Geography

New Zealand nestles in the region broadly known as the Antipodes, flanked on one side by the Tasman Sea, and on the other by the vastness of the mighty Pacific Ocean. Its nearest neighbour, Australia, is more than 2,000km to the west.

Covering a total area of 268,680 sq km (a little larger than the United Kingdom and slightly smaller than Japan), the country consists of two main land masses – the North and South Islands – divided by the Cook Strait. The considerably smaller Stewart Island, located towards Antarctica at the base of the South Island, and a series of smaller, satellite islands (including the inhabited Great Barrier and Chatham Islands, off the North and South Island mainland respectively) also form part of the country.

The North Island (115,777 sq km and 829km long) is home to both the capital city, Wellington, and Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. Across Cook Strait lies the South Island, which, at 515,215 sq km, is New Zealand’s largest land mass. Te Wai Pounamu (as the island is known in Maori) is renowned for its fiords and glaciers and is broadly divided along its length by the Southern Alps. It is also home to New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mt Cook/Aoraki.

For such a relatively small country the variety of lanscapes can appear wonderfully dramatic. The beautiful, windswept peninsula of Cape Reinga at the furthest tip of the country, which the Maori call the ‘Place of Leaping’ – the point from which the spirits of their departed leave for the spirit world – is in stark contrast to the rugged unpredictability of Stewart Island in the far south, home to Antarctic winds and dense coastal rainforest.

A journey from sub-tropical Auckland in the narrow finger of the upper third of the North Island (Te-Ika-a-Maui) to its southern centre, home to the country’s rich, volcanic landscape of hot springs, bubbling mud and dramatic geysers, offers the potential for trips that live up to the promise of New Zealand as a country where you can surf, sunbathe and ski all in one day. Raglan’s surf-pummeled beaches along the west coast, for example, are only hours away from the geothermal splendour of the Tongariro Crossing (famously depicted in blockbuster film trilogy ( The Lord of the Rings) and the snow-capped peaks of nearby Mt Ruapehu, an active cone volcano that is the island’s highest peak.

In the South Island, Milford Sound was carved from rocks by prehistoric glaciers, and its surrounding alpine peaks are a world away from the main cities of Christchurch and Dunedin. The inhospitality of this and nearby regions has meant that many of the South Island's ancient landscapes have remained largely untouched by man, boasting plant – and even some animal – life that predates the dinosaur. Furthest south of all, 30km south across the Foveaux Strait, is the rugged unpredictability of tiny (at 1,746sq km) Stewart Island, home to Antarctic winds, dense coastal rainforest and the Stewart Island Tokoeka, a rare species of Kiwi, New Zealand’s native bird.

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