New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere about halfway between the Equator and Antarctica.
It sits on top of two tectonic plates, whose movement has resulted in the South Island’s magnificent mountains known as the Southern Alps.
Mount Cook is the tallest of these craggy mountains, at 12,310 feet (3,753 m). In an area about the size of California, visitors can experience a range of landforms, from glaciers to rain forests.
New Zealand has been a separate microcontinent for 80 million years, plenty of time for diverse forms of life to evolve there.
About 90 percent of its insects and 80 percent of its trees, ferns, and flowering plants are not found anywhere else on the earth.
New Zealand also has 60 unique reptile species, but not a single snake.
New Zealand is home to one of the world’s largest and heaviest insects, the giant weta. Wetas are flightless, grasshopper-like insects that can weigh twice as much as a small mouse.
New Zealand’s only native land mammals are two species of bats. All other mammals there were brought from somewhere else.
Several species of flightless birds are unique to New Zealand. Because they had no natural enemies, these birds could walk freely on the ground and never needed to use their wings.
The best known is the kiwi, the New Zealand national emblem. This shy, nocturnal bird has nostrils at the end of its beak.