New Zealand is situated some 1,500 kilometres east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly 1,000 kilometres south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Due to its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans. During its long isolation New Zealand developed a distinctive fauna dominated by birds, many of which became extinct after the arrival of humans and introduced mammals. With a mild maritime climate, the land was mostly covered in forest. The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks owe much to the uplift of land and volcanic eruptions caused by the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates clashing underfoot.
Polynesians settled New Zealand in 1250–1300 AD and developed a distinctive Māori culture, and Europeans first made contact in 1642 AD. The introduction of potatoes and muskets triggered upheaval among Māori early during the 19th century, which led to the inter-tribal Musket Wars. In 1840 the British and Māori signed a treaty making New Zealand a colony of the British Empire. Immigrant numbers increased sharply and conflicts escalated into the Land Wars, which resulted in much Māori land being confiscated in the mid North Island.
New Zealanders enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world in the 1950s, but the 1970s saw a deep recession, worsened by oil shocks and the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community. The country underwent major economic changes during the 1980s, which transformed it from a protectionist to a liberalised free-trade economy. Markets for New Zealand's agricultural exports have diversified greatly since the 1970s, with once-dominant exports of wool being overtaken by dairy products, meat, and recently wine.
A recent resurgence of Māori culture has seen their traditional arts of carving, weaving and tattooing become more mainstream. Many artists now combine Māori and Western techniques to create unique art forms. The country's culture has also been broadened by globalisation and increased immigration from the Pacific Islands and Asia. New Zealand's diverse landscape provides many opportunities for outdoor pursuits and has provided the backdrop for a number of big budget movies.