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New Zealand, Land and Resources

Mount Ngauruhoe, Mount Tongariro, Tasman Glacier, Whakaari, Mount Egmont

New Zealand is part of the Pacific Islands, or Oceania, a grouping of thousands of islands in the Pacific Ocean. The South Island and the North Island of New Zealand are Oceania’s second and third largest islands, respectively. New Zealand is considered part of Polynesia, one of three major divisions of the Pacific Islands.

The total land area of New Zealand is 267,990 sq km (103,470 sq mi), about the same size as Japan or the British Isles. The North and South islands make up almost the entire area of the country. Separating these islands is Cook Strait, a channel between the South Pacific Ocean on the east and the Tasman Sea on the west. The islands stretch along a predominantly northeast by southwest axis. Their length from north to south is about 1,600 km (1,000 mi), and their maximum width from east to west is 450 km (280 mi).

Many small and widely scattered islands are also included in the territory of New Zealand. Some are tiny and uninhabited. Of the inhabited islands, Stewart Island is the largest and nearest, located about 30 km (20 mi) off the southern shore of the South Island. Campbell Island lies 600 km (375 mi) farther south, and the Chatham Islands are about 850 km (530 mi) east of the South Island. Raoul Island, the largest of the Kermadec Islands, lies more than 900 km (600 mi) northeast of the North Island.

The South Island contains the highest point in New Zealand, Mount Cook (in Maori, Aorangi), reaching a height of 3,754 m (12,316 ft) in the central Southern Alps. Another 18 mountains in the chain rise above 3,000 m (10,000 ft). The Southern Alps extend about 500 km (300 mi), almost the entire length of the South Island. The western side of the chain rises at the coast, with a narrow strip of coastline between mountains and sea. The eastern side of the chain descends to a region of rolling hills and fertile plains, drained by numerous glacier-fed rivers. (Mount Cook contains Tasman Glacier, the largest of about 360 glaciers in the Southern Alps.) The east-central Canterbury Plains form the largest lowland area in the country. To the south are the hills and plains of the Otago Plateau, which is bordered on the west by the wilderness of Fiordland National Park. Here the southern foothills of the Southern Alps meet a rugged coastline of fjords (fiords), or deep, narrow coastal inlets. In the north the Alps break up into numerous mountain ranges, with the Richmond Range continuing to the northeastern end of the island. The Tasman Mountains form another mountain system in the northwest.

On the North Island elevations rarely exceed 1,000 m (3,000 ft), with the exception of several volcanic peaks. In the west is Mount Taranaki (also named Mount Egmont), with an almost perfectly symmetrical cone rising to a height of 2,518 m (8,261 ft). The central volcanic plateau contains the peaks of Mount Ruapehu (2,797 m/9,177 ft), Mount Ngauruhoe (2,291 m/ 7,515 ft), and Mount Tongariro (1,968 m/ 6,458 ft). Many of these volcanoes are still considered to be active even if they have not erupted in the last two centuries. The two most recently active volcanoes are Mount Ruapehu and White Island (in Maori, Whakaari). Mount Ruapehu, the highest point of the North Island, erupted with substantial clouds of ash in 1995 and 1996, and dangerous lahars (concrete-like mixtures of volcanic ash and mud) occasionally slide down its slopes. White Island is the peak of a submerged volcano in the Bay of Plenty, off the east coast of the North Island. Visitors to White Island can witness constant low-intensity volcanic activity.

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