The country geographically comprises two main landmasses—that of the North Island, or Te Ika-a-Māui, and the South Island, or Te Waipounamu—and numerous smaller islands.
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Queen Elizabeth II is the country's head of state and is represented by a governor-general.
In addition, New Zealand is organised into 11 regional councils and 67 territorial authorities for local government purposes.
Sometime between 12 CE, Polynesians settled in the islands that later were named New Zealand and developed a distinctive Māori culture.
In 1642, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman became the first European to sight New Zealand.
New Zealand is a high-income economy and ranks highly in international comparisons of national performance, such as health, education, economic freedom and quality of life.
Nationally, legislative authority is vested in an elected, unicameral Parliament, while executive political power is exercised by the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister, who is currently Bill English.
But English has clearly decided that his government will be much the same as John Key's and that this is his best hope for a fourth term.
The stiff jail setnence for a man convicted of human trafficking is a welcome punishment for a horrible crime.
Today, the majority of New Zealand's population of 4.7 million is of European descent; the indigenous Māori are the largest minority, followed by Asians and Pacific Islanders.
Reflecting this, New Zealand's culture is mainly derived from Māori and early British settlers, with recent broadening arising from increased immigration.
In 1840, representatives of Britain and Māori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which declared British sovereignty over the islands.