New Zealand Facts

New Zealand Facts and History


New Zealand – “Land of the Great White Cloud”

New Zealand consists of two islands of roughly the same size, separated by a waterway (Cook Strait). The Cook Strait is around 20 km wide at its narrowest point.

The country was one of the areas in the world that humans settled relatively late. The exact date is controversial, the permanent settlement by the Polynesians flew between 1250 and 1350 AD. Before that, people had certainly sporadically gone ashore. The strong influence of Maori culture in the country is striking. English and Maori names for regions, mountains or rivers seem to alternate at random.

The Maoris are from Polynesia and probably immigrated to what is now New Zealand from the Cook and Society Islands around 1,300 AD. Around 1850, the white settlers began to refer to the natives with the term “Maori”. By the way, “Maori” means “normal, mortal people” and distinguishes them from the gods. Hinteaparangi, the wife of Kupes, New Zealand is the name of “Aotearoa” – “Land of the Great White Cloud”. Kupe was one of the leaders of the canoes that came from the South Seas with the Polynesian settlers.

The Pakeha, i.e. the non-Maori population, have a difficult time with their identity. Conservative whites are happy to emphasize that they are New Zealanders in their fifth generation. The Maoris, who were not allowed to cultivate their culture until well into the 50s, are currently busy with the revival of it. In 2004 the Maori TV broadcaster went online, which is supposed to be a contact not only for the Maoris, but also for all other ethnic groups in New Zealand. New Zealand society is still divided into at least two large groups, which the state tries to cope with in spite of all difficulties.

The state, which is based on land ownership and land trade or confiscation, has to deal with the concept of ownership of two worlds. The western one, characterized by individual ownership, who sees land as a commodity, and the Polynesian, who sees land as the collective property of a tribe and for whom the land is partially sacred. In New Zealand it can happen that a real estate or development project is stopped by a Maori tribe declaring the land required for it taboo.

Even today, New Zealand is a relatively young nation that has to find its identity after it has been detached from its mother country England. Ultimately, New Zealand is a small island nation in the South Pacific with the customs and rules of a South Sea island – and that unites all groups again. Angling – “going fishing” – is the nation’s favorite pastime. Nation building is an important task for New Zealand. It is a young immigrant nation whose proportion of Asian residents has risen dramatically in recent history. In New Zealand there is certainly tensions among the various ethnic groups, but these are carried out in a democratic way. And because the nation is so small, it is relatively easy for people with unusual ideas to be heard and influence.

The New Zealanders refer to themselves as kiwis, after a ground-breeding bird found in New Zealand. The country has an area of 270,530 km² and thus covers around 75% of the area of Germany – but with only around four million residents. New Zealand is characterized by a temperate climate and especially by the fact that there are neither poisonous animals nor predators there. New Zealand represents the southern point of the Polynesian triangle that circumscribes the Polynesian culture. Hawaii forms the north and Easter Island forms the eastern point. One of the largest cities within the triangle with Polynesian residents is Auckland. The capital of New Zealand is Wellington. New Zealand is one of the world’s last paradise for motorists. You can almost always drive directly to the sea and if you have an off-road vehicle, nothing will prevent you from driving along the wide beaches, which are not more than 128 km away from any point in the country.


On February 22, 2011, the city of Christchurch – New Zealand’s second largest city – located on the South Island was hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake. By February 25, over 100 dead and 200 missing were counted. Parts of the city are badly damaged, for example the roof of the cathedral collapsed. It was estimated that around 1,000 houses were completely or partially destroyed. It was the strongest quake in 60 years. The government declared a state of emergency and spoke of a national tragedy.

Name of the country New Zealand/Aotearoa
Form of government Parliamentary democracy with the English king as head of state
Geographical location New Zealand consists of two islands of roughly the same size, approx. 1,600 km south-east of Australia
National anthem “God Defend New Zealand” and “God Save The Queen” have equal rights
Head of state Queen Elisabeth – represented by a governor general
Head of government John Key of the right-wing liberal National Party
Population Around 4.8 million (Credit: Countryaah: New Zealand Population)
Ethnicities 75% white, 15% Maori, 6% other Polynesians, 4% Asians
Religions 63% Christians of various faiths, 31% non-denominationaland around 2% Maori Christians, 1.2% Buddhists, 1.1% Hindus, 1.1% Muslims, 0.2% Jews, approx. 1% others
Languages English, Te Reo Maori has been the second official language since 1987 and New Zealand Sign Language since 2006
Continent New Zealand does not belong to any continent
Capital Wellington
Surface 270,534 km²
Highest mountain Mount Cook with a height of 3,764 m
Longest river Waikato River, 265 mi
Largest lake in area Lake Taupo, 616 km²
International license plate NZ
Currency NZD, New Zealand dollars
Time difference to CET +10 to +12 h, depending on summer time in Germany and New Zealand.Add another 45 minutes to the Chatam Islands.
International phone code 0064
Mains voltage, frequency 220 volts, 50 hertz
Internet TLD (Top Level Domain) .nz

New Zealand: history

Until around the year 1000

200 million years ago New Zealand was part of the land mass known as Gondwana. Australia, the Antakrtis, India and South America belonged to this primary continent.

According to Abbreviationfinder website, about 150-130 million years ago the land mass began to divide. New Zealand remained connected to Australia and New Guinea until around 85-60 million years ago. It is believed that New Zealand and the island of New Caledonia broke away from the remaining land mass.

There is no evidence that the country was inhabited by humans before AD 1000.

The exact arrival of the Polynesians is a matter of dispute. Some suspect that these came to New Zealand as early as 700-1000 AD. However, it is undisputed that they came in several waves of immigration. The legends and myths of the Maoris tell of several canoes, “wakas”, that went ashore in different places. It is told of a legendary country Hawaiki, from which the ancestors are said to have set out.

Most of the Polynesians came from what is now the Cook Islands. They brought rats and dogs with them to New Zealand, which were responsible for the fact that a little later around 40% of the domestic birds were exterminated, as they were and are predominantly ground-breeders. New Zealand belonged to the area last settled by the Polynesians.

New Zealand marks the southern point of the Polynesian triangle that circumscribes the Polynesian culture. The triangle is marked by Easter Island in the east and Hawaii in the north.

The islands in the Pacific were settled from the west over a period of several centuries: Hawaii around AD 600, Easter Island around AD 700, and New Zealand around 1250-1300. Scientists now suspect that the Pacific islands were originally settled from Taiwan.

Legend has it that Kupe, the leader of the first Maoris who set out for New Zealand in various canoes, reached the country in 950 but later returned to his home in Hawaiki.

From the year 1000 to the 17th century

According to serious scientific studies, the Polynesians (Maoris) settled New Zealand from today’s Cook and Society Islands around 1300 AD. Before that, the country was inhabited by the Morioris, who also came from the South Sea islands. The Maoris enslaved the Morioris and are said to have even partially eaten them.

Today the Morioris live on the Chatam Islands, which are about 860 km east of the South Island.

The Polynesians brought a number of plants and animals with them to New Zealand, which led to significant changes and damage to the native fauna and flora. The kiore, a Polynesian rat that was considered a delicacy there, partially destroyed the native lizard, bird and frog populations.

They hunted a native bird, the approx. 3 m high Mora, and ate it because of its tasty meat. Due to the lack of enemies, the animal was not shy and therefore easy to capture. It has since been exterminated.

The first European whose landing in New Zealand is documented was the Dutch Abel Tasman (1603-1659) from the East India Company, who came from Batavia on Java (today’s Jakarta/Indonesia) with the two ships “Heemskirk” and “Zeehaan “set out to explore the mysterious and unknown” Südland “. First he landed in Tasmania, from where he then reached New Zealand. He entered the country for the first time on December 13, 1642. When landing in Golden Bay (Wharariki Beach) in the northwest of the South Island, four of his sailors were killed in an attack by locals. His landing, however, is not recognized by all historians. From New Zealand he sailed to the Tonga, Fiji and Solomon Islands until he returned to Batavia on June 15, 1643.

Abel Tasman is therefore considered to be the real discoverer of Australia, which he was the first to completely circle around it without knowing it. The island of Tasmania (in the south of Australia) and the sea between Australia and New Zealand were later named after him.

In the 18th and 19th centuries

Due to the hostile attitude of the native people living there, the Maoris, New Zealand was initially largely avoided by the Europeans. It was not until 1769 that James Cook (1728-1779) landed the “Endeavor” for the first time on the coast of New Zealand. On this trip, one of three to the region, he laid claim to the land on behalf of the English crown.

Due to the reputation of the Maoris as fierce warriors, the English decided not to develop New Zealand as a prisoner colony, but Australia.

After Cook, more and more Europeans came to the country, mostly as seal hunters, whalers or timber traders. These came occasionally and often married Maori women. Today they are called “Pakeha Maori”. Coexistence was usually peaceful. Around the year 1840, around 2,000 Europeans lived among around 90,000 Maoris.

New Zealand Company

On August 29, 1829 the “New Zealand Company” was founded. It was a speculative society that raised lots of money and sold land in New Zealand to its members. The whole matter was highly speculative considering the company was selling land that it had not previously owned. The company was also in a race with the English government, which was busy establishing a government in New Zealand based on a treaty with the indigenous people recognized as sovereign.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862) of the New Zealand Company arrived in New Zealand in August 1829. Wakefield negotiated with the Maoris over land sales in Port Nicholson. Wakefield was under enormous time pressure, because he must have taken possession of the lands before the English crown and he finally had to assign land to his troubled shareholders.

On January 22, 1840, the first immigrant ship, the Aurora, reached New Zealand in what is now Wellington. Incidentally, the immigrants had been appropriately selected from English society: some wealthy people who were supposed to bring capital into the country, and many who had no property to do the work in the colony.

Waitangi Treaty

In the north, a few days later, on February 6, 1840, Captain William Hobson (1792-1842) of the British Crown signed the Waitangi Agreement with representatives of the Maori tribes, which was later signed by over 500 Maori chiefs.

Waitangi is now a small town on the Bay of Islands in the north of the North Island above Auckland. In the treaty, the Maoris were recognized as equal citizens of the British Crown, they were granted around 10% of the land and granted a number of rights such as fishing and economic rights in the coastal areas.

The treaty is considered to be the founding document of New Zealand. Hobson soon moved the seat of government to Auckland.

By this time, the New Zealand Company had already appropriated more than 200 million acres (1a = around 4,067 m2) of land.

Wakefield established settlements in Wellington, Nelson, Wanganui, New Plymouth, Canterbury (Christchurch) and Otago (Dunedin). In his plans he hardly considered the interests of the Maori.

The influence of the Europeans on the lives of the indigenous people was initially devastating. So the Maoris were literally carried away by diseases such as measles or chickenpox, which they had never known before. In addition, the Maoris had nothing to oppose the armed with firearms and rather hostile colonialists.

Tens of thousands of Maoris were killed in this way in the first half of the 19th century.

The Christian missionaries who came to the country in ever greater numbers also had no very positive influence at that time. The first was Samuel Marsden (1764-1838), who founded the first Anglican Mission in the country in 1814.

Despite the Waitangi Treaty, a war broke out between Maoris and white settlers over land rights in 1860. The war didn’t end until 1869.

The discussion about the “foreshore and seabed” as a result of the treaty is very controversial in New Zealand today. Because of this state treaty, the entire fishing rights of New Zealand are in the hands of the Maoris. When the contract was signed, the whites only wanted to exploit the forest and farmland. Nowadays the fishing industry is quite lucrative and some people no longer feel bound by the contract.

In 1861 gold was discovered in Gabriel’s Gully in Otago on the South Island. A brief gold rush followed.

The colony experienced serious economic difficulties around 1870. Under Julius Vogel, the state began to run into huge amounts of debt in order to promote the construction of roads, railways and a telegraph network, and of course to create jobs. By 1881 there were half a million white settlers in the country.

The colony, which was then struggling for economic survival, was helped by the advancement of technology. In 1882 the first reefer ship, the SS Dunedin, sailed from New Zealand to London. Meat and dairy products were added to the export goods wool. The latter are still one of the pillars of the New Zealand economy.


As a result of the land wars across New Zealand in the mid-19th century, Parihaka was founded. All Maoris from different tribes found a new home here. All homeless Maoris from all over New Zealand were accepted. The place prospered. Around 1870 it was the largest Maori settlement in New Zealand. Parihaka was headed by two chiefs:

Te Whiti O Rongomai from the Te Atiawa tribe and Tohu Kakahi from the Ngati Ruanui tribe. Both leaders were staunch pacifists, both were convinced of the peaceful coexistence of the whites and the Maoris. The whites, however, portrayed them as religious fanatics. Around 1879, the colonial government began to confiscate the fields of the village and thereby deprive it of its economic basis.

Most of the residents of Parihaka put up peaceful resistance by continuing to cultivate the claimed fields, with the result that the able-bodied men were sent to the South Island for forced labor. Meanwhile, the white settlers illegally appropriated the land of Parihaka.

On November 5, 1881, around 1,500 soldiers entered the village. The leaders of the place were arrested, the village was destroyed and the fields devastated. The residents were forced to leave the place. Two years later the two leaders were allowed to return. They worked to rebuild Parihaka until their death in 1907.

The place has not yet recovered from this blow. The Marae (tribal house) of Parihaka makes a poor impression compared to many other maraes in New Zealand.

To this day, the New Zealand state has not been able to condemn the injustice of appropriation and to regulate the ownership of the lands according to the rule of law. The influence of the racist landowning families in Taranaki Province is still too strong.

In November 2005, a UN representative was even there to investigate the matter.

By 1883, the Maoris owned less than 50% of the North Island’s land.

In 1890 conditions for the common white man were greatly improved. The large farms were divided into smaller ones, old age pensions were introduced and working conditions improved. At the same time, however, the laws were changed so that it became easier to expropriate Maoris and evict them from their land.

In 1885 the kiwi was registered as a trademark and in 1889 the fern leaf as a trademark for dairy products.

20th century until today

Women’s suffrage was introduced in New Zealand in 1893. New Zealand is generally considered to be the first country to give women the right to vote, which is not true at all. Women were allowed to vote in the Pitcairn Islands as early as 1838 and in the Norfolk Islands west of New Zealand in 1858.

By 1901, half of New Zealand’s European population lived on the North Island and the number of Maoris rose again. In the meantime they had become immune to the introduced diseases, contrary to expectations that they would become extinct.

From 1902 New Zealand hoisted its own flag instead of the British flag.

In 1905 the New Zealanders showed the British how to play rugby. The legend of the “All Blacks”, New Zealand’s national rugby team, was born.

In 1907, the former colony of New Zealand gained full sovereignty as part of the British Commonwealth with its own parliament and government. New Zealand regiments participated in the First World War on the Allied side. The combined Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) suffered heavy losses against the Turks in the Battle of Gallipoli on the Dardanelles. Since 1920, April 25th has been an important holiday in New Zealand as Anzac Day, and by the way also in Australia.

In the Second World War, the country also took part on the side of the Allies.

In 1945 New Zealand was involved in the founding of the United Nations because it hoped that the institution would protect the small nations.

In the 1950s, New Zealand was one of the most prosperous countries in the world.

In 1966 the world market prices for wool, one of the country’s main export goods, fell sharply. The country’s standard of living began to decline.

In 1971 the Maori political protest movement formed on Waitangi Day.

When England joined the EC in 1973, a major sales market suddenly collapsed for New Zealand, as it previously lived largely from exporting milk and meat products to England. The consequences were devastating, socialist New Zealand had to file for bankruptcy. The socialist government under David Lange (1942-2005) was forced to introduce far-reaching reforms in 1984. For example, New Zealanders who wanted to travel abroad were only allowed to take a minimal amount of money out of the country. New Zealand quickly went from being a socialist and highly regulated economic system to being one of the freest market economies in the world. The farmers lost their subsidies, the exchange rate was unblocked, state property was privatized and hundreds of civil servants were sacked. Many New Zealanders lost their existence overnight. Pensions that had been saved for decades no longer existed, etc. You literally started at zero hour.

In 1985 New Zealand declared itself free of nuclear weapons. The Americans were banned from bringing nuclear weapons into New Zealand territory. To this day, the nuclear-weapon-free zone continues to create tension between the Americans and New Zealand.

In the same year, French intelligence agents sank the Greenpeace ship “Rainbow Warrior” in the port of Auckland, which lies in the heart of the city, and killed one person during their operation.

In 1996 New Zealand changed its voting rights based on the German model.

In 1997, the Ngai Tahu Maori tribe received NZD 170 million in reparation.

The “Maori Land Court” was set up to create an institution for the Maoris where they can reclaim their land.

What problems there are still between the “whites” and the Maoris over land rights, maritime rights and, more recently, over the rights to oil, was shown by the huge demonstration by Maoris on April 27, 2004, when around 50,000 Maoris for their rights walked the street and completely paralyzed traffic on the Harbor Bridge in Auckland for many hours.

Helen Clark (born 1946) was elected the country’s first female Prime Minister in 1999 and was re-elected in 2002 and 2005.

In the parliamentary elections on November 8, 2008, the right-wing liberal National Party won a surprisingly high victory with around 45% over Helen Clark’s party, which received only 34% of the vote. The new head of government then became the former investment banker John Key (born in 1961 in Auckland), whose mother, as a Jew from Vienna, first emigrated to London and later to New Zealand in 1939 before the Nazis.

New Zealand Facts