Travel the World: New Zealand Geography



By: Todd Kerkhoff

6 Min Quiz

Image: Fakrul Jamil Photography / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

These mysterious islands that sit atop a submerged mountain range hide many secrets and wonders. Settled by exploring Eastern Polynesians over 750 years ago, New Zealand is a favored destination for tourists worldwide who come to see its volcanos, geysers, fjords, mountains, beaches and witness aspects of Maori culture.

No place on earth offers such a tantalizing variety of geologic features available for the world traveler to visit and experience. 

Sandy beaches just waiting for warm footprints and cool cocktails; mountain peaks that would make an Orc yearn for Mordor; steaming mud baths warmed by caverns of molten magma deep beneath the earth's crust; spectacular geysers shooting scalding hot water and steam high into the air; active volcanos, hillsides planted with vineyards and deep, cold fjords left over from ancient oceans. 

One can learn about the original settlers of New Zealand, the Polynesian Maori who traveled thousands of miles across the open ocean to settle there. Many decedents of these people still call these islands home. 

The beauty of the South Island's mountain ranges so struck Lord of the Rings filmmakers that they feared moviegoers would think the landscape footage was faked with CGI — too amazing to be real. 

So let's explore a feast for your senses and see what you know about Australia's Northern cousin. Don't forget to brush up your Polynesian.

What body of water named after a famous explorer separates the North and South Islands?

The Cook Strait connects the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean and is known for treacherous seafaring conditions including dangerous currents. According to the legend of the great navigator Kupe, he followed a huge octopus named Te Wheke-a-Muturangi across the strait and killed it in the Tory Channel.


What mountainous New Zealand island is home to Marlborough?

Marlborough has a very dry climate and is known for wine production. The more stress to the grapes, the better the wine. Do you like Sauvignon Blanc? If so, you'll want to visit this, the heart of New Zealand's flourishing wine industry.


What city on the North Island is home to superyachts and Mission Bay Beach?

A happening and sophisticated urban center, Auckland is located around two large harbors and features a plethora of bars and interesting shops. Auckland Domain park has several museums and surrounds the entire blast crater of the Pukekawa volcano.


What famous explorer — killed in Hawaii — gave his name to New Zealand's highest mountain?

Mount Cook, also known as Mount Aoraki is 12,218 feet high and is the highest point in the New Zealand Islands chain. It is named after British Captain James Cook who was killed after trying to kidnap a Hawaiian chief in 1779.


What culture of early Polynesian settlers arrived by dugout sea canoe in 1250?

After being isolated for hundreds of years, these culturally unique people were the first inhabitants and there are over 600,000 New Zealanders who identify as Maori. They traveled great distances in huge ocean-going canoes.


How many Kiwis are there (not counting the fruit)?

The estimated population of New Zealand is 4.79 million, which is roughly equal to that of South Carolina. The islands have a population density of 47.1 Kiwis per square mile.


What flightless bird gave New Zealanders their nickname?

Kiwi birds are about the size of a chicken, but their egg weighs up to 20% of its body weight — the largest of any bird in the world. The Kiwi is primarily nocturnal and four out of five of its species are listed as vulnerable.


What lake is 610 feet deep and is the second largest in New Zealand?

Lake Taupo has a surface area of 238 square miles and is the second largest freshwater lake in Oceana. It's a famous fishery for trophy-sized brown and rainbow trout. Fishermen from around the globe travel there to test its waters.


The islands of New Zealand straddle which two tectonic plates?

The deformation caused by these massive pieces of the earth's crust sliding against each other formed New Zealand's mountain ranges — some of which are still rising from the sea.


What micro continent broke away from Australia 60 million years ago?

Also known as Tasmantis, Zealandia is almost entirely submerged beneath the sea. Zealandia's status as a continent is currently being debated by scientists.


Can you name an active New Zealand volcano that's close to its largest lake?

Mount Ruapehu is an active stratovolcano on the southern shore of Lake Taupo. Its slopes feature the North Island's major ski resorts and only glaciers. Visually dramatic scenes of Mordor were filmed there for the Hobbit movies.


Which river, flowing from Mt Ruapehu through the Waikato plains, is New Zealand's longest?

The River's course was formed 17,000 years ago and its name translates in Maori to "flowing water." This enormous waterway rises on the slopes of Mt. Ruapehu, creating the Huka Falls.


Which island has most of New Zealand's mountains?

The South Island has 23 peaks over 9,800 feet above sea level. Lord of the Rings filmmakers feared moviegoers would think scenes of the mountains too stunning to be real.


What 40,000-year-old spaces in New Zealand are hidden from view

Many of the caves lie beneath residential properties. Some Auckland amateur detectives are trying to discover them with LiDar (Light Detection and Ranging) equipment.


What geologic feature has dominated the North Island since the islands' birth?

The Taupo Volcanic Zone is home to three active peaks: Mount Ngauruhoe, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tongariro which sent three-foot long chunks of andesite a mile up into the air while erupting in 2012.


Can you guess how old New Zealand's rocks are?

These base rocks were once part of Gondwanaland, a massive super-continent that broke apart 180 million years ago, along with South America, Africa, Madagascar, India, Australia and Antarctica.


What was Gondwanaland?

Gondwanaland formed about 550 million years ago and joined up with other continents to form Pangea, around 355 million years ago.


Where can I explore New Zealand's amazing geothermal system?

This volcanic rift is the world's youngest geothermal system and was created by the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886. Steam fissures and bubbling hot lakes surround an incredible thermal world.


What flat area has New Zealand's most fertile farmland?

Covering over 17,000 square miles, this lowland region that borders on the Pacific Ocean features sheep, beef and dairy farming in addition to growing fruit, like peaches, plums, apricots and cherries.


What part of New Zealand, closest to Antarctica, has ancient glaciers?

The Southern Alps run along most of the length of the South Island. Near the foothills of the Southern Alps, Fran Josef Glacier is a hot spot for glacier nuts. Tasman Glacier is over 16 miles long.


What is the most popular wine produced in New Zealand?

Made from a green-skinned grape brought over from France, Sauvignon Blanc is planted in over 53,000 acres making it one of the country's largest exports. Enjoyed at book clubs throughout the world.


What geothermal area on the North Island is called Sulphur City?

Rotorua hosts a dazzling variety of mud pools, geysers and hot springs that can have a sometime odorous quality. But still, a great place to soak it all in.


Where is the paradise of Waikato?

Bordering the Tasman Sea is somewhat rough hill country known by the locals as the Kakaimata Range. Home to famous Bridal Veil Falls, The Hamilton Zoo and Ngarunui Beach, it's a vacation paradise.


Where would you find Hawke's Bay?

Known for spectacular beaches and river rafting, this region has a significant Maori population — over 24 percent identify with the founding culture. Hawke's Bay is a treasury of natural tourist attractions.


What New Zealand geologic feature sank into the sea?

On the South Island lives a large network of mountain valleys once drowned by the rising ocean. Between Tasman Bay and Cloudy Bay, Marlborough Sounds is so big it can be seen from space.


How far from Australia is New Zealand?

New Zealand is 1,000 miles from the continent of Australia — that's almost the distance from California to Nebraska. That's also approximately New Zealand's length.


What Pacific Island Group does New Zealand administer?

Tokelau is an island group composed of three beautiful tropical coral atolls. The people there are called Tokelauans and the main religion is the Congregational Christian Church.


What continent does New Zealand claim a section of?

New Zealand has a largely symbolic claim called The Ross Dependency in Antarctica. Named after Sir James Clark Ross who discovered the Ross Sea. It's one cool piece of real estate.


What year did New Zealand become fully independent?

In 1947 the Statute of Westminster Act gave the New Zealand Parliament full legislative powers and legally separated New Zealand's crown from the British Crown.


Who settled New Zealand?

This fascinating culture of early explorers paddled and sailed their large ocean-going canoes (called Waka) from Eastern Polynesia over 2,500 miles across the open Pacific to settle in New Zealand around 1250.


How long is New Zealand?

New Zealand is about 1,000 miles long. This seamount is around 250 miles wide with a total land area of over 100,000 square miles.


What fjord is New Zealand's biggest?

Formed over millions of years by glacial action, Milford Sound is a major tourist attraction. It's surrounded by rock faces over 3,500 feet high on two sides and has two huge waterfalls. Rudyard Kipling once called it the "Eight Wonder of the World".


Where can you find New Zealand's fjords?

These massive bodies of water are located in the southwest region of the South Island in an area that sounds oddly like a car dealership — Fjordland.


What is New Zealand's tallest geyser?

Located in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, Lady Knox shoots 60 feet into the air for up to an hour at a time. Before Lady Knox, the tallest geyser was Waimangu, which shot 1600 feet in the air. Waimangu stopped erupting in 1904.


What is one of Rotorua's famous thermal attractions?

Known for its healing properties, Hell's Gate is the most active geothermal park in New Zealand. It has boiling hot pools, erupting waters and mud baths steeped in Maori legend. A truly magical place, unless you're a lobster.


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