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New Zealand is a country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean comprising two large islands (the North Island and the South Island) and numerous smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands.
The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue, which are self-governing, but in free association; Tokelau; and the Ross Dependency (New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica).
New Zealand is notable for its geographic isolation, being separated from Australia to the northwest by the Tasman Sea, some 2000 kilometres (1250 miles) across. Its closest neighbours to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga.
New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island form what is known by anthropologists as the Polynesian Triangle.
New Zealand has a population of about 4.1 million. About 80% of the population are of European
descent, with the indigenous Māori being the largest non-European ethnic group (the percentage of the population of full or
part-Māori ancestry is 14.7%. Non-Māori Polynesian and Asian people are also significant minorities, especially in the cities. Between the 1996 and 2001 census, the number of people of Asian origin (6.6%) overtook the number of people of Pacific Island origin (6.5%).
Most European New Zealanders are of British and Irish ancestry with smaller percentages of Dutch, South Slav, and/or Italian ancestry.
New Zealand has relatively open immigration policies; its government is committed to increasing its population by about 1% annually. At present, immigrants from the United Kingdom constitute the largest single group (30%) but immigrants are drawn from many nations, and increasingly from East Asia (Chinese, Japanese and Korean are the most numerous of this group, but includes Southeast Asian and Indian peoples).
Elizabeth II, as the Queen of New Zealand, is the Head of State and is represented, in her absence, by a non-partisan Governor-General; the Queen 'reigns but does not rule', so she has no real political influence. Political power is held by the democratically-elected Parliament of New Zealand under the leadership of the Prime Minister who is the Head of Government.
The climate throughout the country is mild, mostly cool temperate to warm temperate, with temperatures rarely falling below 0°C (32°F) or rising above 30°C (86°F). Conditions vary from wet and cold on the West Coast of the South Island to dry and continental in the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury and almost subtropical in Northland. Of the main cities, Christchurch is the driest, receiving only some 640 mm (25 in) of rain per year. Auckland, the wettest, receives almost twice that amount.
New Zealand is a small part of a 93% submerged continent called Zealandia that is above sea level. It is almost half the size of Australia and is unusually long and thin. About 25 million years ago, a shift in plate tectonic movements began to pull apart Zealandia forcefully. The submerged parts of Zealandia are the Lord Howe Rise, Challenger Plateau, Campbell Plateau, Norfolk Ridge and the Chatham Rise.
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