World of Wonders Project:
The New Zealand Expedition


Welcome to the seventh phase of the Around-the-World driving expedition of the World of Wonders Project.  Read how Kim & Don explored the island nation of New Zealand, known by the Maori as Aotearoa or "Land of the long white cloud". This three month, 5000 mile journey began on January 22, 2007 in Auckland, returning to complete our exploration of the North Island in June 2007.

Explore the land that has been described as containing Mother Nature's best features:  mountains, fjords, beaches, rainforests and volcanoes.  Visit the original inhabitants of these islands, the Maoriin a traditional Wharenui, meeting house.  


New Zealand

  • Origins
  • Symbols
  • Regions
  • History
  • Economy
  • Geography and Climate
  • Population, Ethnic Groups, Culture and Religion
  • Fauna and Flora
  • Environment
  • Resource Links
    Lesson Plans
    Route Maps and Country Maps

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    Camping Information


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    Click on either map to see it in detail


    Origin of the name New Zealand One theory is that the country is named after the province of Zeeland (Sea-land) in the Netherlands.  The Māori call the country Aotearoa or "Land of the long white cloud".  


    Click on each link below to learn more about the symbols.
    • Capital - Wellington
    • National Animal - Kiwi
    • National Flag -
    • National Anthems - God Defend New Zealand, and God Save The Queen
    • Coat of Arms -  
    • Important Holidays - Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day

    Regional Councils

    New Zealand has 12Regional Councils



    (Click on any map to see it in detail)


    Twelve regional councils have responsibility for the environment and public transport.
    • Auckland regional council
    • Bay of plenty regional council 
    • Canterbury regional council 
    • Hawkes bay regional council 
    • Manawatu-wanganui regional council
    • Northland regional council
    • Otago regional council
    • Southland regional council
    • Taranaki regional council
    • Waikato regional council
    • Wellington regional council
    • West coast regional council
    The country is also broken down into 24 Regions for tourism.
    Language English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language  
    History and Government History

    The Polynesian Maoris were the first inhabitants of New Zealand, arriving on the islands in about A.D. 1000. Maori oral history maintains that the Maoris came to the island in seven canoes from other parts of Polynesia. In 1642, New Zealand was explored by Dutch navigator Abel Tasman, and British captain James Cook made three voyages to the islands, beginning in 1769.

    In 1840, the Maori chieftains entered into a compact with Britain, the Treaty of Waitangi, (Feb. 6, 1840) in which they ceded sovereignty to Queen Victoria while believing they were retaining territorial rights. In that same year, the British began their first organized colonial settlement. Misunderstanding of the treaty resulted in a series of land wars between 1843 and 1872 that ended with the defeat of the native peoples. The British colony of New Zealand became an independent dominion in 1907 and there have been efforts recently to address Maori land distribution issues.  This is celebrated by the annual Waitangi Day.

    ANZAC DAY in New Zealand is held on 25 April each year to commemorate New Zealanders killed in war and to honour returned servicemen and women.

    Source: CIA World Fact Book,


    The country of New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy. An independent nation since Sept. 26, 1907, it is part of the British Commonwealth. The chief of state is Queen Elisabeth II who is represented by Governor Anand Satyanand. The head of the government is Prime Minister Helen Clark.

    The capital of the country is Wellington. There are 16 regions and 1 territory*; Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Chatham Islands*, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Manawatu-Wanganui, Marlborough, Nelson, Northland, Otago, Southland, Taranaki, Tasman, Waikato, Wellington and West Coast.

    The constitution consists of a series of legal documents, including certain acts of the United Kingdom and New Zealand Parliaments, as well as The Constitution Act 1986, which is the principal formal charter; adopted 1 January 1987, effective 1 January 1987. The legal system is based on English law, with special land legislation and land courts for the Maori.

    Source: CIA World Fact Book


    Economy Economy

    New Zealand has a mixed economy that operates on free market principles. It has sizable manufacturing and service sectors complementing a highly efficient agricultural sector. The economy is strongly trade-oriented, with exports of goods and services accounting for around 33% of total output.

    Over the past 20 years the government has transformed New Zealand from an agrarian economy dependent on 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 $24,000 in 2005.

    Primary agricultural products produced are wheat, barley, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, wool, beef, lamb, dairy products and fish. Primary industries are food processing, wood and paper products, textiles, machinery, transportation equipment, banking and insurance, tourism and mining.

    New Zealand is heavily dependent on trade, particularly with its agricultural products, to drive growth. Exports are equal to about 22% of the GDP. Thus far the economy has been resilient and the Labor Government promises that expenditures on health, education, and pensions will increase proportionately to output.

    Source: CIA World Fact Book,

    What is the New Zealand Dollar worth today?  Check this out!

    What does the NZ Dollar look like?

    Geography and Climate Geography

    New Zealand, about 1,250 mi (2,012 km) southeast of Australia, consists of two main islands and a number of smaller outlying islands. The country is the size of Italy, the United Kingdom or the U. S. state of Colorado. New Zealand's two main components are North Island and South Island, separated by Cook Strait. North Island (44,281 sq mi; 115,777 sq km) is 515 mi (829 km) long and volcanic in its south-central part. This area contains many hot springs and geysers. South Island (58,093 sq mi; 151,215 sq km) has the Southern Alps along its west coast, with Mount Cook (12,316 ft; 3754 m) the highest point. Other inhabited islands include Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands, and Great Barrier Island. The largest of the uninhabited outlying islands are the Auckland Islands (234 sq mi; 606 sq km), Campbell Island (44 sq mi; 114 sq km), the Antipodes Islands (24 sq mi; 62 sq km), and the Kermadec Islands (13 sq mi; 34 sq km).

    The longest river is the Waikato on North Island, (425 km/264 miles) the largest inland stretch of water is Lake Taupo also on North Island (607 sq km/235 sq miles) and the highest point is Mount Cook on South Island (3,754 m/12316 ft). Over 75% of New Zealand is above 200m.

    Land use is broken down to approximately: forested 30% - meadows and pastures 50% - agricultural and under permanent cultivation 15%. Sheep and cattle graze on the rich farmland around Hamilton and New Plymouth in North Island and around Dunedin and Invercargill on South Island.



    New Zealand's climate is complex and varies from warm subtropical in the far north to cool temperate climates in the far south, with severe alpine conditions in the mountainous areas.

    Mountain chains extending the length of New Zealand provide a barrier for the prevailing westerly winds, dividing the country into dramatically different climate regions. The west coast of South Island is the wettest area of New Zealand, whereas the area to the east of the mountains, just over 100 km away, is the driest.

    Most areas of New Zealand have between 600 and 1600mm (23 and 62in) of rainfall, spread throughout the year with a dry period during the summer. Over the northern and central areas of New Zealand more rainfall falls in winter than in summer, whereas for much of the southern part of New Zealand, winter is the season of least rainfall.

    Mean annual temperatures range from 10°C (50°F) in the south to 16°C (60°F) in the north of New Zealand. The coldest month is usually July and the warmest month is usually January or February. In New Zealand generally there are relatively small variations between summer and winter temperatures, although inland and to the east of the ranges the variation is greater (up to 14°C, 58°F). Temperatures also drop about 0.7°C (3.5°F) for every 100m (330ft) of altitude.

    Areas east of the mountains have a high rate of sunshine hours and most of New Zealand would have at least 2,000 hours annually. The midday summer solar radiation index (UVI) is often very high in most places and can be extreme in northern New Zealand and in mountainous areas. Autumn and spring UVI values can be high in most areas.

    Most snow in New Zealand falls in the mountain areas. Snow rarely falls in the coastal areas of the North Island and west of the South Island, although the east and south of the South Island may experience some snow in winter. Frosts can occur anywhere in New Zealand and usually form on cold nights with clear skies and little wind.

    What is the weather right now in New Zealand?  Click here!


    Population, The Maori, Culture and Religion Population

    The population of New Zealand is approximately 4.1 million people. The population is made up of people of European descent: 69.8%, Maori: 7.9%, Asian: 5.7%, Pacific Islander: 4.4%, other 0.5%, mixed 7.8%, unspecified 3.8% (2001 census). Their religious breakdown is Anglican: 14.9%, Roman Catholic: 12.4%, Presbyterian: 10.9%, Methodist: 2.9%, Pentecostal: 1.7%, Baptist: 1.3%, other Christian: 9.4%, other: 3.3%, unspecified: 17.2%, none: 26% (2001 census). The official languages are English and Maori. 

    For greater detail on Cultural Diversity, see the Census Snapshot from 2001.

    Source: CIA World Fact Book

    The Maori

    The ancestors of the Maori were a Polynesian people originating from south-east Asia. The exact date of Polynesian settlement of the islands of New Zealand (Aotearoa) is unknown. Although previously thought to have been between 950-1130 AD, scholars now debate both the time and circumstances of first Polynesian settlement. The mythical Polynesian navigator, Kupe, was estimated by ethnologists in the 19th and early 20th centuries as having arrived around 925. The mythical Maori figure Toi was estimated as having visited New Zealand in 1150.

    The Great Fleet, considered to be the first mass arrival of Polynesian settlers, was estimated to have arrived in 1350. The Great Fleet forms part of the Maori canoe tradition, handed down orally from generation to generation. According to this tradition, the canoes of the Great Fleet arrived from the mythical homeland of Hawaiiki, known as the ancestral homeland, and generally considered as being somewhere in Eastern Polynesia.

    The first Polynesians settled mainly along the coasts of New Zealand, and especially the east coast, which was more hospitable and temperate in climate.

    Maoris are a tribal based people. Knowledge of ancestry and the ability to name each generation is a key to identity of the Maori culture. There are between seven and nine large tribal regions, although tribal boundaries are a matter for discussion between different tribes and different versions of history. There are about 160 tribal and sub-tribal groups.

    Maori culture is a rich and varied one, and includes traditional and contemporary arts. Traditional arts such as carving, weaving, kapa haka (group performance), whaikorero (oratory) and moko (tattoo) are practiced throughout the country. Practitioners following in the footsteps of their tipuna (ancestors) replicate the techniques used hundreds of years ago yet also develop exciting new techniques and forms. Today Maori culture also includes art, film, television, poetry, theatre and hip-hop.

    Source:,, Independent Travellers New Zealand by Christopher and Melanie Rice, 2005

    Fauna and Flora Flora and Fauna

    Isolated by the sea for 60-80 million years, New Zealand's plant and animal life is unique. Primeval forest trees and plants that have died out in larger lands continue to flourish in NZ. Flightless and ground-dwelling birds have evolved to fill niches that would have been taken by mammals elsewhere in the world. Among the most notable of New Zealand's unique indigenous species are the kiwi, the world's oldest reptile (tuatara), the world's largest parrot (kakapo), the world's only mountain parrot (kea), the heaviest insect (weta) and New Zealand's native giant tree, the kauri.

    Apart from seals and two species of bats, New Zealand has no indigenous land mammals. Some of the land mammals introduced to New Zealand have become pests, such as the rabbit, the deer, the pig (now wild), and the Australian possum. Sea mammals include whales and dolphins.

    There is a great diversity of birds, some 250 species in all, including breeding and migratory species. Among the flightless birds the most interesting is the kiwi, New Zealand's national symbol and the only known bird with nostrils at the tip of the bill instead of at the base. Other characteristic birds are the kea, a mountain parrot, and the tui, a beautiful songbird. All but one species of penguins are represented in New Zealand. Several species of birds, the most famous being the Pacific godwit, migrate from breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle to spend spring and summer in New Zealand. There are many flightless insects and a diversity of small life forms.

    About 75% of the native flora is unique, and it includes some of the world's oldest plant forms. The kauri pine, now found only in parts of North Island, is world famous for its timber. The rimu and the totara also are timber trees. Other trees include the pohutukawa and other species of rata and kowhai. New Zealand flax, formerly of great importance in the Maori economy, is found in swampy places. Undergrowth in the forests consists largely of ferns, of which there are 145 species. Tussock grass occurs on all mountains above the scrub line and over large areas on South Island.

    The arrival of the Maori and Europeans dramatically altered the landscape. The Maori's main impact arose from the burning of native vegetation to facilitate hunting the moa (a now extinct giant flightless bird) and the Europeans made their mark by further converting forests and native flora to pasture land and by the introduction of many foreign plants and animals.


    Environment Because of its relatively small population, New Zealand's natural resources have so far suffered less from the pressures of development than have those of many other industrialized nations. Air pollution from cars and other vehicles is an environmental concern in New Zealand. The use of fossil fuels contributes to the problem. 

    Water pollution is also a problem due to industrial pollutants and sewage.  The nation's cities produce an average of 2.3 million tons of solid waste per year.

    Another environmental issue in New Zealand is the development of its resources—forests, gas and coal fields, farmlands—without serious cost to natural beauty and ecological balance. Two-thirds of the nation's forests have been eliminated.

    In 2001, 3 of New Zealand's mammal species and 44 types of birds were endangered, as were 165 plant species. Native species have been seriously endangered by species introduced from outside the country.

    Source: Encyclopedia of the Nations


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     Kim and Don Greene, Contributors; publication date January 17, 2007