New Zealand is an island nation, of course, and many people know about the two main islands. But there are actually many islands that make up New Zealand, and many more that New Zealand looks after. When people call New Zealand and island nation, they’re not kidding.
There are 33 principle islands in what is New Zealand, plus another 9 outlying islands, including the New Zealand subantarctic islands, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
But when thinking of New Zealand, most people think of the two main islands of the country, the North Island and the South Island. The South Island (also known as Te Wai Pounamu, or waters of greenstone, which is New Zealand jade) is the larger of the two at 151,215 km2. The North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui, the fish of Maui) is 113,729 km2 and has three quarters of the country’s population, as well as its largest city, Auckland (which alone has a quarter of the NZ population).
The Māori names for the North Island and the South Island were only formalised in 2013—but far more interesting is that it was at the same time that the two islands officially became North Island and South Island—in 2013! However, in common usage, the word the is almost never omitted when referring to the island’s names, nor is that word capitalised (which makes sense, since “the” isn’t actually part of the islands’ names). Interestingly, Kiwis always say that something is located “in the North Island” or “in the South Island”, never on it. No one seems to know why.
There’s a third main island, Stewart Island (1,746 km2, and also called Rakiuria), which lies to the south of the South Island and is thought to be refered to in the New Zealand national anthem as the third of “Pacific’s triple star” (though no one knows for sure that that’s supposed to mean).
The next largest island is Chatham Island (900 km2), which is the largest of the Chatham group (collectively know as “The Chathams”). Part of the outlying islands of the country, it’s also quite away from the main islands of New Zealand—650km away from the nearest point in the main islands. That’s roughly the same distance as from Auckland to Wellington—but that’s travelling over land, not the open ocean.
If all those numbers of islands aren’t enough, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) looks after “about 220 islands (larger than 5 ha in size) and numerous small islets and rock stacks,” and “42% are nature reserves because of their outstanding biological values. A permit is required to visit these islands.”
So, New Zealand is an island nation in many different ways. To me, it’s just another of the things that makes this place so interesting.
The image accompanying this post shows New Zealand on December 27, 2004 (can you see me waving?), and is from NASA's Visible Earth team.