New Zealand is part of a fiery rim of volcanoes that encircle the Pacific Ocean. The last large eruption occurred in 1886 - Mount Tarawera near Rotorua left an estimated 150 people dead. Our most recent showoff has been Mount Ruapehu, which did its best to ruin the central North Island ski season for several years in a row in the late '90s.

Today, New Zealand bears all the fascinating geographical hallmarks of a tumultuous geologic history. It may have a reputation for being "very green," but most visitors are astonished to discover a small country of incredible geographic diversity. There are 500-million-year-old marble outcrops on the top of the Takaka Hills in Nelson, and volcanic ash and pumice have created a barren, desertlike landscape in the central North Island. Franz Josef is one of the fastest-moving glaciers in the world, and the Marlborough Sounds are a labyrinth of islands and waterways. Parched tussock country and strange rocky outcrops cover Central Otago, and the Canterbury Plains spread wide and flat as evidence of prehuman glacial erosion.

Despite all this earthly fury, the land has been blessed with an endless coastline of stunning beaches - white or golden sand on the east coasts, black or gray on the west coasts. Craters have filled to create jewel-like lakes, and rivers and streams are the endless arteries and veins that feed lush flora.

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