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New Zealand is one of the most recently settled major land masses. Polynesian settlers arrived probably some time between 500 and 1300 AD, and established the indigenous Maori culture. Rumour has it the Maori's killed and ate anyone trying to co-inhabit the islands. Seeing what they do on the rugby field to their opponents ... this is not so far fetched!
The first Europeans known to have reached New Zealand were the Dutch, who sailed up the west coast of the South and North islands in 1642; they thought it was a single island, which they named Staaten Landt.
It was later named "Nieuw Zeelan" after the area in Batavia where they had been originally based, which in turn was named after the Dutch province of Zeeland. In 1769 Captain James Cook began extensive surveys of the islands. This led to European whaling expeditions and eventually to significant European colonisation.
New Zealand became a British colony with the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840, which promised Tino Rangatiratanga to the Maori tribes of New Zealand. This phrase, translated as 'Governorship" by the British, more accurately means 'Sovereignty' in Maori. This difference in translation continues to cause friction today.
In the present rumour about sheep outnumbering people on the island is true: 5 years ago the sheep outnumbered the human population by 10 - 1; the ratio has now dwindled to 4 - 1. The country also provides a large portion of Australia's employees in the industries of Private Security, Construction, Welfare Abuse and Street Violence.
More recently famous for their role in the Lord of the Rings movie, the islands have some beautifully scenic views, and some stunning attractions, including the thermal zone on North Island, which smells strongly of sulphur, with hot mineral pools, the currently dormant volcanoes, and surprisingly good skiing on the South Island during the winter months.
Although the capital is Wellington, Auckland is the most populous city, with around a quarter of the total inhabitants living there. Currently, there is concern about immigration due to the amount of Asians coming to Auckland to attend University then disappearing afterwards.
On the sporting front The All Blacks are the national rugby team, and nearly a day of national mourning is declared if they loose. Americans get confused that the team is called the ALL BLACKS but ethnically Maoris are considered ALL 'white'.
New Zealand is most likely to be the last of the great dominions. Newfoundland and South Africa are ancient history, and Australia and Canada are all but independent. It is somewhat ironic that a quartered Union Flag will still survive in the farthest of the far-flung reaches of the Commonwealth.