New Zealand is a wealthy Pacific nation dominated by two cultural groups: New Zealanders of European descent; and the Maori, the descendants of Polynesian settlers.
It is made up of two main islands and numerous smaller ones: the North Island (known as Te Ika-a-Maui in Maori) is the more populous of the two, and is separated by the Cook Strait from the somewhat larger but much less populated South Island (or Te Waipounamu).
Agriculture is the economic mainstay, but manufacturing and tourism are important and there is a world-class film industry.
New Zealand has diversified its export markets and has developed strong trade links with Australia, the US, and Japan. In April 2008 it became the first Western country to sign a free trade deal with China.
The precise date of early Maori settlement remains a matter of debate, but current research suggests that the first arrivals came from East Polynesia sometime in the 13th century. It was not until 1642 that Europeans became aware of the existence of the islands.