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Regions and Cities for Expats in New Zealand

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2017

Physical Features

New Zealand lies in the south-west Pacific Ocean, approximately 1,000 miles east-south-east of Australia, the nearest landmass. It is an archipelago consisting of North Island, South Island, the much smaller Stewart Island to the south and approximately 600 islets. Some small island groups in the surrounding seas also form part of the territory of New Zealand.

For a small country, New Zealand contains a remarkable variety of physical features (exploited to the full cinematically, for example, in the Lord of the Rings films). North Island is vaguely rhomboid in shape, though with a long protrusion to the north. It is mountainous and volcanic in the centre and relatively flat elsewhere. South Island is long and thin and has a mountainous central ridge, the Southern Alps; almost all the major towns are on the coast. The coastal plains are narrow on the west and more substantial on the east. South Island also has many inlets or fjords, especially in the south-west.

Political Divisions

New Zealand is politically divided into 16 regions. These are generally grouped into five larger regions as follows.




(per km2)

Largest City

Upper North Island





Central North Island





Lower North Island





Upper South Island





Lower South Island





As can be seen, though North Island is smaller than South Island, it houses more three-quarters of the country’s population. Upper North Island, containing the two regions of Northland and Auckland, is the smallest but most populous of the five regions. Essentially this is because it consists of the city of Auckland and its environs. Auckland is built on an isthmus and has three fine natural harbours with many islets offshore. It is by far New Zealand’s largest city and dominates the country in many ways. It is a major financial and commercial centre, not just for New Zealand, buit for the wider Pacific Region. North of Auckland is Northland; this is the warmest part of the country and it has a high Maori population.

Central North Island is the main area where the Maoris have held their numbers. This is especially true in the Bay of Plenty and Gisborne regions. The heart of North Island features volcanoes, high mountains and Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest.

The largerst city in Cebntral North Island is Hamilton, in Waitako region. This is the fourth largest city in new Zealand and is currently booming as part of the greater Auckland economic region. It is a major centre for education and research.

Near the southern tip of North Island is New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. The city performs all the executive, legislative and judicial functions in New Zealand. In other ways it is rather outshone by Auckland, which is more than three times its size. Nevertheless, Wellington is an important cultural centre and has most of the national buildings such as the National Library and National Archives.

Most of the population of South Island is to be found near the east coast, though there is some habitation on the north coast. Upper South Island contains some splendid scenery but is sparsely populated.

Christchurch is the largest city on South Island by some distance. It was hit hard by an earthquake in 2011 but has been substantially rebuilt. It is a good base for outdoor activities and natural scene of outstanding beauty are all around the city.

Lower South Island is the coldest part of the country; as is not as hospitable as the others, it is sparsely populated. The largest city is Dunedin. The name is the Gaelic version of Edinburgh, which reflects the city’s Scottish roots. It is a local centre for miles around and is known for its Victorian architecture.

The south-west of South Island is the most unspoilt part of the country. Nestled between the mountains is Queenstown, a booming centre of outdoors activities.

The wider territory of New Zealand includes several nearby island groups, including the Antipodes Islands and Chathams. As noted above, New Zealand also has external territories. Niue and the Cook Islands are self-governing territories in free association with New Zealand. They have their own Queen’s Representatives and legislative bodies. Nearby Tokelau, meanwhile, has a lesser degree of autonomy. New Zealand also claims the Ross Dependency in Antarctica.




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