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Geography

Not everyone knows where New Zealand is?! If you don't, well, read on and hopefully we'll give you a geographical understanding as well as provide some context as to how our spectacular little country got to where it is today in the Pacific Ocean.

Where is New Zealand?

New Zealand (or Aotearoa as it is known in the Maori language) is an elongated group of islands in the Southwest Pacific. Our neighbor Australia (that very flat, independent continent) lies about 1000 miles (1600 kilometers) to the west across the Tasman Sea. That's slightly more than the length of the state of California and, interestingly, roughly the distance a cruise missile can travel! To the north are the Pacific island nations of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and so on. About 1500 miles (2500 kilometers) south of us is Antarctica – far enough for us to have warm summers, but close enough to have the odd, and usually somewhat confused, Emperor penguin wash up on one of our sandy beaches. In fact, a few years ago we even had a reasonably large iceberg float past us. We couldn't resist claiming it as our own so we flew a celebrity sheep named ‘Shrek' out to the iceberg to have his wool shorn on the ice.

Anyway, out to the east of us… nothing. Literally, for about 5000 miles (8000 kilometers) there are only albatrosses, whales and Easter Island until you get to South America. But it wasn't always like this.

New Zealand was once part of the super-continent of Gondwana, which also included most of the rest of the Southern Hemisphere: South America, Antarctica, Africa, Madagascar, Australia, India and even the Arabian Peninsula. Thankfully, during the early Jurassic period, Gondwana began to split up and New Zealand gradually drifted off to its current spot.

For a long time, New Zealand almost disappeared – it was just a handful of tiny little islands with most of the land submerged under the sea. But then about 20 million years ago, the country started to be pushed up by geologic forces and nowadays the Southern Alps are among the fastest-rising mountains in the world – at a rate of about 5mm a year – quite a comeback!

We say 'thankfully' Gondwana split up because having Australia as a neighbor across the Tasman is one thing, but having them within walking distance would be quite another. Imagine what would happen if the two countries were connected! We would lose our greatest sporting rivalry, have to negotiate many a poisonous reptile or spider and potentially even sing Waltzing Matilda. Besides, the All Blacks doing the Haka with a touch of yellow and green wouldn't be a good look. 

So, for about 80 million years, New Zealand has been mainly surrounded by great oceans, which let our flora and fauna evolve into a unique and slightly odd mix. Flightless birds were able to flourish without predatory mammals and each was able to fill an interesting ecological function. For instance, Takahe birds ate grass whilst Moa and Kakapo browsed the forest and Kiwi birds ate the insects.

'The Land of the Long White Cloud' (named after the often cloud-shrouded Southern Alps) wasn't inhabited by any humans until Polynesians landed by way of huge ocean-going canoes (waka) sometime between 1100AD and 1350AD. To put that it into historical context, the animals ruled the land in these parts until well after William Wallace was roaming Scotland in the movie Braveheart!

Nowadays, New Zealand is an adventurer's playground – mountains, rivers, rainforest, glaciers, lakes and simply extraordinary coastline all contained in a little country about the size of California.

In this section

Approx NZ flight times

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