Natural Wisdom: What Continent is New Zealand On?

For a country that is frequently left of world maps altogether, the question doesn’t seem to come up much. Hence when it does, it can be a head-scratcher: what continent is New Zealand On?

The answer is that it is part of a continent called Zealandia. (Note: whether this is a “micro-continent” or a full “continent” we don’t see as a significant issue to this article).

Topographical Map of Zealandia
Topographical Map of Zealandia by World Data Center for Geophysics & Marine Geology (Boulder, CO), National Geophysical Data Center, NOAA [Public domain]
This sounds too perfect to be true. When we think about the topography of New Zealand, however, it starts to make a lot of sense with what is going on in this truly unique part of the world.

Most people, we imagine, who have spent time in New Zealand, especially in the Southern Islands – Fiordland National Park or the Southern Alps, will be struck by how unique this landscape is: mountains that instantly rise up out of the ocean, fjords and lakes.

It would seem like New Zealand flooded a long time a go and the waters never receded. That is pretty much the case. Zealandia is a sunken continent – sinking perhaps 23 million years ago with 93% of the continent remaining underwater.

The remaining 7% is the peaks – the highest land – much of this forming as a result of the movement of tectonic plates – pushing into each other and driving the earth’s crust up into mountains.

Like most island nations, New Zealand has this strong connection to the water – the water which is covering most of the continent, but because of this, there is in such close proximity mountainous and alpine regions that also form such an integral part to the identity of the place.

Feature image by NAQAG.

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