New Zealand is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It consists of two main landmasses—the North Island and the South Island —and more than 700 smaller islands, covering a total area of 268,021 square kilometres. New Zealand is about 2,000 kilometres east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and 1,000 kilometres south of the islands of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. The country's varied topography and sharp mountain peaks, including the Southern Alps, owe much to tectonic uplift and volcanic eruptions. New Zealand's capital city is Wellington, and its most populous city is Auckland.
Owing to their remoteness, the islands of New Zealand were the last large habitable lands to be settled by humans. Between about 1280 and 1350, Polynesians began to settle in the islands and then developed a distinctive Māori culture. In 1642, the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, became the first European to sight New Zealand. In 1840, representatives of the United Kingdom and Māori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which declared British sovereignty over the islands.