|New Zealand is a country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two large islands (the North Island and the South Island) and numerous smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Chatham Islands. In Maori, New Zealand has come to be known as Aotearoa, which is usually translated into English as The Land of the Long White Cloud. The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue, which are self-governing but in free association; Tokelau; and the Ross Dependency (New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica).|
New Zealand is notable for its geographic isolation, being separated from Australia to the northwest by the Tasman Sea, approximately 2000 kilometres (1250 miles) across. Its closest neighbours to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga.
Contemporary New Zealand has a diverse culture with influences from Anglo-Celtic, American, Australian and Maori cultures, along with those of other European cultures and - more recently - non-Maori Polynesian and Asian cultures. Large festivals in celebration of Diwali and Chinese New Year are held in Auckland and Wellington, as is the world's largest Polynesian festival, Pasifika. Cultural links between New Zealand and the United Kingdom are maintained by a common language, sustained migration from the United Kingdom and the fact that many young New Zealanders spend time in the United Kingdom on their "overseas experience" (OE). The music of New Zealand and cuisine of New Zealand are similar to that of Britain and the United States, although both have some distinct New Zealand and Pacific qualities.
Maori culture has undergone considerable change since the arrival of Europeans; in particular the introduction of Christianity in the early 19th century brought about fundamental change in everyday life. Nonetheless the perception that most Maori now live similar lifestyles to their Pakeha neighbours is a superficial one. In fact, Maori culture has significant differences, for instance the important role which the marae continues to play in communal and family life. As in traditional times, karakia are habitually performed by Maori today to ensure the favorable outcome of important undertakings, but today the prayers used are generally Christian. Maori still regard their allegiance to tribal groups as a vital part of personal identity, and Maori kinship roles resemble those of other Polynesian peoples. As part of the resurgence of Maori culture that came to the fore in the late 20th century, the tradition-based arts of kapa haka (song and dance), carving and weaving are widely practiced, and the architecture of the marae maintains strong links to traditional forms. Maori also value their connections to Polynesia, as attested by the increasing popularity of waka ama (outrigger canoe racing), which is now an international sport involving teams from all over the Pacific. A revived traditional Maori ball sport, ki-o-rahi, is increasingly popular in New Zealand, and in 2005 was introduced into 31,000 American schools as part of a physical activity initiative.
New Zealand is regarded by some as a haven for extreme sports and adventure tourism. Its reputation in extreme sports extends from the establishment of the world's first commercial bungee jumping operation in Auckland in 1986; its roots in adventure tourism can be traced all the way back to Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.
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