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Geography of New Zealand
Satellite image of New Zealand in December 2002.jpg
Continent Oceania
Region Australasia
Coordinates 41 00 S, 174 00 E
Area Ranked 75th
 • Total 268,680 km2 (103,740 sq mi)
 • Land 99%
 • Water 1%
Coastline [convert: invalid number]
Borders 0km
Highest point Aoraki/Mount Cook 3754 m
Lowest point Pacific Ocean 0 m
Longest river Waikato River 425 km
Largest lake Lake Taupo 616 km²

New Zealand is a country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean comprising two large islands (the North Island and the South Island) and numerous smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands.

Area and location[edit]

New Zealand 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.

New Zealand comprises two main islands (called the North and South Islands in English, Te-Ika-a-Maui and Te Wai Pounamu in Māori) and a number of smaller islands. The total land area, 268,680 square kilometres (103,738 sq miles), is a little less than that of Italy , Japan or Colorado and a little more than the United Kingdom. The country extends more than 1600 kilometres (1000 miles) along its main, north-north-east axis, with approximately 15,134 km 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.

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 sq mi), more than 15 times its land area.[1]

The South Island is the largest land mass, and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps, the highest peak of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook at 3754 metres (12,316 ft). There are 18 peaks of more than 3000 metres (9800 ft) in the South Island. The North Island is less mountainous than the South, but is marked by volcanism. The tallest North Island mountain, Mount Ruapehu (2797 m / 9176 ft), is an active cone volcano.

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.

Geographic History[edit]

Once part of the ancient continent of Gondwana, New zeland is located at the boundry of the Indo-Australian Plate and Pacific Plate

File:NZ transform.jpg
Tectonic map of the New Zealand plate boundary, USGS

Geographic regions[edit]

North Island

The North Island is one of the two main islands of New Zealand, the other being the South Island.[2] The island is 113,729 square km in area[3], making it the world's 14th-largest island.

Several important cities are in the North Island, notably New Zealand's largest city, Auckland, and Wellington, the capital, located at the southern extremity of the island. Around 76% of New Zealand's population lives in the North Island.[4]

The South Island is one of the two major islands of New Zealand, the other being the North Island. The Māori name for the South Island, Te Wai Pounamu, meaning "The Water/s of Greenstone" (greenstone being jade), possibly evolved from Te Wāhi Pounamu which means "The Place Of Greenstone". The island is also known as Te Waka a Māui which means "Māui's Canoe".

In the 19th century, some maps named the South Island as Middle Island or New Ulster, and the name South Island or New Leinster was used for today's Stewart Island/Rakiura.

It has an area of 151,215 square km (58,093 square miles), making it the world's 12th-largest island. Along its west coast runs the mountain chain of the Southern Alps with Aoraki/Mount Cook being the highest point, 3,754 m (12,316 ft) above sea level.

North of North Island[edit]

Northland is located in what is often referred to by New Zealanders as the Far North, or, because of its temperate climate, The Winterless North. It occupies the upper 80% of the 285 kilometre-long North Auckland Peninsula, the southernmost part of which is in the Auckland Region.

Stretching from a narrowing of the peninsula close to the town of Wellsford, Northland extends north to the tip of the North Auckland Peninsula, covering an area of 13,940 km², a little over five per cent of the country's total area. It is bounded to the west by the Tasman Sea, and to the east by the Pacific Ocean. The land is predominantly rolling hill country. Farming and forestry occupy over half of the land, and are two of the region's main industries.

Kauri tree Agathis australis.

Although many of the region's kauri forests were felled during the 19th century, some areas still exist where this rare giant grows tall. New Zealand's largest tree, Tane Mahuta, stands in the Waipoua Forest south of the Hokianga Harbour.

The western coast of the region is dominated by several long straight beaches, the most famous of which is the inaccurately named 88 kilometre-long stretch of Ninety Mile Beach in the region's far north. Two large inlets are also located on this coast, the massive Kaipara Harbour in the south, which Northland shares with the Auckland Region, and the convoluted inlets of the Hokianga Harbour.

The east coast is more rugged, and is dotted with bays and peninsulas. Several large natural harbours are found on this coast, from Parengarenga close to the region's northern tip, past the famous Bay of Islands down to Whangarei Harbour, on the shores of which is situated the region's largest population centre. Numerous islands also dot this coast, notably the Cavalli Islands, the Hen and Chickens Islands and the Poor Knights Islands.

The northernmost points of the North Island mainland lie at the top of Northland. These include several points often confused in the public mind as being the country's northernmost points: Cape Maria van Diemen, Spirits Bay, Cape Reinga, and North Cape. The northernmost point of the North Island is actually the Surville Cliffs, close to North Cape, although the northernmost point of the country is further north in the Kermadec chain of islands. Cape Reinga and Spirits Bay do, however, have a symbolic part to play as the end of the country. In Māori mythology, it is from here that the souls of the dead depart on their journey to the afterlife.


On the mainland, the region extends from the mouth of the Kaipara Harbour in the north across the southern stretches of the North Auckland Peninsula, past the Waitakere Ranges and the isthmus of Auckland to the Hunua Ranges and low-lying land south of the Manukau Harbour. The region ends within a few kilometres of the mouth of the Waikato River. It is bordered in the north by the Northland Region, and in the south by the Waikato Region. It also includes the islands of the Hauraki Gulf.


In the west, the region is bounded by the Tasman Sea. The coastal region is largely rough hill country, known locally as the Hakarimata Range, though it is more gently undulating in the north, closer to the mouth of the Waikato River. The coast is punctured by three large natural harbours: Raglan Harbour, Aotea Harbour, and Kawhia Harbour. The area around Raglan is noted for its volcanic black sand beaches, and also for its fine surfing conditions.

To the east of the coastal hills lies the broad floodplain of the Waikato River. The region has a wet temperate climate, and the land is largely rich farmland, although it also contains undrained peat swamp. It is in the broad Waikato Plains that most of the region's population resides, and the land is intensively farmed with both livestock (mainly dairy cattle) and crops (such as maize). The area around Cambridge has many thoroughbred stables.

The north of the region around Te Kauwhata produces some of New Zealand's best wines. Several shallow lakes lie in this area, the largest of which is Lake Waikare.

To the east, the land rises towards the forested slopes of the Kaimai and Mamaku Ranges. The upper reaches of the Waikato River are used for hydroelectricity, and several large artificial lakes are found in the region's southeast.

The Central North Island[edit]


The region is situated on the east coast of the North Island. The region bears the former name of what is now Hawke Bay, a large semi-circular bay which extends for 100 kilometres from northeast to southwest from Mahia Peninsula to Cape Kidnappers. The region is frequently referred to with a definite article, as "The Hawkes Bay", and the use of the apostrophe in the name is now officially regarded as incorrect.[1]

The Hawke's Bay region includes the hilly coastal land around the northern and central bay, the floodplains of the Wairoa River in the north, the wide fertile Heretaunga Plains around Hastings in the south, and a hilly interior stretching up into the Kaweka and Ruahine Ranges.

The region's boundaries vary somewhat from the former provincial boundaries of Hawke's Bay, and some towns in the Manawatu-Wanganui Region to the southwest, such as Dannevirke and Woodville regard themselves as still part of Hawke's Bay.

The region consists of Wairoa District, Hastings District, Napier City, and Central Hawke's Bay District, as well as a small part of Taupo District.


Taranaki is situated on the west coast of the North Island, surrounding the volcanic peak. The large bays north-west and south-west of Cape Egmont are prosaically named the North Taranaki Bight and the South Taranaki Bight.

Satellite picture of Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont from the NASA Earth Observatory, showing the nearly-circular Egmont National Park surrounding it. New Plymouth is the grey area on the northern coast.

Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont—Te Maunga O Taranaki—is the dominant feature of the province, being the second-tallest mountain in the North Island. Māori legend says that Taranaki previously lived with the Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu mountains in the central North Island but fled to its current location after a battle with Tongariro.

A near-perfect cone, Taranaki last erupted in the mid-18th century. The mountain and its immediate surrounds form Egmont National Park.

Dawson Falls, Taranaki

Although Māori had called the mountain Taranaki for many centuries Captain James Cook re-named it Egmont after the Earl of Egmont, recently retired First Lord of the Admiralty, who had encouraged his expedition. The official name is "Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont".

The region has an area of 7258 km² and a population (2001) of 102,858. Just under half live in the city of New Plymouth, located on the northern coast. Other centres include Waitara, Inglewood, Stratford, Opunake, Kaponga, Eltham, Hawera, and Patea the southern most town.

The region has had a strong Māori presence for centuries. The local iwi (tribes) include Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Ruanui, Taranaki, Te Ati Awa, Nga Rauru and Ngāti Tama.

Colourful volcanic slopes of Taranaki

The province is exceptionally fertile, thanks to generous rainfall and the rich volcanic soil. Dairy farming predominates, with the milk factory just outside Hawera being the second largest in the Southern Hemisphere. There are also oil and gas deposits in the region, both on- and off-shore. The Maui gas field off the south-west coast provides most of New Zealand's gas supply as well as supporting two methanol plants (one formerly a synthetic-petrol plant called the Gas-To-Gasolene plant) near Waitara. More fuel and fertilizer is produced from a well-complex at Kapuni. However, the Maui field is being depleted sooner than expected, leading to increased efforts to find further reserves.


The way the land mass projects into the Tasman Sea with northerly, westerly and southerly exposures results in many excellent surfing and windsurfing locations, some of them considered world-class. The region is dominated and defined by two significant river catchments, Whanganui and Manawatu. The Whanganui River is the longest navigable river in New Zealand. The river was extremely important to early Māori as it was the southern link in a chain of waterways that spanned almost two-thirds of the North Island. It was one of the chief areas of Māori settlement with its easily fortified cliffs and ample food supplies. Legends emphasise the importance of the river and it remains sacred to Wanganui iwi. Māori along the coast and lowland plains grew kumara and other crops.

Much of the Manawatu-Wanganui Region was fertile and bush-covered when Europeans arrived and developed the area as a source of timber. Saw milling and flax milling dominated the 19th century, followed by an influx of sheep farmers who exploited the newly-cleared ground. Deforestation, burn-offs of timber and scrub and large scale drainage combined with overgrazing, resulted in considerable environmental degradation. In the early 1900s authorities realised that careful management was needed to maintain this important agricultural area.

While the open Manawatu Plains became more densely settled by Europeans, inland Ruapehu, Rangitikei and Wanganui remained more Māori-dominated, remote and independent. As late as the 1950s the Whanganui River remained a river of mystery. More recently, however, exploitation of the river's commercial potential has opened up the area, often causing friction with local Māori who have longstanding grievances. The region has remained one of the most important pastoral areas in New Zealand, its status recognised when the government opened the Massey Agricultural College in the 1920s.

The Manawatu-Wanganui Region takes up a large proportion of the lower half of the North Island. It is the second-largest region in the North Island and the sixth-largest region in New Zealand, totalling 22,215 Km2 (8.1% of New Zealand's total land area). The region stretches from north of Taumarunui to south of Levin on the west coast, and across to the east coast from Cape Turnagain to Owhanga. It borders the Waikato, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay and Wellington Regions and includes river catchment areas that run from the volcanic plateau to the sea. The Pacific Ocean marks the eastern border and the Ruahine Ranges form a natural boundary between the region and Hawke's Bay. There are 10 territorial authorities within the region, and five of these straddle the boundary with other regions.

This extensive area includes a variety of landscape formations. Districts close to the Volcanic Plateau are higher and more rugged, often subject to harsh temperatures in winter. The Manawatu District has a much gentler topography, consisting mainly of the flat, tree-studded Manawatu Plains that run between the ranges and the sea. The land was under the sea till about 500,000 years ago and still has a very thick layer of marine sediment, which is about five or six million years old. A block faulting system underneath the thick sediment has raised a series of domes and gentle depressions. These structures can provide natural storage areas for oil and some of the Manawatu domes have been drilled. The domes have shaped the course of the Manawatu River, giving it a meandering path which, uniquely among New Zealand rivers, begins close to the east coast and exits on the west coast. The Manawatu River begins just inside the Hawke's Bay Region then flows through a deep gorge to the Manawatu Plains before exiting in the Tasman Sea. The Wanganui District is more rugged, with canyon-like valleys and gorges carved out of the soft rock by rivers and ocean waves.

The region includes a series of mountain ranges - notably the Tararua and the Ruahine Ranges - as well as the three major active volcanoes of the North Island. This triumvirate towers above the Volcanic Plateau. Mount Ruapehu, at 2,797 metres, is the tallest mountain in the North Island, Ngauruhoe reaches 2,291 m and Tongariro 1,968 m. During the last 100 years, Ruapehu has experienced six significant eruptions and has erupted as recently as 1995 and 1996.

Three major rivers divide the region: the Whanganui (290 km), Manawatu (182 km) and Rangitikei (241 km). The Whanganui is the second-longest river and has the second-largest catchment in the North Island and drains most of the inland region west of Lake Taupo. There are few roads in this area, which contains some of the largest surviving areas of native bush in the North Island.

Lower North Island[edit]

A composite landsat-7 image of the southwestern part of the Wellington Region

The region occupies the southern tip of the North Island, bounded to the west, south, and east by water. To the west lies the Tasman Sea and to the east the Pacific Ocean. At the southern end of the island these two bodies of water are joined by the narrow and turbulent Cook Strait, which is only 28 km wide at its narrowest point, between Cape Terawhiti and Perano Head in the Marlborough Sounds.

The region covers 7,860 km², and extends north to Otaki in the west and almost to Eketahuna in the east. Physically and topologically the region has four basic areas running roughly parallel to each other along a northeast-southwest axis.

The first of these four regions is a narrow coastal strip of plains running north from Paekakariki. This area, known as the Kapiti coast, contains numerous small towns, many of which gain at least a proportion of their wealth from tourism, largely due to their fine beaches.

Inland from this is rough hill country, formed along the same major geologic fault responsible for the Southern Alps in the South Island. Though nowhere near as mountainous as these, the Rimutaka and Tararua Ranges are still hard country and support only small populations, although it is in small coastal valleys and plains at the southern end of these ranges that the cities of Wellington and the Hutt Valley are located.

The third topological stripe of the region is the undulating hill country of the Wairarapa around the Ruamahanga River. This area, which beomes lower and flatter in the south (terminating in the wetlands around Lake Wairarapa contains much rich farmland. The final section of the region's topology is another section of rough hill country, lower than the Tararuas but far less economic than the land around the Ruamahanga River. Both of the hillier striations of the region are still largely forested.

West Coast of the South Island[edit]

wet Alpine Fault

The Alpine Fault is clearly visible from space, running along the western edge of the Southern Alps from the southwestern coast towards the northeastern corner of the South Island.

tas Tasman District is a large area at the top western side of the South Island of New Zealand. It covers 9,786 square kilometres and is bounded to the west by the Matiri Ranges, Tasman Mountains and the Tasman Sea. To the north Tasman and Golden Bays form its seaward edge, and the eastern boundary extends to the edge of Nelson city, and includes part of the Spencer Mountains and the Saint Arnaud and Richmond Ranges. The Victoria Ranges form Tasman's southern boundary and the district's highest point is Mt Owen, at 1,875 metres. The landscape is diverse. From large mountainous areas to valleys and plains, sliced by such major rivers as the Buller River, Motueka, Aorere, Takaka and Wairoa River. There's lush bush and bird life, golden beaches, the unique 40 kilometre sands of Farewell Spit, and boundless fishing in the bays and rivers. These assets make the district irresistible to tourists and precious to those who live there.

Tasman is home to three national parks - Abel Tasman National Park (New Zealand's smallest at 225.41 km²), Nelson Lakes National Park (1,017.53 km²) and Kahurangi National Park (4,520 km²).


The Nelson region is one of the regions of New Zealand and is administered as a unitary authority. It is positioned between Marlborough to the east and Tasman Region to the west

Many people believe Nelson has the best climate in New Zealand, in that it regularly tops the national statistics for sunshine hours, with an annual average total of over 2400 hours.

Nelson has beaches and a sheltered harbour. The harbour entrance is protected by a natural breakwater known as The Boulder Bank, which also reduces the effects of the tide on Nelson city's beach, Tahunanui. This allows for some of the safest sea bathing in the country.

Nelson is surrounded by mountains on three sides with Tasman Bay on the other. It functions as the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park, the Kahurangi National Park, and Rotoiti and Rotoroa in the Nelson Lakes National Park. It is a centre for both ecotourism and adventure tourism, and has a high reputation among caving enthusiasts due to several prominent cave systems around Takaka Hill and Mount Owen.

The marker at the "Centre of New Zealand"

The geographical "Centre of New Zealand" allegedly lies in Nelson; on a hilltop suspiciously convenient to the centre of the city. This supposed "centre" in fact simply marks the point deemed the "centre" for the purposes of early geographical surveys. The true geographical centre lies in a patch of unremarkable dense scrub in a forest on the Spooner Range near Tapawera, 35 kilometres southwest of Nelson.


Typical rugged coastline of the West Coast

The West Coast region reaches from Kahurangi Point in the north to Awarua Point in the south, a distance of 600 km. To the west is the Tasman Sea and to the east is the Southern Alps. Much of the land is rugged, although there are coastal plains around which much of the population resides.

The land is very scenic, with wild coastlines, mountains, and a very high proportion of native bush, much of it native temperate rain forest. Scenic areas include the Haast Pass, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki and the Heaphy Track.

The region has a very high rainfall due to the prevailing northwesterly wind pattern and the location of the Southern Alps.

The region's area is 23,000 km². It is divided into the three districts of Buller, Grey and Westland.


Fiordland is a geographic region of New Zealand that is situated on the south-western corner of the South Island. Most of it is covered by the Fiordland National Park, which has an area of 12,120 square kilometres, making it the largest national park in New Zealand and one of the larger parks in the world. Most of Fiordland is dominated by the Southern Alps and its ocean-flooded, steep western valleys. Situated within Fiordland are Browne Falls and Sutherland Falls, which rank among the tallest waterfalls in the world.

East Coast of the South Island[edit]


Marlborough's geography can be roughly divided into four sections. Two of these sections, in the south and the west, are mountainous. This is particularly true of the southern section, which rises to the peaks of the Kaikoura Ranges. These two mountainous regions are the final northern vestiges of the ranges that make up the Southern Alps, although that name is rarely applied to mountains this far north.

Between these two areas is the long straight valley of the Wairau River. This broadens to wide plains at its eastern end, in the centre of which stands the town of Blenheim. This region has fertile soil and temperate weather, and as such has become a centre of the New Zealand wine industry.

Marlborough's fourth geographic zone lies along its north coast. Here, the drowned valleys of the Marlborough Sounds make for a convoluted and attractive coastline. The town of Picton is located at the southern end of one of the larger sounds, Queen Charlotte Sound .


Canterbury is New Zealand's largest region, with an approximate area of 42,200 km². The region is bounded in the north by the Conway River and to the west by the Southern Alps. The southern boundary is the Waitaki River.

The area is commonly divided into North Canterbury (north of the Rakaia River), Mid Canterbury (from the Rakaia River to the Rangitata River), South Canterbury (south of the Rangitata River) and Christchrch (Christchurch City). For many purposes South Canterbury is considered a separate region, centred on the city of Timaru.

When the current local government structure was introduced in 1989, Kaikoura District was part of the Nelson-Marlborough Region. That region was later abolished and replaced with 3 unitary authorities. Kaikoura was too small to function as an independent unitary authority and was moved under the jurisdiction of the Canterbury Regional Council. However Kaikoura remains part of Marlborough in the minds of many people.

Other Islands[edit]

Besides the North and South Islands there are many inshore Islands in the New Zealand chain, the largest of which are Stewart Island/Rakiura, Great Barrier Island/Aotea and D'Urville Island

Outlying Islands are the Chatham Islands , Kermadec Islands and New Zealand sub-antarctic islands

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). These areas are not considered part of New Zealand geographically.

Human geography[edit]

See Regions of New Zealand

regions, roads, dams, forests

Maritime claims:
continental shelf: 200 nautical miles (370 km) or to the edge of the continental margin
exclusive economic zone: 200 nautical miles (370 km)
territorial sea: 12 nautical miles (22 km)

Wellington is the southernmost national capital in the world.

Geographic Features[edit]

earthquakes are common, though usually not severe; volcanic activity




more dams

Aoraki/Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand.


sun fun, snow

The climate throughout the country is mild, mostly cool temperate to warm temperate, with temperatures rarely falling below 0°C (32°F) or rising above 30°C (86°F). Conditions vary from wet and cold on the West Coast of the South Island to dry and continental in the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury and almost subtropical in Northland. Of the main cities, Christchurch is the driest, receiving only some 640 mm (25 in) of rain per year. Auckland, the wettest, receives almost twice that amount.

Climate: temperate with sharp regional contrasts

Resources and land use[edit]

maybe move this earlier

Natural resources: natural gas, iron ore, sand, coal, timber, hydropower, gold, limestone, Oil, Silver, Jade

Land use:
arable land: 5.8%
permanent crops: 6.44%
other: 87.76% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 2,850 km² (1998 est.)


animals, poluti0on

Environment - current issues: deforestation; water pollution; soil erosion; native flora and fauna hard-hit by introduced species.

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Basel Convention Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Antarctic Seals, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Marine Life Conservation


See also[edit]

  • ^ Ministry for the Environment. 2005. Offshore Options: Managing Environmental Effects in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone. Introduction
  • ^ On some 19th century maps, the North Island is named New Munster.
  • ^ Statistics New Zealand Geography - physical features
  • ^ The definite article is used with the names of the North and South islands, as the North Island and the South Island, like the North Sea and the Western World, but unlike Rangitoto Island or West Point. Maps, headings or tables and adjectival expressions use North Island, whereas the North Island is used after a preposition or before or after a verb, e.g. my mother lives in the North Island, the North Island is smaller than the South Island, or I'm visiting the North Island. When specifying the island where a place, person, or object is located, it is normal to use the word in rather than on, for example Hamilton is in the North Island.