New Zealand has a variety of landscapes.
Spectacular glaciers, picturesque fiords, rugged mountains, vast plains, rolling hillsides, subtropical forest, volcanic plateau, miles of coastline with gorgeous sandy beaches – it’s all here.
Lying in the south-west Pacific, New Zealand consists of two main islands – the North Island, or Te Ika-a-Māui, and the South Island, or Te Waipounamu are separated by Cook Strait, 22 kilometres wide at its narrowest point. Besides the North and South Islands, the five largest inhabited islands are Stewart Island (across the Foveaux Strait), Chatham Island, Great Barrier Island (in the Hauraki Gulf), D’Urville Island (in the Marlborough Sounds) and Waiheke Island (about 22 km from central Auckland).
The central North Island is dominated by the Volcanic Plateau, an active volcanic and thermal area. The massive Southern Alps form the backbone of the South Island.
New Zealand’s oldest rocks are over 500 million years old, once part of Gondwanaland. This massive super-continent started to split up about 160 million years ago, and New Zealand separated from it about 85 million years ago.
New Zealand sits on two tectonic plates – the Pacific and the Australian. Because these plates are constantly shifting and grinding into each other, New Zealand gets a lot of geological action. Elsewhere, the plate boundary involves the subduction of one plate under the other, producing the Puysegur Trench to the south, the Hikurangi Trench east of the North Island, and the Kermadec and Tonga Trenches further north.
This subterranean activity blesses New Zealand with some spectacular geothermal areas and relaxing hot springs, as well as providing electricity and heating in some areas.
New Zealand has over 15,000 kilometres of beautiful and varied coastline.
About a fifth of the North Island and two-thirds of the South Island are mountains.
Over millions of years, alluvial deposits (eroded from the mountains by rivers) formed the vast Canterbury Plains in the South Island and a number of smaller plains in the North. These alluvial plains contain some of New Zealand’s most fertile and productive farmland.
New Zealand’s Southern Alps have a number of glaciers, the largest being Tasman glacier, which you can view by taking a short walk from Mount Cook village. New Zealand’s most famous glaciers are the Franz Josef and Fox on the South Island’s West Coast.
Over thousands of years, the process of subduction has seen parts of the New Zealand landscape become submerged. The Marlborough Sounds and Fiordland are examples of high mountain ranges that have ‘sunk’ into the sea, creating spectacular sounds and fiords. These areas provide some of New Zealand most picturesque scenery, with steep lush hills plunging down to the deep still bays below.
The Southern Alps stretch for 500 kilometres down the South Island. A large mountain with a lake in the foreground sees Aoraki / Mount Cook as the highest point in New Zealand, at 3,724 metres. New Zealand is long and narrow—over 1,600 kilometres along its north-north-east axis with a maximum width of 400 kilometres and a total land area of 268,000 square kilometres. Its exclusive economic zone is one of the largest in the world, covering more than 15 times its land area.
New Zealand is part of a region known as Australasia, together with Australia. It also forms the southwestern extremity of the geographic and ethnographic region called Polynesia. The term Oceania is often used to denote the wider region encompassing the Australian continent, New Zealand and various islands in the Pacific Ocean that are not included in the seven-continent model.
Māori were the first to arrive in New Zealand, journeying in canoes from Hawaiki about 1,000 years ago, guided by Kupe the great navigator. Using the stars and ocean currents as his navigational guides, he ventured across the Pacific on his waka hourua (voyaging canoe) from his ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. It is thought that Kupe made landfall at the Hokianga Harbour in Northland, around 1000 years ago.
A Dutchman; Abel Tasman, was the first European to sight the country but it was the British who made New Zealand part of their empire. Dutch cartographers subsequently renamed Tasman’s discovery Nova Zeelandia from Latin, after the Dutch province of Zeeland. This name was later anglicised to New Zealand. It has no relationship to Zealand in Denmark. Aotearoa; often translated as ‘land of the long white cloud’ is the current Māori name for New Zealand.
New Zealand has a rich and fascinating history, reflecting our unique mix of Māori and European culture.
Today New Zealand is home to more than 5 million people. Learn more about how our cultural diversity came about in this young country.
Māori were the first inhabitants of New Zealand or Aotearoa, guided by Kupe the great navigator.
Though a Dutchman was the first European to sight the country, it was the British who colonised New Zealand.
Legend has it that New Zealand was fished from the sea by the daring demigod Māui. The Legends of Māui are deeply rooted in New Zealand’s history and culture.
In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, an agreement between the British Crown and Maori. It established British law in New Zealand and is considered New Zealand’s founding document and an important part of the country’s history.
More waka hourua followed Kupe over the next few hundred years, landing at various parts of New Zealand. It is believed that Polynesian migration was planned and deliberate, with many waka hourua making return journeys to Hawaiki. Today, Māori are part of an iwi (tribe), a group of people who are descendants of a common ancestor and associated with a certain region or area in New Zealand. Each iwi has their own hapū (sub-tribes). Iwi can trace their entire origins and whakapapa (genealogy) back to certain waka hourua. The seven waka that arrived to Aotearoa were called Tainui, Te Arawa, Mātaatua, Kurahaupō, Tokomaru, Aotea and Tākitimu.
Māori were expert hunters, gatherers and growers. They wove fishing nets from harakeke (flax), and carved fishhooks from bone and stone. They hunted native birds, including moa, the world’s largest bird, with a range of ingenious traps and snares.
Māori cultivated land and introduced vegetables from Polynesia, including the kūmara (sweet potato) and often cooked hāngi (an earth oven). They also ate native vegetables, roots and berries. Woven baskets were used to carry food, which was often stored in a pātaka — a storehouse raised on stilts.
To protect themselves from being attacked by others, Māori would construct pā (fortified village). Built in strategic locations, pā were cleverly constructed with a series of stockades and trenches protecting the inhabitants from intruders. Today, many historic pā sites can be found throughout the country.
Māori warriors were strong and fearless, able to skillfully wield a variety of traditional weapons(opens in new window), including the spear-like taiaha and club-like mere. Today, these weapons may be seen in Māori ceremonies, such as the wero (challenge). You can also find these traditional weapons in museums.
While Māori lived throughout the North and South Islands, the Moriori, another Polynesian tribe, lived on the Chatham Islands, nearly 900 kilometres east of Christchurch. Moriori are believed to have migrated to the Chathams from the South Island of New Zealand. In the late 18th century, there were about 2000 Moriori living on the Chathams. However, disease and attacks from Māori saw the numbers of this peace-loving tribe become severely depleted. The last full-blooded Moriori is believed to have died in 1933.
The first European to sight New Zealand was Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. He was on an expedition to discover a great Southern continent ‘Great South Land’ that was believed to be rich in minerals. In 1642, while searching for this continent, Tasman sighted a ‘large high-lying land’ off the West Coast of the South Island.
Abel Tasman annexed the country for Holland under the name of ‘Staten Landt’ (later changed to ‘New Zealand’ by Dutch mapmakers). Sailing up the country’s West Coast, Tasman’s first contact with Māori was at the top of the South Island in what is now called Golden Bay. Two waka (canoes) full of Māori men sighted Tasman’s boat. Tasman sent out his men in a small boat, but various misunderstandings saw it rammed by one of the waka. In the resulting skirmish, four of Tasman’s men were killed.
Tasman never set foot on New Zealand, and after sailing up the West Coast, went on to some Pacific Islands, and then back to Batavia (now Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). His mission to New Zealand was considered unsuccessful by his employers, the Dutch East India Company, Tasman having found ‘no treasures or matters of great profit’.
Captain James Cook, sent to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus, was also tasked with the search for the great southern continent thought to exist in the southern seas. Cook’s cabin boy, Young Nick, sighted a piece of land (now called Young Nick’s Head) near Gisborne in 1769. Cook successfully circumnavigated and mapped the country, and led two more expeditions to New Zealand before being killed in Hawaii in 1779.
Prior to 1840, it was mainly whalers, sealers, and missionaries who came to New Zealand. These settlers had considerable contact with Māori, especially in coastal areas. Māori and Pākehā (Europeans) traded extensively, and some Europeans lived among Māori. The contribution of guns to Māori intertribal warfare, along with European diseases, led to a steep decline in the Māori population during this time.
Signed in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi is an agreement between the British Crown and Māori.
Around this time, there were 125,000 Māori and about 2000 settlers in New Zealand. Sealers and whalers were the first Europeans settlers, followed by missionaries. Merchants also arrived to trade natural resources such as flax and timber from Māori in exchange for clothing, guns and other products.
As more immigrants settled permanently in New Zealand, they weren’t always fair in their dealings with Māori over land. A number of Māori chiefs sought protection from William IV, the King of England, and recognition of their special trade and missionary contacts with Britain. They feared a takeover by nations like France, and wanted to stop the lawlessness of the British people in their country.
As British settlement increased, the British Government decided to negotiate a formal agreement with Māori chiefs to become a British Colony. A treaty was drawn up in English then translated into Māori.
The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840, at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. Forty-three Northland Chiefs signed the treaty on that day. Over 500 Māori Chiefs signed it as it was taken around the country during the next eight months.
Learn about the Maori chiefs that signed the treaty
The Treaty had three articles:
Disputes over ownership followed involving a series of violent conflicts during the 19th century. These became known as the New Zealand Land Wars, and were concentrated around Northland and the southern part of the North Island during the 1840s, and the central North Island in the 1860s. Both sides suffered losses, with the Brittish Crown the eventual victor. Land confiscation and questionable land sales carried on through to the 20th century, until the vast majority of land in New Zealand was owned by settlers and the Crown.
Following its signing, many of the rights guaranteed to Māori in the Treaty of Waitangi were ignored. To help rectify this, the Waitangi Tribunal was set up in 1975. It has ruled on a number of claims brought by Māori iwi (tribes) and in many cases, compensation has been granted.
While disagreements over the terms of the treaty continue to this day, it is still considered New Zealand’s founding document.
The grounds and building where the treaty was signed have been preserved. Today, the Waitangi Historic Reserve is a popular tourist attraction. Here you can explore the museum, watch a cultural performance inside the carved Māori meeting house, and visit the colonial mission house, historic flagstaff, and beautiful waka taua (Māori war canoe).
According to Māori and Polynesian myths and legends, Māui was the gifted and clever demigod, who, after a miraculous birth and upbringing won the affection of his supernatural parents.
He was bold and sharp-witted and taught useful arts to mankind although he was not always liked. He tamed the sun and bought fire to the world but one of his most famous feats was the creation of the islands we know today as Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Māori legend says that one-night Māui’s four brothers planned to go fishing and leave him behind. Overhearing their plans and not wanting to be left out, Māui hid under the floorboards of his brother’s canoe and waited until they were far away from the shore before revealing himself. He had carved a magic fishhook from an ancestors’ jawbone and he cast it deep into the sea, chanting powerful words.
Soon, Māui realised he had caught something. Something huge! With the help of his brothers, the catch was hurled to the surface of the water. Much to their surprise the fish they had caught was in fact a huge piece of land and they were delighted to find that they had discovered ‘Te Ika a Māui’ (Māui’s fish), which we know today as the North Island.
Before Māui had time to thank Tangaroa (the god of the sea) for the gift of this land, Māui’s brothers began carving out pieces of the huge fish, creating the many valleys, mountains, and lakes that you see today on the North Island.
‘Te Waka a Māui’ (Māui’s canoe) or what we know now as the South Island is said to be the waka or canoe that Māui and his brothers fished from. It’s believed that the Kaikōura Peninsula on the east coast of the South Island is the place where the seat of the canoe was situated, where Māui stood to haul in his giant catch.
Stewart Island-Rakiura is believed to be the anchor from the canoe and is named ‘Te Punga a Māui’ (Māui’s anchor stone).
If you look closely at a map of New Zealand you may be able to visualise the North Island as a fish, with the head near Wellington and the base of the tail in the Coromandel and the backbone through the centre of the island near Taupo and Rotorua and the fins on the east and west coasts.
Looking at the South Island on the map you may see that the southern tip in Southland resembles the stern of the canoe and the prow can be seen in the north.
Throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century, the ‘homeland’ of Britain had an enormous influence on New Zealand. Government administration, education, and culture were largely built on British models. New Zealand troops fought, and suffered severe casualties in the Boer War and the two World Wars. As Prime Minister Michael Savage said about England in 1939, ‘where she goes, we go, where she stands, we stand’.
After World War II, cultural ties with Great Britain remained strong. However, successive New Zealand governments saw the USA as their major ally and protector. New Zealand signed the joined SEATO (South-East Asia Treaty Organisation) and signed the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, and United States) Pact. New Zealand troops also fought with US forces during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
While New Zealand is still heavily influenced by its colonial heritage, the country now has its own strong sense of identity. While still a member of the British Commonwealth, and maintaining close, friendly relations with the USA, New Zealand now has a far more independent trading and foreign policy. Since the mid 1980s, New Zealand has been a nuclear free zone, with its armed forces primarily focused on peacekeeping in the Pacific region.
Up and down the country there are places where time has stood still. Historic cottages and sprawling mansions, breweries and old hotels, Victorian cities and Art Deco towns – they’ve been preserved and protected to give you a glimpse of the past.
In the far north, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a lesson in early New Zealand history – both Maori and European. In Auckland, grand old homes showcase the finer side of colonial life. Napier captures the glamour and architecture freedom of the 1930s, while Wellington invites you to take a look at old Government Buildings, the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere.
New Zealand is one of the last major landmasses settled by humans. Radiocarbon dating, evidence of deforestation and mitochondrial DNA variability within Māori populations suggest that Eastern Polynesians first settled the New Zealand archipelago between 1250 and 1300, although newer archaeological and genetic research points to a date no earlier than about 1280, with at least the main settlement period between about 1320 and 1350, consistent with evidence based on genealogical traditions. This represented a culmination in a long series of voyages through the Pacific islands. Over the centuries that followed, the Polynesian settlers developed a distinct culture now known as Māori. The population formed different iwi (tribes) and hapū (subtribes) which would sometimes cooperate, sometimes compete and sometimes fight against each other. At some point, a group of Māori migrated to Rēkohu, now known as the Chatham Islands, where they developed their distinct Moriori culture. The Moriori population was all but wiped out between 1835 and 1862, largely because of Taranaki Māori invasion and enslavement in the 1830s, although European diseases also contributed. In 1862, only 101 survived, and the last known full-blooded Moriori died in 1933.
Map of the New Zealand coastline as Cook charted it on his first visit in 1769–70. The track of the Endeavour is also shown.
In a hostile 1642 encounter, four of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman’s crew members were killed, and at least one Māori was hit by canister shot. Europeans did not revisit New Zealand until 1769, when British explorer James Cook mapped almost the entire coastline. Following Cook, New Zealand was visited by numerous European and North American whaling, sealing, and trading ships. They traded European food, metal tools, weapons, and other goods for timber, Māori food, artefacts, and water. The introduction of the potato and the musket transformed Māori agriculture and warfare. Potatoes provided a reliable food surplus, which enabled longer and more sustained military campaigns. The resulting intertribal Musket Wars encompassed over 600 battles between 1801 and 1840, killing 30,000–40,000 Māori. From the early 19th century, Christian missionaries began to settle New Zealand, eventually converting most of the Māori population. The Māori population declined to around 40% of its pre-contact level during the 19th century; introduced diseases were the major factor.
The Waitangi sheet from the Treaty of Waitangi
In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip assumed the position of Governor of the new British colony of New South Wales which according to his commission included New Zealand. The British Government appointed James Busby as British Resident to New Zealand in 1832 following a petition from northern Māori. In 1835, following an announcement of impending French settlement by Charles de Thierry, the nebulous United Tribes of New Zealand sent a Declaration of Independence to King William IV of the United Kingdom asking for protection. Ongoing unrest, the proposed settlement of New Zealand by the New Zealand Company (which had already sent its first ship of surveyors to buy land from Māori) and the dubious legal standing of the Declaration of Independence prompted the Colonial Office to send Captain William Hobson to claim sovereignty for the United Kingdom and negotiate a treaty with the Māori. The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed in the Bay of Islands on 6 February 1840. In response to the New Zealand Company’s attempts to establish an independent settlement in Wellington and French settlers purchasing land in Akaroa, Hobson declared British sovereignty over all of New Zealand on 21 May 1840, even though copies of the treaty were still circulating throughout the country for Māori to sign. With the signing of the treaty and declaration of sovereignty, the number of immigrants, particularly from the United Kingdom, began to increase.
New Zealand, still part of the colony of New South Wales, became a separate Colony of New Zealand on 1 July 1841. Armed conflict began between the Colonial government and Māori in 1843 with the Wairau Affray over land and disagreements over sovereignty. These conflicts, mainly in the North Island, saw thousands of imperial troops and the Royal Navy come to New Zealand and became known as the New Zealand Wars. Following these armed conflicts, large amounts of Māori land was confiscated by the government to meet settler demands.
Black and white engraving depicting a crowd of people
A meeting of European and Māori inhabitants of Hawke’s Bay Province. Engraving, 1863.
The colony gained a representative government in 1852, and the first Parliament met in 1854. In 1856 the colony effectively became self-governing, gaining responsibility over all domestic matters (except native policy, which was granted in the mid-1860s). Following concerns that the South Island might form a separate colony, premier Alfred Domett moved a resolution to transfer the capital from Auckland to a locality near Cook Strait. Wellington was chosen for its central location, with Parliament officially sitting there for the first time in 1865.
In 1891 the Liberal Party came to power as the first organised political party. The Liberal Government, led by Richard Seddon for most of its period in office, passed many important social and economic measures. In 1893 New Zealand was the first nation in the world to grant all women the right to vote and in 1894 pioneered the adoption of compulsory arbitration between employers and unions.
In 1907, at the request of the New Zealand Parliament, King Edward VII proclaimed New Zealand a Dominion within the British Empire, reflecting its self-governing status. In 1947 the country adopted the Statute of Westminster, confirming that the British Parliament could no longer legislate for New Zealand without the consent of New Zealand.
Early in the 20th century, New Zealand was involved in world affairs, fighting in the first and Second World Wars and suffering through the Great Depression. The depression led to the election of the first Labour Government and the establishment of a comprehensive welfare state and a protectionist economy. New Zealand experienced increasing prosperity following the Second World War, and Māori began to leave their traditional rural life and move to the cities in search of work. A Māori protest movement developed, which criticised Eurocentrism and worked for greater recognition of Māori culture and of the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1975, a Waitangi Tribunal was set up to investigate alleged breaches of the Treaty, and it was enabled to investigate historic grievances in 1985. The government has negotiated settlements of these grievances with many iwi, although Māori claims to the foreshore and seabed proved controversial in the 2000s.
New Zealanders are friendly and down-to-earth people who embrace the spirit of manaakitanga, or hospitality.
Demography in New Zealand. The 2018 New Zealand census enumerated a resident population of 4,699,755, an increase of 10.8% over the 2013 census figure. As of June 2021, the total population has risen to an estimated 5,124,210. New Zealand’s population increased at a rate of 1.9% per year in the seven years ended June 2020. In September 2020 Statistics New Zealand reported that the population had climbed above 5 million people in September 2019, according to population estimates based on the 2018 census.[n 8]
New Zealand is a predominantly urban country, with 84.1% of the population living in urban areas, and 51.4% of the population living in the seven cities with populations exceeding 100,000. Auckland, with over 1 million residents, is by far the largest city. New Zealand cities generally rank highly on international livability measures. For instance, in 2016, Auckland was ranked the world’s third most liveable city and Wellington the twelfth by the Mercer Quality of Living Survey.
Life expectancy for New Zealanders in 2012 was 84 years for females, and 80.2 years for males. Life expectancy at birth is forecast to increase from 80 years to 85 years in 2050, and infant mortality is expected to decline. New Zealand’s fertility rate of 2.1 is relatively high for a developed country, and natural births account for a significant proportion of population growth. Consequently, the country has a young population compared to most industrialised nations, with 20% of New Zealanders being 14 years old or younger. In 2018 the median age of the New Zealand population was 38.1 years. By 2050, the median age is projected to rise to 43 years and the percentage of people 60 years of age and older to rise from 18% to 29%. In 2008 the leading cause of premature death was cancer, at 29.8%, followed by ischaemic heart disease, 19.7%, and then cerebrovascular disease, 9.2%. As of 2016, total expenditure on health care (including private sector spending) is 9.2% of GDP.
With a patchwork history of Māori, European, Pacific Island and Asian influences, New Zealand’s population of five million people is a melting-pot of cultures.
Today, the population of New Zealand(opens in new window) is made up of people from a range of backgrounds; 70% are of European descent, 16.5% are indigenous Māori, 15.1% Asian and 8.1% non-Māori Pacific Islanders.
Geographically, over three-quarters of the population live in the North Island, with one-third of the total population living in Auckland. The other main cities of Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton are where the majority of the remaining Kiwis dwell.
New Zealand demographics don’t tell the full story. Beyond the numbers, what are Kiwi people really like?
Why are New Zealanders called Kiwis?
The name ‘kiwi’ comes from the curious little flightless bird that is unique to New Zealand.
Māori people have always held the kiwi bird in high regard. Their feathers were used to make ‘kahu kiwi’, valuable cloaks worn by tribal chiefs.
In the early 1900s, cartoonists started to use images of the kiwi bird to represent New Zealand as a country.
During the First World War, New Zealand soldiers were referred to as ‘kiwis’, and the nickname stuck.
Eventually, the term Kiwi was attributed to all New Zealanders, who proudly embraced the moniker. Just like the bird, New Zealanders are unique, adaptable and a little quirky.
The quirks and values of Kiwi people
New Zealanders share a set of values that arise from Māori cultural influences, early pioneering spirit, and a love of sports and the outdoors.
Over four hundred years before Christopher Columbus and the rest of Europe worried about falling off the edge of the world, Māori people voyaged thousands of miles across the vast unknown Pacific Ocean in small ocean-going canoes and became the first inhabitants of Aotearoa New Zealand.
To this day, Maori culture is a core part of New Zealand’s national identity.
New Zealand’s European pioneers were also brave, rugged and independent. Before establishing farms and settlements, they had to first clear the land – a painstaking and sometimes dangerous activity. Their isolation and exposure to the elements forced these early New Zealanders to become hardy and multi-skilled.
This resourcefulness and ingenuity has greatly contributed to the New Zealand character. The same qualities can be seen today in the new pioneers – a generation of young Kiwi business executives, computer software builders, film-makers, fashion designers, and sportspeople making waves around the world.
New Zealander AJ Hackett invented the Bungy Jump
Since before Sir Ernest Rutherford ‘split’ the atom early in the twentieth century, Kiwis have been discovering and inventing things. Many of these inventions have literally been created in a backyard. While frozen meat, the Hamilton Jet boat, and the bungy jump are probably our most famous Kiwi inventions, there are many others.
New Zealanders are also responsible for the tranquilliser gun, seismic ‘base’ isolators (rubber and lead blocks which minimise earthquake damage), electric fences, the fastest motorbike in the world, freezer vacuum pumps, stamp vending machines, wide-toothed shearing combs, and the electronic petrol pump – to name a few!
With such spectacular landscapes, it’s little wonder Kiwis love the great outdoors.
Kiwis love the great outdoors
For the same reason that many visitors come to New Zealand, Kiwis have developed a passion for the outdoors and delight in activities that make the most of the spectacular landscape.
With so much coastline, it’s little wonder New Zealanders love the water and it’s reputed that over 15% of New Zealand families own their own boat. Respected as superior yacht designers, Kiwis continue to dominate on the world yachting, kayaking, windsurfing and rowing scene.
Hiking, camping, fishing, bush and beach walks are other popular outdoor pursuits. The more intrepid take to the mountains; following in the footsteps of perhaps the most adventurous Kiwi, Sir Edmund Hillary, who conquered Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, in 1953.
Rugby is New Zealand’s national sport
Mateship on the sporting field
The two World Wars saw heavy casualties inflicted on the New Zealand male population. But it also saw loyalty to your friends and comrades — ‘mateship’ — become a prized social value. This quality is still seen on the sporting field today.
Rugby football is the most popular spectator sport in New Zealand. Though the sport has public school beginnings in England, in New Zealand, rugby is definitely the grass-roots sport of the ‘average bloke’.
Urban sophistication or taming the land?
As members of a unique and multicultural society, many Kiwis have wholeheartedly embraced urban living, café culture and an appreciation for new culinary tastes, fashion and the arts. Kiwis are as likely to visit an Asian restaurant or modern art gallery as they are to attend a local rugby game.
Whilst the lure of urban dwelling has ingrained itself on many, there is a sizeable rural population and farming is a major export earner. While the traditional exports of wool, meat and dairy products are still very strong, new products, including Cervena (New Zealand venison), flowers, fruit, biotechnology and wine are now also contributing greatly to our exports.
Become one of the locals
How can you embrace the spirit of Kiwi people?
Strike up conversations along your journey – a casual chat at a bar or restaurant or at a local market – it’s the best way to get insider knowledge on the area you’re visiting and you may even pick up the local Kiwi lingo and make new life-long friends!
Try out some words of Te Reo Māori – start with kia ora.
Take the Tiaki Promise to care for the land and respect the culture of the people.
By sharing in the values of caring and supporting each other, showing hospitality, and protecting nature, you’ll soon blend in with New Zealanders!
New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy, although its constitution is not codified. Elizabeth II is the queen of New Zealand and thus the head of state. The queen is represented by the governor-general, whom she appoints on the advice of the prime minister. The governor-general can exercise the Crown’s prerogative powers, such as reviewing cases of injustice and making appointments of ministers, ambassadors, and other key public officials, and in rare situations, the reserve powers (e.g. the power to dissolve parliament or refuse the royal assent of a bill into law). The powers of the monarch and the governor-general are limited by constitutional constraints, and they cannot normally be exercised without the advice of ministers.
The New Zealand Parliament holds legislative power and consists of the queen and the House of Representatives. It also included an upper house, the Legislative Council, until this was abolished in 1950. The supremacy of parliament over the Crown and other government institutions was established in England by the Bill of Rights 1689 and has been ratified as law in New Zealand. The House of Representatives is democratically elected, and a government is formed from the party or coalition with the majority of seats. If no majority is formed, a minority government can be formed if support from other parties during confidence and supply votes is assured. The governor-general appoints ministers under advice from the prime minister, who is by convention the parliamentary leader of the governing party or coalition. Cabinet, formed by ministers and led by the prime minister, is the highest policy-making body in government and responsible for deciding significant government actions. Members of Cabinet make major decisions collectively and are therefore collectively responsible for the consequences of these decisions.
A parliamentary general election must be called no later than three years after the previous election. Almost all general elections between 1853 and 1993 were held under the first-past-the-post voting system. Since the 1996 election, a form of proportional representation called mixed-member proportional (MMP) has been used. Under the MMP system, each person has two votes; one is for a candidate standing in the voter’s electorate, and the other is for a party. Based on the 2018 census data, there are 72 electorates (which include seven Māori electorates in which only Māori can optionally vote), and the remaining 48 of the 120 seats are assigned so that representation in parliament reflects the party vote, with the threshold that a party must win at least one electorate or 5% of the total party vote before it is eligible for a seat.
A block of buildings fronted by a large statue.
A statue of Richard Seddon, the “Beehive” (Executive Wing), and Parliament House (right), in Parliament Grounds, Wellington.
Elections since the 1930s have been dominated by two political parties, National and Labour. Between March 2005 and August 2006, New Zealand became the first country in the world in which all the highest offices in the land – head of state, governor-general, prime minister, speaker, and chief justice – were occupied simultaneously by women. The current prime minister is Jacinda Ardern, who has been in office since 26 October 2017. She is the country’s third female prime minister.
New Zealand’s judiciary, headed by the chief justice, includes the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the High Court, and subordinate courts. Judges and judicial officers are appointed non-politically and under strict rules regarding tenure to help maintain judicial independence. This theoretically allows the judiciary to interpret the law based solely on the legislation enacted by Parliament without other influences on their decisions.
New Zealand is identified as one of the world’s most stable and well-governed states. As of 2017, the country was ranked fourth in the strength of its democratic institutions, and first in government transparency and lack of corruption. A 2017 human rights report by the US Department of State noted that the New Zealand government generally respected the rights of individuals, but voiced concerns regarding the social status of the Māori population. New Zealand ranks highly for civic participation in the political process, with 80% voter turnout during recent elections, compared to an OECD average of 68%.
See also: International rankings of New Zealand
Foreign relations and military
Main articles: Foreign relations of New Zealand and New Zealand Defence Force
A squad of men kneel in the desert sand while performing a war dance
Māori Battalion haka in Egypt, 1941
Early colonial New Zealand allowed the British Government to determine external trade and be responsible for foreign policy. The 1923 and 1926 Imperial Conferences decided that New Zealand should be allowed to negotiate its own political treaties, and the first commercial treaty was ratified in 1928 with Japan. On 3 September 1939, New Zealand allied itself with Britain and declared war on Germany with Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage proclaiming, “Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand.”
In 1951 the United Kingdom became increasingly focused on its European interests, while New Zealand joined Australia and the United States in the ANZUS security treaty. The influence of the United States on New Zealand weakened following protests over the Vietnam War, the refusal of the United States to admonish France after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, disagreements over environmental and agricultural trade issues, and New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy. Despite the United States’s suspension of ANZUS obligations, the treaty remained in effect between New Zealand and Australia, whose foreign policy has followed a similar historical trend. Close political contact is maintained between the two countries, with free trade agreements and travel arrangements that allow citizens to visit, live and work in both countries without restrictions. In 2013 there were about 650,000 New Zealand citizens living in Australia, which is equivalent to 15% of the population of New Zealand.
A soldier in a green army uniform faces forwards
Anzac Day service at the National War Memorial
New Zealand has a strong presence among the Pacific Island countries. A large proportion of New Zealand’s aid goes to these countries, and many Pacific people migrate to New Zealand for employment. Permanent migration is regulated under the 1970 Samoan Quota Scheme and the 2002 Pacific Access Category, which allow up to 1,100 Samoan nationals and up to 750 other Pacific Islanders respectively to become permanent New Zealand residents each year. A seasonal workers scheme for temporary migration was introduced in 2007, and in 2009 about 8,000 Pacific Islanders were employed under it. New Zealand is involved in the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Community, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (including the East Asia Summit). New Zealand has been described as an emerging power. The country is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and participates in the Five Power Defence Arrangements.
New Zealand’s military services—the Defence Force—comprise the New Zealand Army, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the Royal New Zealand Navy. New Zealand’s national defence needs are modest since a direct attack is unlikely. However, its military has had a global presence. The country fought in both world wars, with notable campaigns in Gallipoli, Crete, El Alamein, and Cassino. The Gallipoli campaign played an important part in fostering New Zealand’s national identity and strengthened the ANZAC tradition it shares with Australia.
In addition to Vietnam and the two world wars, New Zealand fought in the Second Boer War, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, the Gulf War, and the Afghanistan War. It has contributed forces to several regional and global peacekeeping missions, such as those in Cyprus, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sinai, Angola, Cambodia, the Iran–Iraq border, Bougainville, East Timor, and the Solomon Islands.
Local government and external territories
Main articles: Local government in New Zealand and Realm of New Zealand
Map of regions (coloured) and territorial authorities (outlined) in New Zealand.
The early European settlers divided New Zealand into provinces, which had a degree of autonomy. Because of financial pressures and the desire to consolidate railways, education, land sales, and other policies, government was centralised and the provinces were abolished in 1876. The provinces are remembered in regional public holidays and sporting rivalries.
Since 1876, various councils have administered local areas under legislation determined by the central government. In 1989, the government reorganised local government into the current two-tier structure of regional councils and territorial authorities. The 249 municipalities that existed in 1975 have now been consolidated into 67 territorial authorities and 11 regional councils. The regional councils’ role is to regulate “the natural environment with particular emphasis on resource management”, while territorial authorities are responsible for sewage, water, local roads, building consents, and other local matters. Five of the territorial councils are unitary authorities and also act as regional councils. The territorial authorities consist of 13 city councils, 53 district councils, and the Chatham Islands Council. While officially the Chatham Islands Council is not a unitary authority, it undertakes many functions of a regional council.
The Realm of New Zealand, one of 16 Commonwealth realms, is the entire area over which the queen of New Zealand is sovereign and comprises New Zealand, Tokelau, the Ross Dependency, the Cook Islands, and Niue. The Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand. The New Zealand Parliament cannot pass legislation for these countries, but with their consent can act on behalf of them in foreign affairs and defence. Tokelau is classified as a non-self-governing territory, but is administered by a council of three elders (one from each Tokelauan atoll). The Ross Dependency is New Zealand’s territorial claim in Antarctica, where it operates the Scott Base research facility. New Zealand nationality law treats all parts of the realm equally, so most people born in New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, and the Ross Dependency are New Zealand citizens.[n 7]
New Zealand has an advanced market economy, ranked 14th in the 2019 Human Development Index and third in the 2020 Index of Economic Freedom. It is a high-income economy with a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of US$36,254. The currency is the New Zealand dollar, informally known as the “Kiwi dollar”; it also circulates in the Cook Islands (see Cook Islands dollar), Niue, Tokelau, and the Pitcairn Islands.
Historically, extractive industries have contributed strongly to New Zealand’s economy, focussing at different times on sealing, whaling, flax, gold, kauri gum, and native timber. The first shipment of refrigerated meat on the Dunedin in 1882 led to the establishment of meat and dairy exports to Britain, a trade which provided the basis for strong economic growth in New Zealand. High demand for agricultural products from the United Kingdom and the United States helped New Zealanders achieve higher living standards than both Australia and Western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1973, New Zealand’s export market was reduced when the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community and other compounding factors, such as the 1973 oil and 1979 energy crises, led to a severe economic depression. Living standards in New Zealand fell behind those of Australia and Western Europe, and by 1982 New Zealand had the lowest per-capita income of all the developed nations surveyed by the World Bank. In the mid-1980s New Zealand deregulated its agricultural sector by phasing out subsidies over a three-year period. Since 1984, successive governments engaged in major macroeconomic restructuring (known first as Rogernomics and then Ruthanasia), rapidly transforming New Zealand from a protectionist and highly regulated economy to a liberalised free-trade economy.
Blue water against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains
Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most famous tourist destinations.
Unemployment peaked above 10% in 1991 and 1992, following the 1987 share market crash, but eventually fell to a record low (since 1986) of 3.7% in 2007 (ranking third from twenty-seven comparable OECD nations). However, the global financial crisis that followed had a major impact on New Zealand, with the GDP shrinking for five consecutive quarters, the longest recession in over thirty years, and unemployment rising back to 7% in late 2009. Unemployment rates for different age groups follow similar trends but are consistently higher among youth. In the December 2014 quarter, the general unemployment rate was around 5.8%, while the unemployment rate for youth aged 15 to 21 was 15.6%. New Zealand has experienced a series of “brain drains” since the 1970s that still continue today. Nearly one-quarter of highly skilled workers live overseas, mostly in Australia and Britain, which is the largest proportion from any developed nation. In recent decades, however, a “brain gain” has brought in educated professionals from Europe and less developed countries. Today New Zealand’s economy benefits from a high level of innovation.
New Zealand is heavily dependent on international trade, particularly in agricultural products. Exports account for 24% of its output, making New Zealand vulnerable to international commodity prices and global economic slowdowns. Food products made up 55% of the value of all the country’s exports in 2014; wood was the second largest earner (7%). New Zealand’s main trading partners, as at June 2018, are China (NZ$27.8b), Australia ($26.2b), the European Union ($22.9b), the United States ($17.6b), and Japan ($8.4b). On 7 April 2008, New Zealand and China signed the New Zealand–China Free Trade Agreement, the first such agreement China has signed with a developed country. The service sector is the largest sector in the economy, followed by manufacturing and construction and then farming and raw material extraction. Tourism plays a significant role in the economy, contributing $12.9 billion (or 5.6%) to New Zealand’s total GDP and supporting 7.5% of the total workforce in 2016. In 2017, international visitor arrivals were expected to increase at a rate of 5.4% annually up to 2022.
A Romney ewe with her two lambs
Wool has historically been one of New Zealand’s major exports.
Wool was New Zealand’s major agricultural export during the late 19th century. Even as late as the 1960s it made up over a third of all export revenues, but since then its price has steadily dropped relative to other commodities, and wool is no longer profitable for many farmers. In contrast, dairy farming increased, with the number of dairy cows doubling between 1990 and 2007, to become New Zealand’s largest export earner. In the year to June 2018, dairy products accounted for 17.7% ($14.1 billion) of total exports, and the country’s largest company, Fonterra, controls almost one-third of the international dairy trade. Other exports in 2017-18 were meat (8.8%), wood and wood products (6.2%), fruit (3.6%), machinery (2.2%) and wine (2.1%). New Zealand’s wine industry has followed a similar trend to dairy, the number of vineyards doubling over the same period, overtaking wool exports for the first time in 2007.
In 2015, renewable energy generated 40.1% of New Zealand’s gross energy supply. The majority of the country’s electricity supply is generated from hydroelectric power, with major schemes on the Waikato, Waitaki and Clutha rivers, as well as at Manapouri. Geothermal power is also a significant generator of electricity, with several large stations located across the Taupo Volcanic Zone in the North Island. The five main companies in the generation and retail market are Contact Energy, Genesis Energy, Mercury Energy, Meridian Energy, and TrustPower. State-owned Transpower operates the high-voltage transmission grids in the North and South Islands, as well as the Inter-Island HVDC link connecting the two together.
The provision of water supply and sanitation is generally of good quality. Regional authorities provide water abstraction, treatment and distribution infrastructure to most developed areas.
A mid-size jet airliner in flight. The plane livery is all-black and features a New Zealand silver fern mark.
A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner of Air New Zealand, the flag carrier of New Zealand
New Zealand’s transport network comprises 94,000 kilometres (58,410 mi) of roads, including 199 kilometres (124 mi) of motorways, and 4,128 kilometres (2,565 mi) of railway lines. Most major cities and towns are linked by bus services, although the private car is the predominant mode of transport. The railways were privatised in 1993 but were re-nationalised by the government in stages between 2004 and 2008. The state-owned enterprise KiwiRail now operates the railways, with the exception of commuter services in Auckland and Wellington, which are operated by Transdev and Metlink, respectively. Railways run the length of the country, although most lines now carry freight rather than passengers. The road and rail networks in the two main islands are linked by roll-on/roll-off ferries between Wellington and Picton, operated by Interislander (part of KiwiRail) and Bluebridge. Most international visitors arrive via air, and New Zealand has six international airports, but currently only the Auckland and Christchurch airports connect directly with countries other than Australia or Fiji.
The New Zealand Post Office had a monopoly over telecommunications in New Zealand until 1987 when Telecom New Zealand was formed, initially as a state-owned enterprise and then privatised in 1990. Chorus, which was split from Telecom (now Spark) in 2011, still owns the majority of the telecommunications infrastructure, but competition from other providers has increased. A large-scale rollout of gigabit-capable fibre to the premises, branded as Ultra-Fast Broadband, began in 2009 with a target of being available to 87% of the population by 2022. As of 2017, the United Nations International Telecommunication Union ranks New Zealand 13th in the development of information and communications infrastructure.
Early indigenous contribution to science in New Zealand was by Māori tohunga accumulating knowledge of agricultural practice and the effects of herbal remedies in the treatment of illness and disease. Cook’s voyages in the 1700s and Darwin’s in 1835 had important scientific botanical and zoological objectives. The establishment of universities in the 19th century fostered scientific discoveries by notable New Zealanders including Ernest Rutherford for splitting the atom, William Pickering for rocket science, Maurice Wilkins for helping discover DNA, Beatrice Tinsley for galaxy formation, Archibald McIndoe for plastic surgery, and Alan MacDiarmid for conducting polymers.
Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) were formed in 1992 from existing government-owned research organisations. Their role is to research and develop new science, knowledge, products and services across the economic, environmental, social and cultural spectrum for the benefit of New Zealand. The total gross expenditure on research and development (R&D) as a proportion of GDP rose to 1.37% in 2018, up from 1.23% in 2015. New Zealand ranks 21st in the OECD for its gross R&D spending as a percentage of GDP.
Since New Zealand drifted away from the super-continent, a unique flora and fauna has evolved, leaving a land full of interesting plants and creatures.
New Zealand’s geographic isolation for 80 million years and island biogeography has influenced evolution of the country’s species of animals, fungi and plants. Physical isolation has caused biological isolation, resulting in a dynamic evolutionary ecology with examples of distinctive plants and animals as well as populations of widespread species. The flora and fauna of New Zealand were originally thought to have originated from New Zealand’s fragmentation off from Gondwana, however more recent evidence postulates species resulted from dispersal. About 82% of New Zealand’s indigenous vascular plants are endemic, covering 1,944 species across 65 genera. The number of fungi recorded from New Zealand, including lichen-forming species, is not known, nor is the proportion of those fungi which are endemic, but one estimate suggests there are about 2,300 species of lichen-forming fungi in New Zealand and 40% of these are endemic. The two main types of forest are those dominated by broadleaf trees with emergent podocarps, or by southern beech in cooler climates. The remaining vegetation types consist of grasslands, the majority of which are tussock. New Zealand had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 7.12/10, ranking it 55th globally out of 172 countries.
Before the arrival of humans, an estimated 80% of the land was covered in forest, with only high alpine, wet, infertile and volcanic areas without trees. Massive deforestation occurred after humans arrived, with around half the forest cover lost to fire after Polynesian settlement. Much of the remaining forest fell after European settlement, being logged or cleared to make room for pastoral farming, leaving forest occupying only 23% of the land.
An artist’s rendition of a Haast’s eagle attacking two moa
The giant Haast’s eagle died out when humans hunted its main prey, the moa, to extinction.
The forests were dominated by birds, and the lack of mammalian predators led to some like the kiwi, kakapo, weka and takahē evolving flightlessness. The arrival of humans, associated changes to habitat, and the introduction of rats, ferrets and other mammals led to the extinction of many bird species, including large birds like the moa and Haast’s eagle.
Other indigenous animals are represented by reptiles (tuatara, skinks and geckos), frogs, spiders, insects (wētā), and snails. Some, such as the tuatara, are so unique that they have been called living fossils. Three species of bats (one since extinct) were the only sign of native land mammals in New Zealand until the 2006 discovery of bones from a unique, mouse-sized land mammal at least 16 million years old. Marine mammals, however, are abundant, with almost half the world’s cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and large numbers of fur seals reported in New Zealand waters. Many seabirds breed in New Zealand, a third of them unique to the country. More penguin species are found in New Zealand than in any other country.
Since human arrival, almost half of the country’s vertebrate species have become extinct, including at least fifty-one birds, three frogs, three lizards, one freshwater fish, and one bat. Others are endangered or have had their range severely reduced. However, New Zealand conservationists have pioneered several methods to help threatened wildlife recover, including island sanctuaries, pest control, wildlife translocation, fostering and ecological restoration of islands and other protected areas.
Before humans settled in New Zealand, it would have been an extremely noisy place! Large tracts of lush native bush supported an incredible variety of bird life. As they evolved, wings became unnecessary for some birds, as they had no natural predators to fly away from. As a result, several of New Zealand’s native birds became flightless, including the kakapo parrot, the kiwi, the takahe, and the world’s largest bird, the (now extinct) moa.
As Maori and Europeans settled New Zealand, they hunted birds and brought predators including rats and stoats. This, and loss of habitat, led to the extinction of a number of birds including the moa and huia.
New Zealand’s national symbol is a nocturnal flightless bird with nostrils on the end of its large beak. The kiwi is now endangered, and difficult to see in the wild. However there are a number of ‘kiwi houses’ at zoos and wildlife parks. While they may look cute, kiwi can be fierce and highly territorial.
These are some other well-known New Zealand native birds:
The playful kea is one of the most intelligent birds in the world and will happily attack a car in order to steal a windscreen wiper or other bits of rubber!
The loveable weka is a flightless bird with a penchant for shiny objects.
The takahe has a beautiful indigo plumage and bright red beak.
The tui is famed for its beautiful singing and white ‘parson’s collar’.
The morepork owl is so named because of the sound of its call, often heard at night.
New Zealand has abundant and diverse marine life, and whale watching and swimming with dolphins are two of our most highly recommended experiences. The small Hector’s dolphin is the world’s rarest dolphin and only found in New Zealand waters. Seals, penguins and a whole host of fish and shellfish also thrive in New Zealand’s fertile marine environment.
Over 20 percent of New Zealand is covered in national parks, forest areas and reserves – and these are the best places to observe our native flora and fauna. Our mainland also has two World Heritage Areas – Tongariro in the Central North Island and Te Wahipounamu in the south-west of the South Island.
Our 14 national parks contain an incredible variety of unspoiled landscape and vegetation. Administered and maintained by the Department of Conservation, these parks provide opportunity for a wide variety of activities including hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, kayaking and trout fishing.
For a look at native sea creatures, visit one of New Zealand’s 34 marine reserves. A strict no-take policy operates in these areas, which means no fishing or gathering seafood. These underwater wonderlands, which include the world-renowned Poor Knights Islands, are best enjoyed on boat cruises and diving or snorkelling trips.
The tuatara is a unique relic of the past – the only beak-headed reptile left in the world. Every species of this reptile family, except the tuatara, died out around 65 million years ago. Tuatara can live for over 100 years, and are only found on protected offshore islands. Tuatara are not a threat to humans.
Tuatara can live for over 100 years, and are only found on protected offshore islands.
New Zealand’s high rainfall and many sunshine hours give the country a lush and diverse flora – with 80% of flora being native.
Trees and shrubs
You’ll be awed by the New Zealand’s majestic evergreen native forests that include rimu, totara, many varieties of beech, and the largest native tree of them all, the giant kauri. Underneath the trees you’ll find a dense and luxurious undergrowth including countless native shrubs, a variety of ferns, and many mosses and lichens.
Splashes of colour
The yellow flowers of the kowhai tree are some of the prettiest you’ll ever see, and if you visit the North Island, you won’t be far from the beautiful pohutukawa tree. Its bright red flowers bloom in December, giving it the title of New Zealand’s Christmas tree.
Seasons in New Zealand climate and weather
Weather in New Zealand can be unpredictable. Locals like to joke that you can experience four seasons in one day! Find out what to expect from the weather during your visit.
Our two trusted weather and climate sources come from:
New Zealand’s climate varies wildly. The far north has subtropical weather during summer, while inland alpine areas of the South Island can be as cold as -10°C (14°F) in winter.
However, most of the country lies close to the coast, which means mild temperatures year-round.
The average New Zealand temperature decreases as you travel south. January and February are the warmest months, and July is the coldest month of the year.
New Zealand’s climate is predominantly temperate maritime (Köppen: Cfb), with mean annual temperatures ranging from 10 °C (50 °F) in the south to 16 °C (61 °F) in the north. Historical maxima and minima are 42.4 °C (108.32 °F) in Rangiora, Canterbury and −25.6 °C (−14.08 °F) in Ranfurly, Otago. Conditions vary sharply across regions from extremely wet on the West Coast of the South Island to semi-arid in Central Otago and the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury, and subtropical in Northland. Of the seven largest cities, Christchurch is the driest, receiving on average only 618 millimetres (24.3 in) of rain per year and Wellington the wettest, receiving almost twice that amount. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch all receive a yearly average of more than 2,000 hours of sunshine. The southern and southwestern parts of the South Island have a cooler and cloudier climate, with around 1,400–1,600 hours; the northern and northeastern parts of the South Island are the sunniest areas of the country and receive about 2,400–2,500 hours. The general snow season is early June until early October, though cold snaps can occur outside this season. Snowfall is common in the eastern and southern parts of the South Island and mountain areas across the country.
The table below lists climate normals for the warmest and coldest months in New Zealand’s six largest cities. North Island cities are generally warmest in February. South Island cities are warmest in January.
You can check on New Zealand weather conditions on the Met Service website(opens in new window).
When is the best time to visit New Zealand?
October-April is reliable, sunny and warm.
Summer is the most popular time to visit New Zealand. Over December, January and February, the number of visitors increases, as people arrive from overseas to travel while the weather is warm. Summer holidays mean more Kiwis are travelling New Zealand too, making the most of the sunshine and Christmas break.
If you would prefer to enjoy sunny days, but with fewer crowds, the best time to go to New Zealand is in autumn. From March to May the weather is still reasonably warm – particularly in the north – but the crowds have thinned out. As autumn is also the shoulder season, you can enjoy better rates on accommodation and activities.
Winter in New Zealand is the best time to visit if you’re enthusiastic about snow sports. With a light dusting of snow, Queenstown and the Central Plateau are transformed into winter wonderlands. If you want to ski or snowboard your way down the slopes of the Southern Alps, the best month to visit New Zealand is either July or August.
Spring arrives in September and lasts until November. Although there is still a high chance of rainfall around this time of year, the weather starts to warm up – it’s the perfect time of year to enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking. Spring is also when calves, lambs and daffodils pop up in New Zealand’s green fields, so it’s an incredibly picturesque time. Cool nights and warm days are common, which makes for pleasant travel weather.
September – November
Average daytime temperature:
16 – 19˚C (61 – 66˚F)
December – February
Average daytime temperature:
20 – 25˚C (68 – 77˚F)
March – May
Average daytime temperature:
17 – 21˚C (62 – 70˚F)
June – August
Average daytime temperature:
12 – 16˚C (53 – 61˚F)
What is the weather like in New Zealand?
Weather conditions in New Zealand can change quickly – no matter when you visit, you should be prepared for anything!
Most places in New Zealand receive over 2,000 hours of sunshine a year – around 83 sunny days. The sunniest areas, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Nelson/Marlborough, receive over 2,350 hours of sunshine. As New Zealand observes daylight saving, during summer months daylight can last up until 9.30pm.
New Zealand experiences relatively little air pollution compared to many other countries, and less ozone, which makes the UV rays in our sunlight very strong. The sunlight here can quickly burn skin from September to April, especially between 10am and 4pm, even on cloudy days. Be ‘SunSmart’ by using these three simple steps when you go outdoors:
Stay in the shade whenever possible.
Wear a shirt, hat and sunglasses.
Use SPF 30+ sunscreen. Reapply every two hours.
New Zealand’s average rainfall is high and evenly spread throughout the year. Over the northern and central areas of New Zealand more rain falls in winter than in summer, whereas for much of the southern part of New Zealand, winter is the season of least rainfall.
The mountain ranges running along the spine of the South Island divide the country into diverse climate regions. The West Coast of the South Island is the wettest area of New Zealand, while the Central Otago, on the eastern side of the Southern Alps, is the driest.
As well as producing areas of stunning native forest, the high rainfall makes New Zealand an ideal place for farming and horticulture.
Snow typically appears during the months of June through to October, though cold snaps can occur outside these months. Most snow in New Zealand falls in the mountainous areas, like the Central Plateau in the north, and the Southern Alps in the south. It also falls heavily in inland Canterbury and Otago. While the coastal areas of the North Island may experience some frost overnight in winter, it very rarely snows there.N