is a country in the south-western Pacific Ocean consisting of two large islands (North Island and South Island) and many much smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands. It is called Aotearoa in Māori, which may be paraphrased as Land of the Long White Cloud.
It is notable for its geographic isolation, being separated from Australia to the northwest by the Tasman Sea, some 2000 kilometres (1250 miles) across. Its closest neighbours to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga.
The population is mostly of European descent, with Māori being the largest minority. Non-Māori Polynesian and Asian peoples are also significant minorities, especially in the cities.
The first Polynesian settlers, the Maori, arrived in New Zealand in the 10th century, cca A.D. 800 and named it Aotearoa
– “Land of the Long White Cloud”. By the 12th century, there were scattered settlements in favoured parts of the country.
In 1642, the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman sighted Aotearoa. He mapped parts of the West Coast but did not land. In 1769, the British naval captain James Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to set foot on New Zealand soil. Eventually, sealers and whalers began to arrive, followed by Christian missionaries, and the first European settlements were established.
In 1840, the Maori chieftains entered into an assignment with Britain, the Treaty of Waitangi, in which they ceded sovereignty to Queen Victoria while retaining territorial rights. In that same year, the British began the first organized colonial settlement. New Zealand was established as a colony under the British Crown, when the chiefs of most Maori tribes and representatives of the Crown signed the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840. This agreement is recognised as the founding document of the nation. A series of land wars between 1843 and 1872 ended with the defeat of the native peoples. The British colony of New Zealand became an independent dominion in 1907. However, the British connection remained an important part of New Zealand culture, and Britain was often referred to as 'home'. Just over 100,000 New Zealanders fought on Britain's behalf in World War I.
New Zealand also made a significant contribution during World War II, with nearly 10% of the population serving overseas. After the war, New Zealand's agricultural products were in demand and the 1950s saw prosperity, full employment and considerable industrial growth.
Elizabeth II, as the Queen of New Zealand, is the Head of State and is represented, in her absence, by a non-partisan Governor-General; the Queen 'reigns but does not rule', so she has no real political influence. Political power is held by the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government in the democratically-elected Parliament of New Zealand. The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue, which are self-governing, but in free association; Tokelau; and the Ross Dependency (New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica).
: 4,536,970 (October 2014 est.)
Over the past 20 years the government has transformed New Zealand from an agrarian economy dependent on concessionary British market access to a more industrialized, free market economy that can compete globally. This dynamic growth has boosted real incomes (but left behind many at the bottom of the ladder), broadened and deepened the technological capabilities of the industrial sector, and contained inflationary pressures. Per capita income has risen for six consecutive years and was more than $35,000 in 2013 in purchasing power parity terms. New Zealand is heavily dependent on trade - particularly in agricultural products - to drive growth. Exports are equal to about 22% of GDP. Thus far the economy has been resilient, and the National Government promises that expenditures on health, education, and pensions will increase proportionately to output.