island, Great Barrier Island, the Chatham Islands, Waiheke Island and d’Urville Island. Some islands have very few people living there.

The population of the country is approximately 4.5 million. Wellington has a population of around 170,000, while Auckland has a population of almost 370,000 and Christchurch has 340,000 inhabitants. The South Island has a population of less than 1.1 million while the North Island has a population of around 3.5 million. Of the other islands, Stewart Island has a population of less than 500 people and Chatham Island has around 600 inhabitants. Great Barrier Island has a population of almost 900 people and d’Urville Island has less than 100 people. Waiheke Island has almost 8000 people living there. In addition there are many smaller uninhabited islands, some of which are now nature reserves.

New Zealand is a fairly narrow country, just 400km wide at its widest point, although it is long, with a length of more than 1600km. As islands, there are more than 15,000km of coastline. The beaches on the northern and eastern parts of the North Island tend to be sandy and attract a lot of swimmer and sunbathers. The northern beaches of the South Island are similar although the southern beaches are much wilder. The South Island is the largest and has a mountain range dividing it known as the Southern Alps. Large parts of both islands are mountainous, with around 20% of the North Island and 66% of the South Island covered in mountains. As the mountains have eroded over the years plains have been formed on both islands which have become rich farmland and agriculture has become a major part of the New Zealand economy.

New Zealand has been divided into 16 regions with 11 run by regional councils that are elected and 5 with a territorial council. These have been sub-divided into a total of 67 territorial authorities. The country was formerly divided into provinces but these had more control over governing their own areas than the regional councils do now. Some of the smaller islands do not fall under any of these regions but do have their own councils for day to day running of services.

Read more about this country

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