Australia is the Earth’s smallest continent, situated in the Southern Hemisphere between the Pacific and the Indian oceans. Australia occupies an area of almost 8 million square kilometers and has about 19 million inhabitants. The capital of Australia is Canberra.
Australia is a varied landscape. There are the New England Range, Blue Mountains and Australian Alps with the highest peak of the whole continent – Mt. Kosciusco. Besides mountains there are the Central-Eastern Lowland and three deserts – the Great Sandy Desert, the Gibson Desert and the Victoria Desert. The southern part of Australia is mostly covered by tropic forests and savannah with occasional creeks and rivers, which flow into lakes such as Lake Eyre, Lake Torrens and Lake Gairdner (large lakes which become dry in the dry seasons).
Australia’s native inhabitants, the Aborigines, arrived in Australia at least 40 thousand years ago, according to present evidence. The existence of this continent was believed long ago and was supported by information from Marco Polo at the end of the 13th century (Terra Australis Incognita). The first recorded sighting of Australia by Europeans was in 1606, when the Dutch ship arrived at the west coast of Cape York. The wave of immigration began in 18th century, after Captain James Cook had claimed New South Wales as a British colony in 1770. The first immigration was a special day. On May 13th, 1787, the first fleet set out from England on the way to Australia, having on board thousand people, of whom 700 were convicts.
The creation of separate colonies followed the first settlement in New South Wales at Sydney in 1788, then Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Queensland. The idea of independence appeared in 19th century, but finally Queen Victoria proclaimed the Commonwealth of Australia to be recognized from January 1st, 1901.
New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, in the Pacific Ocean. It occupies an area of 270 thousand square kilometers and has 4 milion inhabitants. The capital of the New Zealand is Wellington, the political, economic, and cultural center of the country.
The main islands, the North and the South, are separated by narrow Cook Strait. Although there are several lowland areas around the New Zealand coast, the country is mainly rolling and hilly. In the mountains of the South Island the highest peak is Mt. Cook. Its opposite in the North Island is Ruapehu. There are several important rivers, which are mainly short and torrential, most of them run swiftly to the sea. The largest lake - Taupo - is in the North Island.
When Abel Tasman, the Dutch navigatior, discovered New Zealand in 17th century, it was inhabited by the Maoris. Many years later, in 1769, the next recorded voyage to New Zealand was made by a European, Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy. On the first of three visits, he mapped the two main islands and discovered the passage between the two islands – Cook Strait – named after him. In february 1840 was signed the Treaty of Waitangi, by which was received for the Maori people full British citizenship. The first ships bringing colonists arrived in the same year, after this act.
In 1852, Britain granted self-government to New Zealand. The central New Zealand Government was initially at Russel, then at Auckland, and finally at Wellington. In addition, Provincial Governments had wide powers untill 1876, when they were abolished. For several decades after the start of organized European settlement there was friction between Maori and European people. New Zealand became a dominion in the British Empire in 1907 and was granted full independence in 1931. Independence was formally accepted by the New Zealand legislature in 1947.