New Zealand is a self-governing country, (a Parliamentary Democracy, although there is talk of a Rebublic within ten years) in the Southern Pacific Ocean, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It comprises two large islands—North Island and South Island—and numerous smaller islands, including Stewart Island, to the south of South Island. The area of New Zealand is 268,676 sq km (103,736 sq mi).
New Zealand lies within the Temperate Zone; the climate is generally mild, and seasonal differences are not great. The north end of the Auckland Peninsula has the warmest climate; the coldest climate occurs on the southwestern slopes of the Southern Alps. Rainfall is generally moderate to abundant and, except in a small area in the south central part of South Island, exceeds 508 mm (20 in) annually.
The land is the most important resource of New Zealand. It is ideal for crop farming, dairy farming, and 50 Million sheep, all of which predominate in the economy. Forest products are also important. Numerous mineral deposits are found throughout the main islands, including coal, gold, pearlite, sand and gravel, limestone, bentonite, clay, dolomite, and magnesite.
The earliest (pre-European) cultural tradition in New Zealand was that of the Maori. The literature consisted of history, tales, poems, and myths handed down by oral tradition – ie fireside stories. The indigenous art of New Zealand was also Maori. European settlers, particularly the English, brought with them their own traditions, colored by an unsettled, expatriate sentiment that was a strong influence on the cultural life of the country until the early 20th century, but that has since given way to a more multicultural society.
English is the official First language, and Maori the official Second language, although it is rare to hear Maori spoken in the Urban environment. Most Maoris do not speak Maori, a Polynesian language, but they learn it as a second language and speak it amongst themselves.
The New Zealand dollar (sign: $; code: NZD) is the currency of New Zealand.