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New Zealand, about 1,250 mi (2,012 km) southeast of Australia, consists of two main islands and a number of smaller outlying islands so scattered that they range from the tropical to the Antarctic. New Zealand's two main components are the North Island and the South Island, separated by Cook Strait. The North Island (44,281 sq mi; 115,777 sq km) is 515 mi (829 km) long and volcanic in its south-central part. This area contains many hot springs and beautiful geysers. South Island (58,093 sq mi; 151,215 sq km) has the Southern Alps along its west coast, with Mount Cook (12,316 ft; 3754 m) the highest point. Other inhabited islands include Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands, and Great Barrier Island. The largest of the uninhabited outlying islands are the Auckland Islands (234 sq mi; 606 sq km), Campbell Island (44 sq mi; 114 sq km), the Antipodes Islands (24 sq mi; 62 sq km), and the Kermadec Islands (13 sq mi; 34 sq km).

New Zealand's colourful history commences from the time when the Rangitata Land mass separates from the ancient super continent of Gondwana 80 million years ago, evolving over time to become modern New Zealand. Maoris were the first inhabitants of New Zealand, arriving on the islands in about 1000. Maori oral history maintains that the Maoris came to the island in seven canoes from other parts of Polynesia. In 1642, Abel Tasman, a Dutch navigator, explored New Zealand. British captain James Cook made three voyages to the islands, beginning in 1769. Britain formally annexed the islands in 1840.

In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, an agreement between the British Crown and Maori. It established British law in New Zealand and is considered New Zealand’s founding document and an important part of the country's history. The building where the treaty was signed has been preserved and, today, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a popular attraction.

With a patchwork history of M?ori, European, Pacific Island and Asian cultures, New Zealand has become a melting-pot population - but one with some uniting features that make it unique in the world. Today, of the 4.4 million New Zealanders (informally known as Kiwis), approximately 69% are of European descent, 14.6% are indigenous M?ori, 9.2% Asian and 6.9% non-M?ori Pacific Islanders.

English and Te reo M?ori are the official languages of New Zealand. Te reo M?ori became an official language in 1987. In April 2006, New Zealand became the first country to declare sign language as an official language. New Zealand Sign Language, or NZSL, is the main language of the deaf community in New Zealand. English, the medium for teaching and learning in most schools, is a de facto official language by virtue of its widespread use. For these reasons, these three languages have special mention in The New Zealand Curriculum.

New Zealand has a very unique and dynamic culture. The culture of its indigenous Maori people affects the language, the arts, and even the accents of all New Zealanders. Their place in the South Pacific, and their love of the outdoors, sport, and the arts make New Zealanders and their culture unique in the world. New Zealand has no state church. According to the 2001 census, about 55% of the population are Christian. Anglicans are the largest denomination with about 15% of the population. About 13% are Roman Catholic, 11% Presbyterians, 3% Methodists, 1% Baptist, 1% Mormon, and 1% Ratana, a Maori Christian group. Ringatu and Ratana are small Christian sects that are indigenous to New Zealand. About 1% of the population is Hindu and 1% Buddhist. There are also small numbers of Sikhs, Muslims, and Rastafarians.

New Zealand is both a dream destination and a once-in-a-lifetime place to visit. If you're planning your first trip to New Zealand, or if you're planning a return trip to see more of this beautiful and wild country, you may want to know which places in New Zealand are at the top of the must-see list.

Our picks for the best places to go in New Zealand are Milford Sound, Bay of Islands, Abel Tasman National Park, Fiordland National Park, Lake Taupe, Lake Wanka, Sky Towe, Waitomo Caves, Waiotapu, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Waiheke Island, Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve, Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, Huka Falls, Moeraki Boulders, Routeburn Track, and Rotora Island.

The New Zealand Dollar is the currency of New Zealand. The currency code for Dollars is NZD, and the currency symbol is $. The Dollar denominations are: Coins: 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2. Banknotes/Bills: $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. In a major currency overhaul, the 1c, 2c and 5c pieces were discontinued.

The most popular New Zealand Dollar currency exchanges in New Zealand are US Dollar (USD), European Euro (EUR), UK Pound Sterling (GBP), Australian Dollar (AUD), Indian Rupee (INR), Thai Bhat (THB), Canadian Dollar (CAD), Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY), and Japanese Yen (JPY).
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