Oceania is a geographic region comprising Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and Australasia. Spanning the eastern and western hemispheres, Oceania covers an area of 8,525,989 square kilometres and has a population of 40 million. Oceania, collective name for the islands scattered throughout most of the Pacific Ocean. The term, in its widest sense, embraces the entire insular region between Asia and the Americas. A more common definition excludes the Ryukyu, Kuril, and Aleutian islands and the Japan archipelago. The most popular usage delimits Oceania further by eliminating Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines, because the peoples and cultures of those islands are more closely related historically to the Asian mainland. Oceania then, in its most restricted meaning, includes more than 10,000 islands, with a total land area (excluding Australia, but including Papua New Guinea and New Zealand) of approximately 317,700 square miles (822,800 square km). Oceania has traditionally been divided into four parts: Australasia (Australia and New Zealand), Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. As recently as 33,000 years ago no human beings lived in the region, except in Australasia. Although disagreeing on details, scientists generally support a theory that calls for a Southeast Asian origin of island peoples. By 2000 about 12 million islanders lived in Oceania (excluding Australia), and many indigenous cultures were revolutionized by intensive contact with non-Oceanic groups who had intruded from various parts of the Western world. (The arts of the region are discussed in several articles; see art and architecture, Oceanic; music and dance, Oceanic; and Oceanic literature.) Pop. (2001 est.) including Australia, 31,377,000.
Australia, the smallest continent and one of the largest countries on Earth, lying between the Pacific and Indian oceans in the Southern Hemisphere. Australia’s capital is Canberra, located in the southeast between the larger and more important economic and cultural centres of Sydney and Melbourne. The Australian mainland extends from west to east for nearly 2,500 miles (4,000 km) and from Cape York Peninsula in the northeast to Wilsons Promontory in the southeast for nearly 2,000 miles (3,200 km). To the south, Australian jurisdiction extends a further 310 miles (500 km) to the southern extremity of the island of Tasmania, and in the north it extends to the southern shores of Papua New Guinea. Australia is separated from Indonesia to the northwest by the Timor and Arafura seas, from Papua New Guinea to the northeast by the Coral Sea and the Torres Strait, from the Coral Sea Islands Territory by the Great Barrier Reef, from New Zealand to the southeast by the Tasman Sea, and from Antarctica in the far south by the Indian Ocean. Australia has been called “the Oldest Continent,” “the Last of Lands,” and “the Last Frontier.” Those descriptions typify the world’s fascination with Australia, but they are somewhat unsatisfactory. In simple physical terms, the age of much of the continent is certainly impressive—most of the rocks providing the foundation of Australian landforms were formed during Precambrian and Paleozoic time (some 4.6 billion to 252 million years ago)—but the ages of the cores of all the continents are approximately the same. On the other hand, whereas the landscape history of extensive areas in Europe and North America has been profoundly influenced by events and processes that occurred since late in the last Ice Age—roughly the past 25,000 years—in Australia scientists use a more extensive timescale that takes into account the great antiquity of the continent’s landscape.
New Zealand, Maori Aotearoa, island country in the South Pacific Ocean, the southwesternmost part of Polynesia. New Zealand is a remote land—one of the last sizable territories suitable for habitation to be populated and settled—and lies more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) southeast of Australia, its nearest neighbour. The country comprises two main islands—the North and South islands—and a number of small islands, some of them hundreds of miles from the main group. The capital city is Wellington and the largest urban area Auckland; both are located on the North Island. New Zealand administers the South Pacific island group of Tokelau and claims a section of the Antarctic continent. Niue and the Cook Islands are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand. New Zealand is a land of great contrasts and diversity. Active volcanoes, spectacular caves, deep glacier lakes, verdant valleys, dazzling fjords, long sandy beaches, and the spectacular snowcapped peaks of the Southern Alps on the South Island—all contribute to New Zealand’s scenic beauty. New Zealand also has a unique array of vegetation and animal life, much of which developed during the country’s prolonged isolation. It is the sole home, for example, of the long-beaked, flightless kiwi, the ubiquitous nickname for New Zealanders.