New Zealand is an archipelago of more than 700 islands, with over 15,000 kilometres of coastline. Our land area is about 270,000 square kilometres – similar to that of Japan or the United Kingdom.
New Zealand’s location on the boundary of the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates has shaped – and continues to shape – our landforms. The resulting earth movements have produced hilly and mountainous terrain over two-thirds of our islands. We experience frequent earthquakes in most parts of the country, and have a zone of volcanic and geothermal activity in the central North Island.
Our terrain, climate, rock types, and vegetation have together produced more than 100 different soil types. Despite this diversity, New Zealand’s soils are generally low in nutrients because the rocks they come from are geologically young.
New Zealand is known for its biodiversity, with more than 52,500 species of indigenous animals, plants, and fungi. Our indigenous plants and animals developed in isolation for 60–80 million years, so many of them are unique. About 90 percent of our land-based animals (including insects), nearly 80 percent of our plants, and 26 percent of our fungi are found only in New Zealand. Thirty-eight percent of our marine animals live only in New Zealand waters (Gordon, 2013).