Story: Landscapes – overview
Snow-capped mountains, lush rainforests, golden beaches, dramatic geothermal areas – New Zealand’s diverse landscapes have been described as the world’s biggest film set.
Full story by Eileen McSaveney
Main image: Whangaroa Harbour
The Short Story
A quick, easy summaryRead the Full Story
Films are often made in New Zealand, because the landscapes are so varied and beautiful – there are high snowy mountains, green forests, sandy beaches, active volcanoes and more.
Formation of landscapes
The landscapes were formed by:
- the Pacific and Australian plates (huge, slow-moving blocks of the earth’s crust) colliding and pushing up mountains
- erosion caused by rainfall and ocean waves
- volcanic eruptions building cones, and leaving depressions which now hold lakes
- glaciers in the ice ages, which dug out valleys and lake basins
- rivers cutting into the land.
Northern New Zealand
- Northland has sandy beaches, rocky islands and giant kauri trees.
- Auckland is built around two great harbours. Its many volcanoes have formed cones, craters and lava flows.
- The Coromandel Peninsula has a dramatic coastline.
The volcanic region
- The Taupō Volcanic Zone is an area of active volcanoes – Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngāuruhoe are the largest cone volcanoes. In the past, volcanic eruptions created lake basins, and there are geothermal areas with geysers and hot pools.
- Taranaki is dominated by Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont), a beautiful dormant volcano.
Central and southern North Island
- Mountain ranges form a barrier between the east and west sides of the North Island.
- Flatter areas such as Wairarapa are used for farming.
- Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, is built on hills around a harbour.
Top of the South Island
- The Marlborough Sounds have steep ridges, islands and waterways.
- The north-west corner has dramatic limestone landscapes and caves.
Central South Island
- The Southern Alps are New Zealand’s highest mountains.
- On the West Coast, Franz Josef and Fox glaciers reach almost to sea level.
- The Canterbury Plains are a huge flat area, crossed by braided rivers.
- In the west, lake basins were dug out by glaciers in the ice ages.
- Central Otago is New Zealand’s driest area.
- The coastal area gets more rain, and is much greener.
Southland and Stewart Island
- Eastern Southland is rolling country, mainly used for farming.
- Fiordland is a huge area of wilderness, with lakes, fiords and mountains.
- Stewart Island (Rakiura) is mostly a forested wilderness.
- The Kermadec Islands, more than 1,000 kilometres north-east of New Zealand, are part of a chain of volcanoes.
- The Chatham Islands, 800 kilometres east, are low-lying and windy.
- The five groups of subantarctic islands, south of New Zealand, are nature reserves.