New Zealand is a small country with a small population, but as far as adventure and outdoor activities go it's huge. Backpackers on a gap year love the natural beauty combined with all the extreme sports opportunities. If you're one of these adventure types and plan on spending some of your gap year in New Zealand, make sure you get a good travel insurance that covers all the crazy sports you want to do while you're there.
One of the best things about visiting New Zealand on your gap year is that it's relatively small and if you hire a car or a campervan you can make your way around fairly easily. At 1,600km it's long, but slim at just 400km wide. Perfect for coastline devotees.
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, yet the largest city is Auckland. There are lots of forests, green plains, snow-capped mountains and lakes to enjoy too, and more than 18 peaks that top over 3,000 metres.
Like many former British colonies, New Zealand's politics is loosely based on British politics. It is a parliamentary democracy with the UK's Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state. The Governor-General, currently Sir Anand Satyanand, looks after the country on her behalf and can do a number of things, all in the ‘Queens name'.
In 1996 New Zealand introduced the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) to elect Parliament. The new electoral system was introduced to increase representation of smaller parties in Parliament, which worked, because now no party can secure a majority to form a Government, so they have to form a coalition with a smaller party.
There are a 120 seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives, and the National Party have 58, meaning they are in power, with John Key as Prime Minister. Elections are held every three years with the next general election in 2011.
New Zealand is an extremely safe country to travel to. The only major thing to look out for is natural disasters, though they are very rare.
New Zealand has a mild and temperate climate with a mean average temperate of 13°C. However, it can get as hot as 42°C in the summer and as low as -22°C in the winter, so it can have its moments. Most tourists visit the country in November-April, Kiwi summer. If you're planning to travel to the country outside these months then make sure you pack a rain coat, just in case.
The climate is dominated by two main geographical features: the mountains and the sea. The South Island has a lot of mountains, making it dryer than the North Island. This means that Christchurch is the driest city, whilst Auckland is the wettest city. On the flip-side, the North Island has a more tropical climate and gets a lot hotter in summer. Every cloud has a silver lining.
The weather in New Zealand can change very quickly. It can be hot and sunny one moment, and raining the next. It's not uncommon, especially on the South Island, to experience four seasons in one day.
New Zealand is also famous for being very windy.
Using Wi-Fi in New Zealand can be slow and expensive. Make the most of your local friendly McDonalds or even the library and you can access it for free.