New Zealand is located at latitude 41.44 degrees south and longitude 172.19 degrees west in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, approximately 900 miles east of Australia across the Tasman Sea. Other nearby countries include Fiji and Tonga, both of which lie about 600 miles north of New Zealand. This country was one of the last landmasses to be explored, discovered and inhabited due to its remote location.
The island nation was first settled by eastern Polynesian people around 1300 A.D., who eventually developed the Maori culture. Descendants of the original inhabitants still populate New Zealand, as of 2014. The former British colony was first sighted by Dutch sailors in 1642 before legendary Capt. James Cook mapped the islands in 1769.
Geographically, New Zealand consists of two major islands and several smaller islands. Wellington is the capital, and Auckland is the most populous settlement, as of 2014. Both of these cities are on the North Island. Other major cities include Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton and Palmerston North.
Great Britain took colonial control of New Zealand in 1840 with the Treaty of Waitangi. The ruling monarch of England is the head of state, as of November 2014, and the crown is represented by a governor-general. A unicameral Parliament passes laws, and a prime minister follows Parliament's directives.