New Zealand country profile
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. Around three-quarters of the population lives on the North Island, which is also home to the capital, Wellington.
Agriculture is the economic mainstay, but manufacturing and tourism are important. Visitors are drawn to the glacier-carved mountains, lakes, beaches and thermal springs. Because of the islands' geographical isolation, much of the flora and fauna is unique to the country.
New Zealand plays an active role in Pacific affairs. It has constitutional ties with the Pacific territories of Niue, the Cook Islands and Tokelau.
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general
Prime minister: Bill English
Bill English was sworn in as prime minister in December 2016 following the shock resignation of his popular predecessor John Key.
The centre-right National Party caucus unanimously backed Mr English, aged 54 at the time of taking office.
A former farmer, Mr English has been in parliament since 1990 and was previously leader of the National Party in 2002 when it suffered its worst election defeat.
He was Mr Key's preferred successor after returning New Zealand's budget to surplus.
A committed Catholic with six children, Mr English is regarded as socially conservative, opposing the 2013 legalisation of same-sex marriage and speaking out against abortion and voluntary euthanasia.
Broadcasters enjoy one of the world's most liberal media arenas.
The broadcasting sector was deregulated in 1988, when the government allowed competition to the state-owned Television New Zealand (TVNZ). Privately-owned TV3 is TVNZ's main competitor.
Satellite platform SKY TV is the leading pay TV provider. Freeview carries free-to-air digital terrestrial and satellite TV.
The New Zealand Herald newspaper has the biggest circulation.
Some key dates in New Zealand's history.
c. 1200-1300 AD - Ancestors of the Maori arrive by canoe from other parts of Polynesia. Their name for the country is Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud).
1642 - Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sights the south island and charts some of the country's west coast. It subsequently appears on Dutch maps as Nieuw Zeeland, named after the Dutch province of Zeeland.
1769 - British captain James Cook explores coastline, also in 1773 and 1777.
1840 - Treaty of Waitangi between British and several Maori tribes pledges protection of Maori land and establishes British law in New Zealand.
1947 - New Zealand gains full independence from Britain.