New Zealand, Aotearoa, is an island nation in the southwestern Pacific Ocean some 1,500 k (900 mi) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly 1,000 k (600 mi) south of the Pacific islands of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Geographically, the country comprises two main landmasses separated by the Cook Strait – the North Island, or Te Ika-a-Māui, and the South Island, or Te Waipounamu – and numerous smaller islands. The larger South Island is divided along its length by the snow-capped Southern Alps with 18 peaks over 3,000 m (9,800 ft), the highest of which is Aoraki / Mount Cook 3,754 m (12,316 ft). Fjordland's steep mountains and deep fjords resulted from extensive ice age glaciation of the south-western corner of the South Island. The North Island is less mountainous but is marked by volcanism. During its long isolation from other landmasses, New Zealand developed a distinctive biodiversity of animal and plant life. Before the arrival of humans an estimated 80 percent of the land was covered in forests which were dominated by birds; the lack of predators led to some evolving flightlessness, most notably the iconic national bird, the kiwi. The arrival of humans, associated changes to habitat, and the introduction of predatory mammals led to the extinction of many bird species.

  Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans, probably Eastern Polynesians between 1250 and 1300 CE, concluding a long series of voyages through the southern Pacific islands. Over the centuries that followed these settlers developed a distinct culture now known as Maori. The first Europeans known to have reached New Zealand were Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and his crew in 1642. Europeans did not revisit New Zealand until 1769 when British explorer James Cook mapped almost the entire coastline. Following Cook, New Zealand was visited by numerous European and North American whaling, sealing and trading ships. They traded food, metal tools, weapons and other goods for timber, food, artifacts and water. The Maori population declined to around 40 percent of its pre-contact level during the 19th century; introduced diseases were the major factor.

  Captain William Hobson declared British sovereignty over all of New Zealand on 21 May 1840 and the number of immigrants, particularly from the United Kingdom, began to increase. It became a separate Colony of New Zealand on 1 July 1841. In 1856, the colony effectively became self-governing; today, New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Elizabeth II is the Queen of New Zealand and the Head of State and is represented by a Governor-General. The Parliament legislates and consists of the Queen and the House of Representatives led by a Prime Minister, who is the Parliamentary leader of the governing party or coalition. New Zealand's national defense needs are modest because of the unlikelihood of direct attack, although it does have a global presence. The country fought in both World Wars, with notable campaigns in Gallipoli, Crete, El Alamein and Cassino. The Gallipoli campaign of WWI played an important part in fostering New Zealand's national identity and strengthened the ANZAC tradition it shares with Australia.

  The current population of New Zealand is about 4.5 million and it is a predominantly urban country, with 72 % of the population living in 16 urban areas and 53 % living in the four largest cities of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington (the capital), and Hamilton. New Zealand cities generally rank high on international livability measures. The largely rural life in early New Zealand led to the image of New Zealanders being rugged, industrious problem solvers. Modesty was expected and enforced through the "tall poppy syndrome", where high achievers received harsh criticism. Most of the major sports played in New Zealand have British origins, and rugby union is considered the national sport, attracting the most spectators. Outdoor activities including hiking, camping, mountaineering, cycling, and fishing attract both locals and tourists looking for adventures in the country's clean air and grand vistas.


  The smallest of the seven continents as well as the largest island on Earth, Australia offers landscapes from the northern tropical rain forests and swamps to the alpine heights of the southeastern mountains, passing through limitless deserts of sand and rock along the way. The beaches are glorious, the rivers are largely untamed, and the flora and fauna are unique. On the east, Australia is fringed by the world’s longest ocean reef, the Great Barrier Reef, and south of the continent, the Southern Ocean stretches to Antarctica.

  Humans entered Australia some 45,000 years ago by way of land bridges and short sea voyages from Southeast Asia. Until the European settlement in the 18th century, the continent was left to evolve in its own way, unseen and untouched by the rest of the world; when they were encountered by Europeans, the Indigenous Australians were still hunter-gatherers with a complex oral culture based on reverence for the land and religious beliefs anchored in the Dreamtime. The Dutch were the first Europeans to sight the continent in 1606, but there was no attempt at settlement until 170 years later: after Captain James Cook mapped the east coast in 1770 a fleet of ships with convicted British criminals aboard reached Australia in 1788 and a settlement was established which ultimately became the city of Sydney. During the 19th century, exploration of the central and western areas continued, more towns were founded, gold and gemstones were discovered, farming and ranching covered vast lands, and commerce and industry expanded. By the later half of the century the territories had developed effective local governments and in 1907, Australia became a dominion of the British Empire.  After World War II, the country became an independent constitutional monarchy, technically headed by a London-appointed Governor-General, but realistically governed by a Parliament and an elected Prime Minister. The Indigenous Australians fared badly during British colonialism, losing perhaps 50% of their people to disease; the survivors were subjected to highly discriminatory policies, the effects of which are still felt today.

  Though Australia has world class large cities like Sydney and Melbourne with refined cosmopolitan ambiance, the country fosters a rugged, individualistic, ‘frontier’ image—surfing, trekking, camping, and river-running are favorite pastimes, and travel, at the budget or below level, is indulged in by the youth.

Places I've visited are marked in red

Australia  2013

New Zealand 2013

Australia  2012


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