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New Zealand lies in the South Pacific Ocean, about
1,900 kilometres south east of Australia. The North
and South Island are separated by the Cook
Straight, one of the most notorious stretches of
open sea in the world, and have a combined
lengthof 2 000 kilometres. To the South
of theSouth Island, and separated from
it by the Foveaux Strait, is Stewart Island.

The country has many spectacular landscapes,
with rivers, fiords, glaciers, and
volcanoes. The landmass is
dominated by a mountain
backbone which runs roughly
through the North and South Islands.

In the South Island this feature
appears as the high glacial
Southern Alps. The highest
point, Mount Cook, is 3,764
meters above sea level
(it was higher until the summit cracked off a few years ago). On the North Island, the mountain range divides into east and west wings, or rather lower altitudes. The areas of flat land are usually small and pocketed.

New Zealand forms part of the Volcanic Basin of the Pacific, and the large flat area in the Centre of the North Island is a volcanic plateau. The main volcanoes are Mt Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu. A few such as Ngauruhoe, are still active. Areas of baking mud and geysers are found in the central part of the country.

The long, narrow shape of the country gives a range of climates between subtropical in the north and subarctic in the extreme south. However the weather is moderated by the surrounding sea and most of the country has a temperate, sunny climate with adequate rainfall. Average annual temperatures are 15C in the South. Rainfall, which averages 161cm, is distributed fairly evenly throughout the year. Amounts vary: the wettest area is the west coast of the South Island (up to 500cm a year) whilst the east coasts are drier.

Winters tend to be less severe than in Western Europe except that there are occasional heavy falls of snow in the South Island. Autumn and winter are from March to August, and spring and summer from September to February. Wind is also a feature with Wellington the worst affected city; it is windy on average 200 days a year.

Wellington is situated at the southern tip of the North Island; it was founded in the 1840's, on the south-west shore of Port Nicholoson, now Wellington Harbour, off the Cook Strait. Known as Windy Wellington, the winds funnelling through the Cook Strait are at their strongest during spring and autumn and ensure that the air is never polluted. The harbour is magnificent and contributed to the development of the city as a major port. The city succeeded Auckland as the capital of New Zealand in 1865 and since that time has spread up into the high encircling hills. It considers itself to be the country's cultural capital.

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, lying between two large harbours (Waitemata and Manukau) on a narrow isthmus separating the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. On the landside the city is surrounded by volcanic hills. Surrounded by so much water is not surprising that sailing is one of the major pastimes, so much so that the city has become nicknamed 'The city of sails'.

The main open space in the city-centre is the 80 hectare Auckland Domain, a mixture of parkland and sportsfield. It also houses the Auckland War Memorial Museum which contains outstanding examples of Maoriart. Mount Eden, which lies around 4 km from the centre, affords a panoramic view of the city and its surroundings.

Buildings of note include various colonial-period houses such as Ewelme Cottage and Kinder House, both open to the public. In the Southern part of the city, Howick Colonial Village is a restored village with buildings dating from 1840-1880; it too is open to the public.

Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island, with a regional population of over 300,000, it is an important industrial and trading area with a port at Lyttleton as its main distribution centre. Often referred to as the Garden city it could easily be likened to any small city in England.

Dunedin is the most southerly of the New Zealand's major cities. It has a population of around 120,000 , making it the second largest city of the South Island. Its importance as an industrial centre is increasing, together with its nearby port, Port Chalmers but it is best known for its university .

Other towns include:

North Island
Hamilton (105,000), the country's fourth largest city and centre of the Waikato region; Palmerston North (74,000); Napier / Hastings (110,000); Taurange (74,000); Rotorua (60,000), an internationally known tourist centre with hot springs; New Plymouth, Wanganui (45,000), Whangarei and Gisborne, all with a population of between 30,000 and 50,000.

South Island
Invercargill (52,000); Nelson (45,000); Timaru (28,000).

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