The Dutch, who arrived later under Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten, called it Schouten island, but later this name was used only to refer to islands off the north coast of Papua proper, the Schouten Islands or Biak Island.
When the Dutch colonized it as part of Netherlands East Indies, they called it Nieuw Guinea. It is taken from the Biak language of Biak Island, and means "to rise", or "rising spirit".
The largest island offshore, Dolak (Frederik Hendrik, Yos Sudarso), lies near the Digul estuary, separated by a strait so narrow it has been named a "creek".
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).
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.
These are the island's major river systems, draining roughly northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast, respectively.
Many have broad areas of meander and result in large areas of lakes and freshwater swamps.
Yet the two land masses share a similar animal fauna, with marsupials, including wallabies and possums, and the egg-laying monotreme, the echidna.