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New Zealand - The Country

Surrounded by the world's largest ocean and with no inland area more than 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the shoreline, New Zealand's history and culture are closely tied to the sea and wind-powered vessels.

New Zealand's first inhabitants  — the Polynesian people known as the Maori, who named the island chain Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud  — arrived by outrigger canoe.Centuries later European explorers and emigrants arrived aboard square-rigged ships.

The Auckland settlement became a port of call for whalers and other windjammers circling the globe during the 19th Century, and on the day in 1840 when New Zealand officially came under British rule, a celebratory race was held amongst the varied sailing craft in Waitemata Harbour.

Today, Waitemata Harbour remains a busy seaport, and is home to tens of thousands of boats, including a large fleet of cruising and racing sailboats of many sizes, which often dot the harbor with their colorful sails. And Auckland, now New Zealand's largest city, is known as the City of Sails, which will host the presitigious America's Cup sailboat regatta in late 1999 and early 2000.

New Zealand Fact File

Despite beliefs to the contrary, New Zealand is not part of Australia, which lies roughly 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) to the west across the Tasman Sea. New Zealand became a British colony in 1840, and later was granted self-rule. The country remains closely tied to Great Britain both culturally and economically.

New Zealand consists of three large islands and hundreds of smaller ones. The two largest islands are North Island and South Island. Auckland is located on North Island, which has the more temperate climate. South Island, the more rugged of the two, is famous for its Southern Alps, a mountain chain that rises precipitously more than 12,000 feet (3600 meters) and becomes a skier's paradise in winter. South Island also sports majestic fjords and rain forests.

Because of its isolation from other land masses, New Zealand is home to unique flora and fauna, not the least of which is the shy brown kiwi, a flightless bird that has become the national symbol and which provides the moniker by which New Zealanders are known.

In terms of land mass, New Zealand is about the size of Colorado, the United Kingdom or the Philippines, but the narrow island chain stretches some 1,000 miles (1,700 kilometers) across the South Pacific Ocean, covering an area roughly equivalent to that marked by Los Angeles, California, to Portland, Oregon, with a climate to match.

New Zealand has a population of about 3.5 million people  — who are out numbered approximately 14-to-1 by the nation's almost 50 million sheep.

New Zealand's Bay of Islands at the country's northern tip is a destination for cruising sailors worldwide.

While sailing is popular in New Zealand, particularly with the winning of the America's Cup, rugby remains the national sport.

One-third of New Zealand is set aside for conservation and includes five national parks.

New Zealand has some 6,000 miles of hiking trails, where locals and visitors alike can take a "walk in the bush" or "go for a tramp." But carry insect repellent. The tiny sandfly can turn a fine day foul.

The four stars on the New Zealand flag represent the Southern Cross constellation, which serves as a guide to navigators in the Southern Hemisphere.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first nation to give women the right to vote.

New Zealander A.J. Hackett is credited with popularizing bungee jumping after leaping from the Eiffel Tower with an elastic rope tied to his ankles, then later starting the world's first commercial bungee-jumping operation in New Zealand.

For additional information on New Zealand, visit these Web sites:


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