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The tree line is around 4,000 m (13,100 ft) elevation and the tallest peaks contain permanent equatorial glaciers—which have been retreating since at least 1936.Various other smaller mountain ranges occur both north and west of the central ranges.A spine of east–west mountains, the New Guinea Highlands, dominates the geography of New Guinea, stretching over 1,600 km (1,000 mi) from the 'head' to the 'tail' of the island, with many high mountains over 4,000 m (13,100 ft).The western-half of the island of New Guinea contains the highest mountains in Oceania, rising up to 4,884 m (16,024 ft) high, which is even higher than Mont Blanc in Europe, ensuring a steady supply of rain from the equatorial atmosphere.When the Portuguese and Spanish explorers arrived in the island via the Spice Islands, they also referred to the island as Papua.However, the name New Guinea was later used by Westerners starting with the Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez in 1545, referring to the similarities of the indigenous people's appearance with the natives of the Guinea region of Africa.New Guinea contains many of the world's ecosystem types: glacial, alpine tundra, savanna, montane and lowland rainforest, mangroves, wetlands, lake and river ecosystems, seagrasses, and some of the richest coral reefs on the planet.The island of New Guinea lies to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago.
The shape of New Guinea is often compared to that of a bird-of-paradise (indigenous to the island), and this results in the usual names for the two extremes of the island: the Bird's Head Peninsula in the northwest (Vogelkop in Dutch, Kepala Burung in Indonesian; also known as the Doberai Peninsula), and the Bird's Tail Peninsula in the southeast (also known as the Papuan Peninsula).
The eastern half of the island is the major land mass of the independent state of Papua New Guinea.
The western half, referred to as either Western New Guinea or West Papua, has been administered by Indonesia since 1963 and comprises the provinces of Papua and West Papua.
southern counterpart, Australia, by its much higher rainfall and its active volcanic geology, with its highest point, Puncak Jaya, reaching an elevation of 4,884 m (16,023 ft).
Yet the two land masses share a similar animal fauna, with marsupials, including wallabies and possums, and the egg-laying monotreme, the echidna.