Michael A. Stecker

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Lake Pukaki

New Zealand (Aotearoa -- Maori for "Land of the Long White Clouds")
is located along the Pacific "ring of fire". Specifically, it lies on the boundary between two great tectonic plates -- the Indo-Australian and the Pacific. This is an area of the world characterized by active volcanoes, geothermal activity, frequent earthquakes and mountain building that had a profound effect on the country's size, shape, geography and geology. Combine this with its weather and you get a country of rare scenic beauty with lush green hills, rivers, sandy beaches and volcanoes in the north and mountains, glaciers, lakes, and fjords in the south.

Official name
The Dominion of New Zealand

total: 268,680 sq km
about the size of Colorado or Japan

15,134 km

temperate with sharp regional contrasts

predominately mountainous with some large coastal plains

Elevation extremes
lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 meters
highest point: Mount Cook 12,313 feet

Natural resources
sheep, natural gas, iron ore, timber, hydropower, gold, limestone

3,819,762 (July 2000 est.)

Ethnic groups
New Zealand European 74.5%, Maori 9.7%, other European 4.6%, Pacific Islander 3.8%, Asian and others 7.4%

Anglican 24%, Presbyterian 18%, Roman Catholic 15%, Methodist 5%, Baptist 2%, other Protestant 3%, unspecified or none 33% (1986)

English (official), Maori

Government type
parliamentary democracy





New Zealand lies 1600 km south-east of Australia between the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea, extending from 33 to 53 degrees south latitude. It consists of two main islands -- North and South, and a number of smaller ones with a combined area of 270,500 square kilometers (similar in size to Japan). The main North and South Islands are separated by the Cook Strait, which at its narrowest point is 20 kilometers wide.

The North Island is green, hilly and volcanic. In the north are semi-tropical beaches (90 Mile Beach), the historic Bay of Islands where Europeans first settled and North Point. Further south is the country's largest city -- Auckland. The central portion consists of the volcanic regions of Rotorua, Lake Taupo and Tongarariro National Park. Far to the west is New Plymouth and the beautiful snow-capped volcano Mt. Egmont. Most of he North Island is well watered and very green. The main rivers are the Wakato and Wanganui. Near the North Island's southern tip is the capital -- Wellington.

The South Island is more mountainous than the North. This is especially evident along almost its entire length from near its west coast to its center where the Southern Alps are found. Mt. Cook at 3,764 meters is the highest peak. Many of these mountains have glaciers; the most famous are the Tasman (length 29 kilometers), Murchison (17 kilometers), Fox (15 kilometers) and the Franz Josef (13 kilometers). The west coast is very moist because of sea winds from the Tasman Sea. Close to the northern section of the Southern Alps is Westland National Park and beautiful Lake Matheson. The most southwesterly portion of the island is Fjordland National Park which is home to magnificent Milford Sound. The park is very mountainous, wet and indented by numerous glacially carved fjords. However, the mountains form a barrier to the moist winds and the lands to the east are drier. Several cyan-colored lakes are found in this region as well as Lake Wakatipo and its lakeside resort, Queenstown -- gateway to Fjordland. Along the east coast are the island's cities. The largest is Christchurch in the north which is said to be the most English in New Zealand. Also on the east coast but much further south is smaller Dunedin which is Scottish in character.

Points of Interest
North Island
Northland (the most northerly region of New Zealand) is the cradle of both Maori and Pakeha culture (British).  It was here that the British first made contact with the Maori, the first whaling settlements were established and the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. It has glorious sparsely populated blonde beaches stretching nearly 100 miles on its west coast called the Ninety Mile Beach. At the northern tip of the North Island is Cape Reinga Lighthouse that looks out over both the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea.

The Coromandel Peninsula, east of Auckland, is steeped in gold mining history, extinct volcanoes and is covered by temperate rainforest. Both the east and west coasts of the peninsula have wonderful beaches.

The largest city in New Zealand, Auckland (population 1,002,000) is almost enclosed by water and covered in volcanic hills. Like Sydney, Auckland has a spectacular harbor and bridge. Auckland now has the largest concentration of Polynesians in the world. Highlights include the Auckland Museum, which houses a memorable display of Maori artifacts. Panoramic views of the city from the extinct volcano One Tree Hill, and good swimming beaches including Kohimarama and Mission Bay.

Rotorua is a small town on the shores of Lake Rotorua. The surrounding areas are a geothermal wonderland, with geysers, boiling mud pools, and steaming craters - accompanied by the pervasive smell of sulphur. Rotorua is also a showcase of Maori cultural activities and a center of tourism. The Waikato River, Huka Falls and Lake Taupo (New Zealands largest) are found south of Roturoa.

Urewera National Park is located southeast of Rotorua and is the largest forested wilderness area remaining on the North Island. It features dense forests, waterfalls and Lake Waikaremoana.

Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake at 600 square kilometers, is about 90 kilometres south of Rotorua. It was formed after a huge volcanic eruption that took place some 1800 years ago. The volcanic crater then filled with water, forming the lake. Situated over a thousand feet above sea level it has a maximum depth of 500 feet. The lake is cold, full of trout and often used for fishing and other water sports.

Tongariro National Park
Formally created by an act of parliament in 1894 Tongariro National Park is New Zealand's oldest national park and a World Heritage area as well. Found in central North Island just south of Lake Taupo are the three andesitic volcanoes at the heart of the park -- Tongariro, Ngaruahoe and Ruapehu. Together they form the southern limits of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Volcanic activity in the zone started about 2 million years ago and is on-going today. Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are two of the most active composite volcanoes in the world.

Mt. Egmont
Mt. Egmont (Taranaki) is probably the most beautiful mountain in New Zealand. It is similar to Mt. Fuji in Japan except that it has a very green zone surrounding it. It is also one of the least visited areas in New Zealand, because if its isolation on the western coast of the North Island near the town of New Plymouth.

Whanganui River

The Whanganui (Wanganui) River and the national park of the same name extends from central Tongariro to the west coast town of Wanganui. The countryside is famous for its verdant scenery, forests and river rapids. Raukawa Falls off highway 4 between Wanganui and Raetihi is one of New Zealand's largest waterfalls.

South Island
This is the largest city on the South Island. It has many old style tudor buildings and Hagley Park with its botanical gardens and Avon River.

Arthur's Pass
Driving west from Christchurch brings you into this mountainous region with its verdant high pasture land and snow capped mountain peaks.

Along the west coast north of Westland National Park is Punakaiki or "Pancake Rocks". These amazing structures resembling stacks of pancakes consist of limestone eroded by the force of the surf over years. When the surf is right, blowholes can be seen.

Mt. Cook National Park
Mt. Cook at 3754 meters (12,313feet) is the highest mountain in New Zealand and the main peak in the Southern Alps.

Westland National Park
Close to Mt. Cook is this park on the west central coast of the South Island. Points of scenic beauty include Lake Matheson and the several glaciers in the mountains (e.g. Franz Josef, Fox and Grey glaciers). Airplane scenic flights with a landing in the high snowfields is a trip you will never forget.

The beautiful South Island village of Queenstown is set in a glacial valley on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. It is a town synonymous with tourism, scenery and outdoor adventures. Not too far from this area are several other beautiful lakes including Wanaka, Tekapo and Pukaki.

Fjordland National Park
Southwest of Queenstown is Fjordland National Park, which takes its name from the fjords that indent its coast (see Doubtful Sound). It is a wilderness of mountains, rainforests, waterfalls and glacier-carved coastal sea inlets. The scenic climax of Fjordland is undoubtedly Milford Sound where dolphins follow tour boats that cruise beneath the shadows of towering mountains like Mitre Peak and pause by hanging waterfalls that crash on to the calm waters of the Sound. There are also classic alpine walks, including the Routeburn Track (in Mt. Aspiring National Park) and the Milford Track (billed as the "finest in the world").


New Zealand's National Parks
In 1887 the Maori chiefs of the Tuwharetoa tribe gifted their ancestral volcanic peaks of Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe in the central North Island to all the people of New Zealand, creating the country's first and the world's fourth national park (Tongariro National Park). Today, there are 13 such areas that preserve some of New Zealand's most spectacular scenery, flora and fauna.



North Island Parks
Te Urewera National Park is a large forested wilderness southeast of Rotorua on the North Island. Its prize attraction is Lake Waikaremoana.

Tongariro National Park just south of Lake Taupo, is New Zealand's oldest national park. The three volcanoes at its heart are: Mounts Tongariro, Ngaruahoe and Ruapehu.  They form the southern limits of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Volcanic activity in the zone started about 2 million years ago and is on-going today. A World Heritage Area, it contains lava flows, active craters, hot springs, lakes, grasslands, and forests. Mt. Ruapehu is North Island's highest peak and most popular ski resort.

Whanganui National Park lies between Egmont and Tongariro National Parks and features mudstone cliffs, lush green grasslands and forests. The 105-mile Whanganui River affords an extraordinarily scenic canoe trip. Beautiful Raukawa Falls can be seen off Highway-4 between the towns of Wanganui and Raeti.

Egmont National Park near New Plymouth of North Island's mid West Coast encompasses Mount Taranaki (Egmont). This is a large conical volcano reminiscent of Japan's Mt. Fuji. Mount Egmont has erupted at least eight times in the last 6,000 years. Most of these eruptions have been explosive and from the central vent. Two flank eruptions produced Fanthams Peak and Southern Beehive about 1,300 years ago. The last eruption of Egmont was in 1755. The terrain in the park extend from black sand beaches to lowland rainforest, through alpine fields, and snow capped summit.

South Island Parks
Abel Tasman National Park, located on Tasman Bay at the very top of the South Island, is the smallest of New Zealand's national parks. Its four-day walking track skirts a beautiful secluded coastline of unspoiled, golden-sand beaches and rocky coves, set against a backdrop of forested hills.

Kahurangi National Park is northwest of the city of Nelson and west of the smaller Abel Tasman National Park.  It is the newest (1996) and second largest national park in New Zealand. It is a large wilderness park with mountains, rivers, lakes, karst (limestone) land forms, forest, alpine fields and western coastline. Home of the Heaphy Track, walkers on this track will follow the northwest coastline and pass through a palm forest, rainforests and high country before descending to Golden Bay east of the park.

Nelson Lakes National Park, south of Nelson, is noted for its alpine flowers and is the perfect place to explore craggy ranges, crystal-clear lakes, wild rivers and beautiful beech forests.

Paparoa National Park was recently established to protects the karst (eroded limestone) environment surrounding Punakaiki ( "Pancake Rocks" ) north of Greymouth. Here the stratified limestone coastal "Pancake Rocks" interact with the surf to produce blow holes and waterspouts. Inland trails lead through a limestone country of caverns, canyons and rivers.

Arthur's Pass National Park lies 140 km west of Christchurch. The Pass is one of the three across the Southern Alps carrying roads which link the west and east coasts of the South Island. The most northerly is the Lewis Pass, Arthur's Pass is in the middle and Haast Pass is to the south. European history begins with the discovery of the Pass by Arthur Dudley Dobson in 1864, but little interest was shown in it until gold was discovered on the west coast. Later a railway as built across it and in 1926 Arthur's Pass National Park, the first in the South Island was created. The Park includes 16 named peaks over 2000 meters, the highest being 2,400 meter Mt. Murchison and the most accessible is Mt. Rolleston at 2,271 meers. There are two major rivers with headwaters in the Park, the Waimakarriri which flows across the Canterbury Plains to the Pacific Ocean in the east, and the Taramakau which flows into the Tasman Sea in the west. From its towering mountains to its rainforests, it can be viewed either from your car or from the big windows of New Zealand's most memorable train -- the TranzAlpine.

Westland National Park on the West Coast of the South Island is where mountains and glaciers blend into coastal rainforests before meeting the sea. Don't miss serene Lake Matheson with its mirrored view of the Southern Alps.

Mount Cook National Park straddles the Southern Alps and includes 22 peaks over 10,000 feet. The tallest is Mount Cook at 12,317 feet ( 3754 meters).

Mount Aspiring National Park features Mount Aspiring, often called the Matterhorn of New Zealand. The park offers some of the best hiking in New Zealand.

Fiordland National Park is bigger than the rest of the other parks combined. Its vast wet area includes extensive walking tracks, lakes, rainforests and mirror smooth fiords like famous Milford and Doubtful Sounds.