New Zealand – the country at the other end of the world – has wild coasts, vast landscapes, enormous jungles, glaciers, volcanoes and unique animal and plant life. In no other country does the natural landscape seems so powerful. This green island is waiting for you to discover it.
It is difficult to say precisely which continent New Zealand is part of, both from a geographical and a cultural perspective. The island nation in the South Pacific is completely isolated and covers an area of 268,680 km². New Zealand is made up of the North Island and the South Island, which are separated by the Cook Strait (23 km wide at its narrowest point). The country also has more than 700 small islands, such as Great Barrier island and Waiheke Island.
New Zealand’s North Island is the more densely populated of the two. It is home to approximately three quarters of New Zealand's population. The capital Wellington and the country’s largest city, Auckland (the city of sails), are located on the North Island. The North Island is dominated by a green hilly landscape, but is extremely varied. The West Coast has a number of astounding sandy beaches like Ninety Mile Beach. It also has two natural harbours - Kaipara Harbour and Hokianga Harbour. The Waipoua Forest can be found to the south of the natural harbours. It is home to enormous evergreen kauri trees. The interior of the North Island is a hilly region used primarily for forestry and agriculture. The centre of the North Island is dominated by the Volcanic Plateau. Tongariro National Park, along with its active volcanoes Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruaphehu, have been declared a combined world culture and natural heritage site by UNESCO. Lake Taupo, the country’s largest lake, and the Huka waterfalls lie at the centre of the island.
The South Island is dominated by the Southern Alps, and is slightly larger and emptier. This mountain range runs parallel to the west coast. The Southern Alps contain the mighty Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. The West Coast region has some of the highest precipitation on earth. This causes some glaciers to move from the Southern Alps to the coastal rainforests. The alluvial plain to the east of the Southern Alps is known as the Canterbury Plains. The south of the island contains countless breathtaking fjords, of which Milford Sound is probably the most famous. Large stretches of the south-west of the country are protected national parks. The largest cities on the South Island are Christchurch (known as the most English city in New Zealand) and Scottish influenced Dunedin. The South Island also contains extensive forest landscapes and dense rainforests.
Roughly 80 million years ago New Zealand was separated from the supercontinent Gondwana. Due to this early isolation several species were able to evolve independently and therefore are endemic nowadays. New Zealand's landscape is mainly influenced by its position on the rim of the Australian plate and the Pacific plate. Due to plate movement and the subduction of the Pacific under the Australian plate the Southern Alps and the plateau on the north island were formed. Moreover also volcanism and glacial movement influenced the modern landscape. Nowadays active volcanism can still be seen (e.g. White Island) and also numerous fjords remind visitors of former cold periods.
Due to its early geographic isolation a unique ecosystem was able to evolve. Nowadays about 85% of New Zealand’s plants are endemic like various types of ferns which are also the national symbol of the country. Moreover also the Kauri trees that can reach a height of up to 50 m play an important role on the islands as they are holy to the Maori. Mainly coniferous and deciduous forests grow on New Zealand´s evergreen hills.
Moreover several animals and especially many birds are endemic today. As there were almost no mammals on land up to the day of its colonialization, birds filled the ecological niches and some even lost their ability to fly. Examples are the Takahe, the Weka or the Kiwi bird, which is also a national symbol of New Zealand. Moreover several species of parrots, penguins, dolphins and whales are at home in New Zealand and along its coasts.
Due to its location in the temperate zone the climate in New Zealand is mostly relatively benign with moderate rainfall and many hours of sunshine. The climate is mainly influenced by the sea and the glaciers and may vary from subtropical conditions in the northern top of the island to temperatures of -10°C in the inland of the southern island. In New Zealand the seasons change from spring (September-November) to summer (December-February), autumn (March-May) and winter (June-August). On both islands you should be prepared to relatively sudden shifts in temperature and weather as well as strong UV-rays.
There is daylight saving (New Zealand Daylight Time).
The official currency is called New Zealand Dollars (1NZD= 100 cents). For current exchange rates see www.währungsrechner.de.
In New Zealand metric units are used.
The voltage in New Zealand is 230V and 50 Hz and as the plugs may vary from the ones you use for the gadgets from your country, you should consider bringing an adapter.
The most important means of transportation on the remotely located island group are planes, road traffic and shipping. About 92,000 km of streets were built of which 54,000 km are asphalted. You can use the bus to get from town to town or alternatively rent or even buy a car if you have an international driver’s license. Always keep in mind that you drive on the left side of the road and you should also consider taking a robust car (ATV/ four-wheel drive/…) as there are many streets that are not asphalted. In addition to that, especially in cities like Auckland or Wellington the public transportation is well developed.
As Kiwis are outdoor enthusiasts, hiking, sailing, skydiving, surfing or diving are preferred free time activities, and definitely count as highlights on both islands.
Moreover New Zealand has several stunning beaches and especially the Bay of Islands is a popular destination for tourists from within the country as well as from abroad. A sum of 144 islands that are located in a 16 km long bay give this subtropical location on the North Island its name. Besides diving, snorkeling and sailing, here you can also swim with dolphins or go on an overnight boat trip.
As one of New Zealand's oldest Nationalparks on the North Island, with its lush vegetation, mountains and three active volcanoes, Tongariro is definitely worth the trip. Visitors have the chance to see some cultural places of the Maori. The park belongs to the UNESCO world cultural and natural heritage.
With 622 km² Lake Taupo is the biggest lake in New Zealand and also a popular destination for Kiwis and tourists that would like to relax, go fishing for some trout or simply enjoy the beauty of the crater lake. Moreover Mine Bay is worth the boat trip where you can see engraved rock that was designed by Maori Artists.
On New Zealand’s southern island the Milford Sound is another highlight worth seeing. As one of the most popular fjords in the 15 km long Fiordland-Nationalpark, the Milford Sound is one of the world natural heritages and also a region with very high rainfall. Due to the amount of rain, there is a lush rainforest growing on the hills and mountains of the area and also numerous temporary waterfalls form during rainfall. Besides countless hiking paths you can also explore the area and its diverse flora and fauna by boat.
Another fascinating place to visit in New Zealand is the glacier Franz Joseph in the Westland Nationalpark. Located in New Zealand's Alps, the about 10 km long glacier extends from a height of about 400 m above sea level into the Tasman Sea on the west coast of the South Island. The glacier is surrounded by rain forest and numerous picturesque waterfalls.