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Culture of New Zealand

The culture of New Zealand incorporates both Maori culture and that of the descendants of the early British colonists, many of whom were of working class origin. While British culture predominates, it has been significantly influenced by the Maori and Polynesians. Scottish influences are particularly strong, particularly in the South Island. In general, early immigrants from other parts of Europe and Asia, and World War II refugees (particularly the Dutch) were readily assimilated. Small enclaves of these early immigrant cultures remain as islands of unique heritage in a sea of British colonial culture. Unlike Australia, New Zealand has not experienced sizeable immigration from Mediterranean countries in Southern Europe, but in recent years there has been a considerable influx of migrants from Asia, which now makes up a significant proportion of the population, particularly in Auckland.

After the Second World War, significant immigration from the Pacific Islands began, so much so that there are now more nationals from some Pacific island nations living in New Zealand than on their home islands.

The wide variety of Pacific Island cultures have combined in New Zealand, mostly in South Auckland, to form a distinctive subculture that is separate from the Maori culture.

For a variety of reasons many Maori and Pacific people have been socially disadvantaged, forming an underclass in some areas. Cultural considerations for both Maori and Pacific people now has a significant influence on educational, medical and social organisations, particularly in areas with high concentrations of these population groups.

Immigration policy in New Zealand has often been controversial, with some politicians claiming that the pace of immigration has been too rapid for New Zealand to absorb, and that recent immigrants are having trouble adapting the New Zealand society. This position is seen by others as a cynical appeal to xenophobic sentiment in order to gain votes near election time, and these views are not widely supported by the general population.

Table of contents
1 Is there a separate New Zealand culture?
2 Similarities with Australia
3 Kiwi
4 Kiwiana
5 Attitudes
6 New Zealand language
7 Iconic characters
8 The arts
9 Godzone
10 Related topics

Is there a separate New Zealand culture?

A number of New Zealand commentators have observed that there is no culture in New Zealand. This has led to protests from those who believe that there is a uniquely definable New Zealand culture. Perhaps one of the more memorable protests was the song "Culture" by The Knobz after outspoken Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon stated that New Zealand pop music was not part of the New Zealand cultural scene.

Similarities with Australia

New Zealand culture has been likened to Australian culture because it bears many similarities and the two nations have much in common. Indeed the 1901 Australian Constitution included provisions to allow New Zealand to join Australia as its seventh state. While there is no prospect of political union now, there is still a great deal of similarity between the two cultures, with the differences often only obvious to Australians and New Zealanders themselves.

Many only realise how much the two nationalities have in common when they go to Europe to work and travel, although New Zealanders are almost horrified at the idea that they have anything in common with Australians. Ironically, many of them are more likely to have visited Europe than each other's countries, and this is especially true of Australians. When the Australian actress Cate Blanchett told US talkshow host David Letterman that her time on location in New Zealand filming The Lord of the Rings was her first visit to the country, he was genuinely surprised, while she was equally puzzled by his reaction.

The New Zealand - Australia relationship is less one of friendship than it is of brotherhood: New Zealanders and Australians often fall out over relatively minor matters - there are few more bitterly-contested sporting events than the trans-Tasman rugby matches; New Zealanders have never forgiven Australia for cricketerer Trevor Chappell's underarm delivery; Australia's anger over the Air New Zealand/Ansett Airlines fiasco was sharper than could be easily explained by the mere facts, and so on.

New Zealanders regard Australians as loud and opinionated, while Australians ridicule New Zealanders for their supposedly closer relationship with 'Mother England', yet there is not the slightest doubt that underneath the name-calling and the petty grievances, in case of need New Zealanders and Australians defend one another with both passion and courage. The ANZAC tradition is rarely called on, but it is very real.

Like Australians, New Zealanders have a 'love-hate' relationship with the UK, although anti-English sentiment is not as strong, and republicanism is not yet as emotive an issue as it is in Australia. While the UK, especially London is the first port of call on the 'OE' or 'Overseas Experience' for young Kiwis, they can often be dismissive of the so-called 'Mother Country', deriding 'Poms' as snobbish, inflexible, and backward-looking. New Zealanders felt badly about the UK's entry into the European Community in 1973, which deprived them of their main trading partner, and often feel affronted at being treated as 'Others' by British immigration at Heathrow.

The three "R's" of New Zealand culture are Rugby, Racing and beeR. This cultural image probably has its origins in colonial agricultural New Zealand, when hard farm work such as harvesting, shearing and droving took place in hot summer conditions. The large number of soldiers who left New Zealand to fight in the First and Second World Wars and their subsequent socialising have contributed to this image.

Although less obvious today, in the past team sports, particularly Rugby football, gambling on horse races, and sharing a beer after a hard day's work with some good friends or work mates have been significant images of New Zealand life. This predominantly working-class male cultural image has previously been so strong that it has overshadowed other, perhaps higher, cultural aspects of New Zealand society.

Sporting and outdoor activities still play a significant part in the recreation of New Zealanders. Participation in a sport, rather than mere spectating, is considered a worthy pursuit. Team sports and sporting abilities are generally held in high regard, with top-performing players often becoming celebrities. World-class achievement and continued winning at the international level are primary requirements. Being second, or worse, after having achieved winner status, indicates that the players have become a bunch of losers and should not be playing the game any more. However, any player or team who puts in a maximum effort and still loses, especially in a challenging situation, is often praised as if they had won anyway.


Although the Kiwi is an endangered flightless native bird, the name has also been adopted by New Zealanders when referring to themselves and their culture. The Kiwi logo is often associated with New Zealand military forces and New Zealand goods. The New Zealand dollar is often called the Kiwi dollar and the bird's image appears on both the 20 cent and one dollar coins.


Items and icons from New Zealand's cultural heritage are often called Kiwiana, and include.

There are Kiwiana sections in many New Zealand museums, and some are dedicated to showing Kiwiana only.


The remoteness of many parts of New Zealand and the distance of the country from much of the developed world meant that things that were easily obtainable in other parts of the world were often not readily available locally. This has given rise to the attitudes "She'll be right, mate" as well as "Can do".

New Zealand language

New Zealand English

Most New Zealanders speak a form of English that has not diverged greatly from British English.

The use of Maori words is increasing particularly in the North Island, although there is regional variation.

Thus "Kia Ora", literally "be healthy" is now a standard New Zealand greeting. In Maori situations it is often used after someone has spoken meaning "Have you got that?" or possibly "Do you agree with me?" But this has not extended to general use.

Other Maori greetings, "Tena koe" {one person} or "Tena koutou" {several people} are also widely used. Similarly Goodbye, "Haere Ra". This may also be the origin of the much more widely used NZ phrase for goodbye "Hooray".

Greetings between people meeting on a cold morning is sometimes "Makariri nei?", cold isn't it? Curiously this phrase is changing to a bastard Maori-English word "Maka-Chilly". It probably started as a joke that won't go away.

"Buggered" is a word that quickly entered the Maori language as "Pakaru or Pakaruru" and is now returning to NZ English in its new form or as "Pakaru-ed"

It is in metaphorical phrases that NZ English has made most progress or divergence. Often they reflect significant differences in culture.

For example

"Ladies, a plate" is often seen as part of the advertisement for social functions. It means that the function is self catering; people attending are meant to bring a plate full of food. Many new arrivals in New Zealand have mistaken this and turned up with an empty plate, but only once.

"Up the Puhoi without a paddle" meaning to be in difficulties without an obvious soltion. The Puhoi is a river just north of Auckland. Over the years the phrase has evolved and is now often heard as "Up the Boo-eye without a paddle". It is also some times attributed to other New Zealand rivers. It will be interesting if the phrase can withstand competition from the modern and very colourful variant "Up shit creek without a Paddle".

"Wide enough for an Ox team to do a U-ie" Said of very wide roads.

"Sticky Beak" meaning someone unduly curious about other people's affairs, ie nosey parker. Sticky beak is used in both New Zealand and Australia with the same meaning but slightly different emphasis. In Australia "sticky beak" is quite perjorative, to be called sticky beak is definitely a criticism whereas in New Zealand it is used with more affection, it is often used as a tease.

"Box of Birds" or even more colloqially "Box of Fluffies" meaning to feel very good. "How are you feeling? Oh, a Box of Birds"

"Rattle yer Dags" an instruction to hurry up. Sheep running through gates and yards often make a curious rattling noise caused by their Dags clattering together. Dags being the encrustations of dried shit that collects on the long wool,like a loose bunch of grapes, around their hind ends.

Similarly "He's a bit of a Dag' describes someone as a comedian. The word "dagg" possibly derives from the regional english word, "daglock" meaning the same thing. See also Fred Dagg below.

Iconic characters

See also List of New Zealanders

The arts

New Zealand does possess the usual cultural activities such as theatre, dance, fine arts, classical and popular music and creative writing. However, due to the small population base and a lack of arts funding sources, many artists have struggled to sustain themselves economically, even though they may achieve popular success. For this reason many of New Zealand's best artists go overseas, especially to Australia, but also to Europe or America, so they can further their careers.

New Zealand imports much of its cultural material from overseas, particularly from Britain or the United States. Most successful Hollywood films screen on New Zealand cinema screens and New Zealand Television shows a lot of British and American television programmes. It is somewhat ironic that some of these programmes are now made in New Zealand but receive their first screening elsewhere. The New Zealand cinematographic industry is becoming one of the country's major export enterprises, with several major motion pictures being filmed on New Zealand locations recently, including the highly acclaimed film adaptation of Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" directed by the Kiwi Peter Jackson

There are museums in many towns and cities that preserve the country's heritage. Some museums specialise in particular themes, such as vintage transport, Maori culture or a particular historic building or event. The New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage are national bodies that assist with such heritage preservation.


Generally accepted, by New Zealanders if nowhere else, as an alternative name for New Zealand.

When Richard Seddon, Premier of New Zealand around 1900, returned from one of his overseas trips he reportedly said it was good to be back in God's Own Country and the term was adopted, semi-ironically.

Related topics