New Zealand first appeared about 140 million years ago, during the Mesozoic Era. This landmass gradually eroded until about 80 million years ago, when sea floor spreading started and the Tasmanian sea formed. However, it wasn't until 10,000 years ago when the land formed the shape, as we now know it. The oldest rocks in New Zealand are approximately six-hundred and eighty million years old. These rocks were found on the west coast of the South Island. Although, at one point in its history, New Zealand was connected to Australia, it separated and did not share in the subsequent evolution of the marsupials associated with "down under." New Zealand's only indigenous mammals are two species of bats. All other mammals were introduced when the Maori arrived from Polynesia. Today New Zealand has a culture all its own due to the thousands of years it spent in isolation.
The only geographical feature New Zealand doesn't have is live coral reef. New Zealand has all the rest: rainforest, desert, fiords, flooded valleys, gorges, plains, mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, geothermics, swamps, lakes, braided rivers, peneplains,
badlands, and their very own continental plate junction. As a result of the latter, earthquakes are common, though usually not severe.
The North Island has a number of large volcanoes (including the currently
active Mount Ruapehu) and highly active thermal areas, while the South Island boasts the Southern Alps - a spine of magnificent mountains running almost its entire length. Another notable feature of New Zealand is its myriad rivers and lakes: notably the Whanganui River, Lake Taupo and the breathtaking lakes Waikaremoana and Wanaka.
New Zealand is believed to be a fragment of the ancient Southern continent of Gondwanaland which became detached over 100 million years ago allowing many ancient plants and animals to survive and evolve in isolation. As a result, most of the New Zealand flora and fauna is endemic. About 10 to 15% of the total land area of New Zealand is native flora, the bulk protected in national parks and reserves.
New Zealand has the worlds largest flightless parrot (kakapo), the only truly alpine parrot (kea), the oldest reptile (tuatara), the biggest earthworms, the largest weta, the smallest bats, some of the oldest trees, and many of the rarest birds, insects, and
plants in the world. New Zealand is home to the world famous Tuatara, a lizard-like reptile which dates back to the dinosaurs and perhaps before. Some scientists believe its more than 260 million years. The only native land mammals are two rare species of bat. New Zealand's many endemic birds include the flightless kiwi, takahe, kakapo and weka. Far too many species of bird have become extinct since humans arrived on New Zealand included the various species of Dinornis (moa) the largest of which stood up to 2.5 meters high. There is also some unique insect life such as the Giant Weta and glow worms. Other than two spiders, there is a lack of any deadly poisonous things (snakes, spiders, etc.) which is why New Zealand Agricultural Regulations are so strict.
When the Maori arrived in New Zealand, in the tenth century, they named it Aotearoa. Aotearoa means "Land of the Long White Cloud" . As the story goes, the Maori came to Aotearoa from their homeland, the mythical Hawaiiki in three waves of migration. Anthropologists believe Hawaiiki was most likely Tahiti or Ra'itatea. According to the legend, t he first to discover Aotearoa was the ancient navigator Kupe from Ra'iatea who happened upon the islands accidentally, while in pursuit of a giant octopus. However he did not stay. Centuries later, around 1350 AD, a great migration of people from Kupe's home land of Hawaiiki followed his navigational instructions and sailed to New Zealand, eventually supplanting or mixing with previous residents. Their culture, developed over centuries without any discernible outside influence, was hierarchical and often sanguinary. It is this third great migration which reverberates throughout Maori oral tradition. It is said that a great fleet of seven canoes with eminent Maori chiefs and warriors are the ones who populated the Islands.
In 1642, the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman briefly sailed along the west coast of New Zealand. He named it Staten Land. Nevertheless, any thoughts of a longer stay were thwarted when his attempt to land resulted in several of his