Political geography
New Zealand consists of 16 regions, seven in the South Island and nine in the North, and a number of outlying islands that are not included within regional boundaries. The Chatham Islands is not a region, although its council operates as a region under the Resource Management Act. The Kermadecs and the sub-Antarctic islands are inhabited only by a small number of Department of Conservation staff.

Regions of New Zealand
The region is the top tier of local government in New Zealand. There are 16 regions of New Zealand. Twelve are governed by an elected regional council, while four are governed by territorial authorities (the second tier of local government) which also perform the functions of a regional council and thus are known as unitary authorities. The Chatham Islands Council is similar to a unitary authority, but is authorised under its own enabling legislation.

History and statutory basis
A regional council means one of the regional councils listed in Part 1 of Schedule 2 of the Local Government Act 2002. That schedule lists the regional councils of New Zealand and their Gazette notices following their establishment in 1989. The Local Government Act 2002 also requires regional councils to promote sustainable development – the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of their communities.
The current regions and their councils came about in 1989, as a result of an amalgamation procedure carried out under the Local Government Act 1974. The geographic extent of the regions was based largely on drainage basins, the regional boundaries being major drainage divides such as the Southern Alps. This anticipated the responsibilities of the Resource Management Act 1991. Some regional boundaries conform with territorial authority boundaries but there are many exceptions. Territorial authority boundaries may be adjusted to conform with the regional boundaries. An example is the Franklin District, which lies in both the Auckland Region and the Waikato Region: in 2010 this district is scheduled to be dissolved and its extent divided between a new Auckland territorial authority and the Waikato District.

Regional authorities are primarily responsible for environmental management, including water, contaminant discharge and coastal management, river and lake management including flood and drainage control, regional land management; regional transport (including public transport) and harbours, biosecurity or pest management; while territorial authorities are responsible for: local-level land use management (urban and rural planning); network utility services such as water, sewerage, stormwater and solid waste management; local roads; libraries; parks and reserves; and community development. Property rates (land taxes) are used to fund both regional and territorial government activities. There is often a high degree of co-operation between regional and territorial councils as they have complementary roles.
Resource management functions
Regional Councils have these specific functions under the Resource Management Act 1991.
  • Planning for the integrated management of natural and physical resources
  • Planning for regionally significant land uses
  • Soil conservation, water quality and quantity, water ecosystems, natural hazards, hazardous substances
  • Controlling the coastal marine area
  • Controlling via resource consents the taking, use, damming or diverting of water
  • Controlling via resource consents the discharge of contaminants
  • Establishing of rules in a regional plan to allocate water
  • Controlling via resource consents the beds of waterbodies
Other functions
Regional councils also have responsibility for a number of other functions under other statutes;
  • flood and river control under the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941,
  • reserves vested in regional councils under the Reserves Act 1977,
  • civil defence under the Civil Defence Act 1990,
  • regional pest management under the Biosecurity Act 1993,
  • harbour and water navigation under the Maritime Transport Act 1994,
  • hazardous waste under the HSNO Act 1996, and,
  • public transport planning under the Land Transport Act 1998.
Regional councils were also given responsibilities for the supervision of the safety of dams in the Building Act 2004.

Areas outside regional boundaries
New Zealand has a number of outlying islands that are not included within regional boundaries. The Chatham Islands is not in a region, although its council has some of the powers of a regional council under the Resource Management Act. The Kermadecs and the sub-Antarctic islands are inhabited only by a small number of Department of Conservation staff. The Conservation Minister is empowered to act as a regional council for these islands.

Regional councils are popularly elected every three years in accordance with the Local Electoral Act 2001. Councils may use a first past the post or single transferable vote system. The chairperson of a regional council is selected by the elected council members.

New Zealand's climate is complex and varies from warm subtropical in the far north to cool temperate climates in the far south, with severe alpine conditions in the mountainous areas.

Mountain chains extending the length of New Zealand provide a barrier for the prevailing westerly winds, dividing the country into dramatically different climate regions. The West Coast of the South Island is the wettest area of New Zealand, whereas the area to the east of the mountains, just over 100 km away, is the driest.

Most areas of New Zealand have between 600 and 1600 mm of rainfall, spread throughout the year with a dry period during the summer. Over the northern and central areas of New Zealand more rainfall falls in winter than in summer, whereas for much of the southern part of New Zealand, winter is the season of least rainfall. 

Mean annual temperatures range from 10°C in the south to 16°C in the north of New Zealand. The coldest month is usually July and the warmest month is usually January or February. In New Zealand generally there are relatively small variations between summer and winter temperatures, although inland and to the east of the ranges the variation is greater (up to 14°C). Temperatures also drop about 0.7°C for every 100 m of altitude. 

Sunshine hours are relatively high in areas that are sheltered from the west and most of New Zealand would have at least 2000 hours annually. The midday summer solar radiation index (UVI) is often very high in most places and can be extreme in northern New Zealand and in mountainous areas. Autumn and spring UVI values can be high in most areas. This is partly due to the country's relatively little air pollution compared to many other countries.

Most snow in New Zealand falls in the mountain areas. Snow rarely falls in the coastal areas of the North Island and west of the South Island, although the east and south of the South Island may experience some snow in winter. Frosts can occur anywhere in New Zealand and usually form on cold nights with clear skies and little wind.

There are three main factors that influence New Zealand's climate:
  • the latitude, with prevailing winds\prevailing westerly winds;
  • the oceanic environment.
  • the mountains, especially the Southern Alps.
Climate Zones
To summarize the climate of New Zealand, selected locations throughout the country have been grouped into broad climate zones (see map below). A brief description of each climate zone illustrating the average rainfall and temperature can be reached by clicking the appropriate area.
The data are monthly averages for the period 1971–2000, for locations having at least 5 years of complete data. Click here for the station details of each location.
Similar scales have been used for each graph to allow comparison between locations.

Land use
Natural resources include: coal, gold, hydropower, iron ore, limestone, natural gas, sand, and timber.
Land use:
  • arable land: 5.54%
  • permanent crops: 6.92%
  • other: 87.54%
Irrigated land: 2,850 km² (2003)
Natural hazards
  • Earthquakes are common, though usually not severe
  • Volcanic activity
  • Fire bans exist in some areas
Current issues: Deforestation, soil erosion, native flora and fauna hard-hit by invasive species.
International agreements:
  • party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
  • signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation, Antarctic Seals