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Updated: March 2009

New Zealand

Overview | World Vision's history in New Zealand | World Vision in New Zealand today


New Zealand, a country composed of many islands, is located to the far south of Fiji in the midst of the South Pacific Ocean. At a distance of nearly 1,250 miles, Australia, to the northwest, is New Zealand’s closest neighboring country. In the southwest, the Tasman Sea separates New Zealand from the island of Tasmania. The Cook Strait runs directly between the country’s two largest islands, the North Island and the South Island. Many of the islands belonging to New Zealand remain uninhabited. The capital city of Wellington, located on the southern tip of the North Island, is the world’s southernmost national capital.

The two main islands are largely mountainous with volcanoes on the North Island and the Southern Alps—containing New Zealand’s highest point, Mt. Cook—on the South Island. Plains are located primarily along the coasts. With a generally temperate climate, the islands of New Zealand are spread out enough to experience both tropical and artic extremes. Natural resources include iron ore, natural gas, sand, timber, hydropower, gold, and limestone.

New Zealand flag

Country statistics 
Population4.14 million
Land mass103,483.5 square miles
People per square mile40
Life expectancy80.25 years
Under age 5 mortality rate6/1,000
Literacy rate99%
Access to safe water100%
Average annual incomeUS$27,250
Unspecified/none 43.2%

The majority of New Zealand’s population is concentrated in the cities, primarily on the North Island. Locals refer to themselves as “Kiwis,” taking their nickname from Kiwi, a flightless bird native to New Zealand. The majority of New Zealanders, nearly 70 percent, are of British origin; another near eight percent are Maori, with Polynesian roots. Other ethnic groups include Asians, Pacific Islanders, and a mixture of the two. New Zealand has three official languages: English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language.

Originally inhabited by Polynesians, New Zealand was first discovered by Europeans in 1642. Following Captain James Cook’s extensive exploration of the coastline in the late 1700s, Europeans began settling the area, hoping to take advantage of lumbering, whaling, and seal hunting. Official colonization began in 1840, after British sovereignty was established through a treaty with Maori chiefs. Some Maori resisted British rule, leading to a series of wars in which many Maori died. Following the establishment of a constitution in 1850, New Zealand began to flourish, and the Maori began to integrate into politics and European culture. In 1947, New Zealand was officially granted autonomy, and today, as a parliamentary democracy, it remains an independent member of the British Commonwealth.

An economic foundation based on agricultural trade of items such as wool, meat, and dairy products was established in the early years of English colonization and remained a driving force in New Zealand’s economy for years. Recently, however, New Zealand has become increasingly industrialized, globally competitive, and now has the most open economy in the world. New Zealand participates in free trade with Australia, its most important export and import partner. Service industries including business, financial, and insurance make important contributions to the economy. In recent years, New Zealand’s economic growth rate has been increasing, and unemployment rates have remained low.

New Zealand is a technologically advanced nation, with a higher percentage of Internet subscribers than the individual countries of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Children are required to attend school between the ages of 6 and 16, and 85.8 percent of the population enrolls in higher education. The average citizen receives as many as 19.3 years of schooling.

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World Vision's history in New Zealand

A World Vision office officially opened in New Zealand in 1975 with the launch of the 40 Hour Famine (known as the 30 Hour Famine in the U.S.), a fund-raising program involving 100,000 participants. The efforts to encourage New Zealanders to join in development activities resulted in the sponsorship of 5,500 children by 1976 and the support of 29 projects throughout Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Additional campaigns during the 1970s helped bring relief to survivors of Uganda’s civil war and to thousands of Kenyans in need of food and clothing.

During the 1980s, the people of New Zealand responded to both the needs of Romanian orphans—some 40,000 children were being housed in institutions—and to the devastating effects of the widespread famine throughout Ethiopia. World Vision’s New Zealand office sent $1 million worth of nutritional supplements to Ethiopia and launched a program to train speech therapists, developmental pediatricians, teachers, and nurses to care for the orphans in Romania.

When a devastating tidal wave struck Bangladesh in 1985, killing 15,000 people, New Zealanders enabled World Vision to provide relief and rehabilitation supplies, including tools, food, drinking water, medicine, and essential household items.

In the 1990s, residents donated more than $500,000 to combat the effects of the food shortage crisis in Somalia, where one-fifth of all children died and 4.5 million people were at risk of starvation. After Cyclone Isaac hit Tonga, New Zealanders also helped World Vision provide food, fishing nets, household utensils, medicine, and agricultural support for needy families.

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World Vision in New Zealand

The people of New Zealand continue to bring relief and hope to needy children and their families throughout the world. Current projects include improved food security and nutritional support, training for income generation, and medical care. Last year, New Zealand set a record for its 40 Hour Famine program, generating $2.79 million to help save lives and tackle the causes of poverty. More than 68,000 children are receiving the life-changing benefits of sponsorship thanks to New Zealand’s donors.

For more information on World Vision’s work in New Zealand, please contact the United States office.

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World Vision
Phone: 1-888-511-6548
P.O. Box 9716
Federal Way,WA 98063-9716
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