• Solomon Islands!

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    Solomon Islands
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    Federated States of Micronesia: Overlooking some islands. Go Now!

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Geography, Weather, & Wildlife of New Zealand


New Zealand Geography - Milford Sound
Milford Sound

New Zealand consists of numerous islands, but nearly the entire country is on the large north and south islands. Both islands are volcanic in origin, which make them very fertile as well as mountainous. Due to this origin, the islands have a couple active volcanoes and, sitting on the edge of the Australian continental plate, are also home to small earthquakes. The tallest mountain in New Zealand is Mt. Cook, which reaches over 12,300 feet (3,700 meters) and stands on the south island. The islands of New Zealand are often times considered to be a part of Polynesia and from the cultural perspective of its earliest inhabitants, the Maori, it most definitely is.

New Zealand Geography - River

The islands are heavily forested, although de-forestation has occurred recently in order to make a profit from the lumber industry. This is especially true on the north island as the south island's forests are still primarily intact. There are also numerous rivers and lakes on the two large islands.

Oddly, due to ocean currents and the country's southern location, New Zealand was one of, if not the last place on earth settled. Most of the western ocean currents move east, then turn north before reaching the islands and those currents from the north move almost completely south, again missing the islands. Because of this, all of the South Pacific was settled prior to New Zealand and the first settlers, the Maori, came from Polynesia, to the island's northeast only 1,000 years ago. Due to this isolation, the Maori on New Zealand created a unique culture over the years that still exists in many forms today.


New Zealand Geography - Mt. Cook
Mt. Cook

New Zealand has somewhat distinct, but unpredictable seasons and enough land and geographical variation to make the weather patterns quite varied from location to location and from season to season. The greatest differences in weather come as a result of geography and rain as opposed to seasons, but seasons also play a role.

Winds from the west bring a lot of rain to the islands, but the mountains on both islands' western coasts alter the distribution of rain. These differences are more noticeable on the south island as the high Alps tend to drain the clouds, giving the mountains huge amounts of rainfall and snow, while the eastern part of the island gets very little rain. On the northern island the mountains aren't as high so the rains fall more evenly throughout the island, but again the west coast gets more rain.

New Zealand Geography - Able Tasman National Park
Able Tasman National Park

From a seasonal perspective, the two most distinct seasons in New Zealand are the summer months of December to February and the winter months of June to August. Summer tends to be the hottest time of the year and the rains tend to be restrained after December. During this time monthly temperatures average about 66° F (19° C) in Wellington, 70° F (21° C) in Auckland, and 63° F (17° C) in Christchurch. The winter months of June to August are much colder and the Alps get a fair amount of snow, making it an ideal winter sports destination. During this season average temperatures are about 45-52° F (7-11° C) in Wellington, 46-57° F (8-14° C) in Auckland, and 44° F (7° C) in Christchurch. This time of year is also the season that get the most rain or, in the mountains snow. The between seasons are less predictable as rain and temperatures may come and go, but the eastward winds are sure to remain.

The temperatures are quite pleasant for most of the year and this, combined with rain, rivers, lakes, and fertile volcanic soil make New Zealand an ideal home for people as farming is easily accessible (outside the mountains) and fresh water is ever present. This is especially true on the north island where rain distribution is more even and there are fewer mountains.


New Zealand Geography - Landscape

As a fairly large and geographically diverse country it may seem like New Zealand would be home to great plant and animal diversity, but New Zealand is composed of volcanic islands so the native life in the country is very limited and land animals native to New Zealand are essentially absent. Despite this lack of native plants and animals, the country is fairly diverse today as animals, plants, and seeds from neighboring islands have arrived with the winds, ocean currents, animals, and people.

As an island nation that rose from the sea floor there were no native mammals in New Zealand, although a few bat species arrived thousands of years ago. Other than this, no land mammals existed on New Zealand until the arrival of the earliest people, who arrived only about 1,000 years ago. Until this point no mammals (other than bats) existed on the islands, but these early settlers likely brought pigs, dogs, mice, and rats with them.

Despite the lack of land mammals, New Zealand's surrounding waters are home to mammals, including dolphins and whales. These waters are also filled with thousands of fish, shellfish, and other forms of sea life. In these waters you can find surgeonfish, clownfish, sailfish, puffer fish, butterfly fish, grouper, barracuda, tuna, mackerel, marlin, mahi-mahi, shrimp, krill, crab, seahorses, manta rays, sharks, jellyfish, starfish, and sea urchins among many others. Inland, in the islands' lakes and rivers there are numerous freshwater fish as well, including the spiny lobster (known locally as a crayfish).

New Zealand Wildlife - Albatross

This water and land environment has proven ideal for birds and today the bird life in New Zealand is incredibly diverse. Additionally, from a historic perspective, these birds have always been the most dominant animals in the food chain as no land mammals (including people) existed to compete. Among these birds are doves, owls, passerines, scrub fowls, heron, the albatross, and hundreds of water fowls. Additional birds native to New Zealand that are now extinct include the Moa, which was heavily hunted by the earliest settlers.

Like the mammalian life, the reptilian and amphibious life is fairly limited. The most common of these animals are those adapted to the water and swimming as sea turtles can be found in the nearby waters. Frogs, toads, lizards, and even some snakes have also been introduced and are now common on the islands.

The insect and other small animal life is fairly diverse as many insects can fly or float and have made their way to New Zealand. These animals include butterflies, bees, ants, flies, snails, spiders, and worms among others.

The plant life on the islands is quite diverse, especially since the volcanic soil is very fertile and the winds, currents, birds, and people have brought with them new plants. Being heavily forested, the largest and most noticeable plants are trees, including the cabbage tree, metrosideros tree, and kauri tree as well as cress, ferns, shrubs, grasses, and flowers.

This page was last updated: April, 2013