70 Interesting Facts about New Zealand

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published November 10, 2016
  • When it was determined by Dutch explorers that New Zealand was not attached to the South American continent, they changed its name from Staten Landt (South America) to Nova Zeelandia (New Zealand), after the Dutch province of Zeeland.[9]
  • Wellington, New Zealand, is the southernmost national capital in the world at latitude 41.2° South. It also shares the honor of being the most remote capital with Canberra, Australia, over 1,243 miles (2000 km) away.[11]
  • Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is the official queen of New Zealand. She is represented in the country by a governor general.[12]
  • New Zealand/Māori ex-prostitute Georgina Beyer became the world’s first transsexual Member of Parliament in 1999.[11]
  • New Zealand’s Ninety-Mile Beach is only 56 miles (90 km) long.[7]
  • New Zealanders enjoy one of the world’s highest life expectancy rates—82.3 years for females and 78.3 years for males.[14]
  • The word māori means "normal," "natural," or "ordinary"
  • The Māori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, which means “Land of the Long White Cloud.”[9]
  • The Pizza Hut restaurant chain does not get its mozzarella cheese from Italy; it buys the cheese from Taranaki, New Zealand.[15]
  • The Auckland City Sky Tower, at 1,076 feet (328 m) high, is the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere.[14]
  • New Zealanders refer to themselves as Kiwis, which probably dates back to World War I when New Zealand soldiers acquired the nickname. The New Zealand dollar is also called the Kiwi in international financial markets. The dollar coin features a kiwi bird on one side.[5]
  • New Zealand is one of the world’s least populated nations with only 4.4 million residents.[10]
  • New Zealanders love their cars. There are 2.5 million cars for 4 million people, giving them one of the highest ownership rates in the world.[6]
  • It is said that a New Zealander can fix anything with a length of Number-8 fencing wire, a testament to the New Zealander spirit of inventiveness and do-it-yourself spirit. This refers to the fact that the most commonly used wire for fences to keep cows and sheep in their paddocks is called Number-8 wire.[13]
  • Two species of bats are New Zealand’s only native land mammals.[10]
  • New Zealand has more Scottish pipe bands per capita than Scotland itself.[10]
  • Popular films made in New Zealand by New Zealand filmmakers include Once Were Warriors, The Whale Rider, The Piano, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.[10]
  • There are no snakes in New Zealand.[9]
  • New Zealand was the first country in the world to allow universal suffrage, allowing women to vote in 1893.[9]
  • New Zealand's first sheep were set ashore by Captain Cook in 1773
  • New Zealand has seven times as many sheep and three times as many cows as people.[5]
  • The kauri tree in New Zealand takes about 200 years to mature. The largest kauri tree in the world, Tāne Mahuta (Lord of the Forest), located in the Waipoua Forest, has a circumference of over 43 feet (13 m) and an overall height of 169 feet (51.5 m). It is also reported to be about 2,100 years old.[13]
  • The Pohutukawa tree is New Zealand’s Christmas tree. It blooms crimson red flowers for several weeks each December.[9]
  • New Zealand is said to have more helicopters per capita than any other population on Earth. They were first used during the 1960s to cull deer, with up to 50 copters culling as many as 200 deer each in a day.[8]
  • New Zealand was the first country to have its top three positions of power held simultaneously by women: Prime Minister Helen Clark, Governor General Dame Silvia Cartwright, and Chief Justice Sian Elias.[10]
  • In 2009, New Zealand topped the Global Peace Index earning the distinction of being the world’s most peaceful country.[10]
  • New Zealand is the world’s second-largest producer of wool (after Australia).[8]
  • New Zealanders are addicted to the outdoors, and “tramping” (walking or hiking) is the most popular national pastime.[7]
  • Prostitution is legal in New Zealand
  • New Zealand is one of the most liberal nations in the world with same-sex marriage and prostitution (soliciting and brothel keeping) being legal. The driving age is 15, the consensual age for sex is 16, and the drinking age is 18.[11]
  • No place in New Zealand is more than 87 miles (140 km) from the ocean.[7]
  • New Zealanders have invented the disposable syringe, the nonshortable electrical fence, the Navman GPS, and the child-proof top for pill bottles.[10]
  • New Zealand’s population would hit 11 million if the country would accept everyone who wanted to settle there, according to Gallup, which rated it third in its 2009 Potential Net Migration Index.[10]
  • Situated on 178° latitude, Gisborne is the first city in the world to see the sun rise each day. It is only 308.4 miles (496.3 km) away from the International Date Line. This fortunate accident of geography was made much of on December 31, 1999, when the city led off worldwide television coverage welcoming in the new millennium.[9]
  • New Zealand is one of the top five dairy producers in the world. Dairy farmers produce 220 lb. (100 kg) of butter and 143 lb. (65 kg) of cheese each year for each person living in New Zealand.[9]
  • The first referee in the world to use a whistle to halt a game was William Atack of Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1884.[10]
  • The world’s steepest road is believed to be Baldwin Street, with a 38° gradient, in Dunedin, New Zealand.[9]
  • New Zealand is one of the few countries with two national anthems: “God Defend New Zealand,” which was adopted in 1940 as the national song and in 1977 as the co-national anthem, and “God Save the Queen,” which is normally played only when a member of the royal family is present. The other two countries with a royal and a state anthem are Denmark and Canada.[12]
  • The weta bug is a wingless insect found in New Zealand that has hardly changed in the last 190 million years. The harmless giant weta is the world’s heaviest insect at 2.5 ounces (71 g), almost as much as a thrush.[14]
  • Auckland, New Zealand, is called the “city of sails.” It has the highest boat ownership per capita in the world. On the last Monday of January, the Auckland Anniversary Regatta takes place. With more than 1,000 entries, it is the world’s biggest one-day yachting event.[9]
  • For many sailers, New Zealand is the "promised land"
  • Rugby is by far the most popular sport in New Zealand. It was born at the English school of Rugby in 1823 when a boy by the name of William Webb Willis became bored with kicking a soccer ball and picked it up and rain with it. Today it is the national sport of New Zealand and is played by 250,000 at the club level. The national team is named the All Blacks.[3]
  • The kiwi fruit earns New Zealand over a billion dollars a year. The fruit originated in China where it was called the monkey peach because they were considered ripe when the monkeys ate them. They were renamed first the Chinese gooseberry and then kiwi fruit in New Zealand, and New Zealand began exporting them in the 1950s. Today, the fruit comes in two types: the common, fuzzy-covered green and the gold with its smoother complexion.[10]
  • The best-selling book in New Zealand history is Edmonds Cookery Book, initially published in 1908 to promote the use of Edmonds Baking Powder. By 2003, in its 51st edition, it had sold some four million copies in a population that had just reached that same number.[9]
  • Moa were flightless birds that were native to New Zealand. The largest species, the giant moa, reached about 12 feet (4 m) in height and weighed about 550 lb. (249 kg). Some of the largest birds ever to inhabit the earth, they were the dominant herbivores in the country’s ecosystem for thousands of years before they were hunted to extinction by the Māori by 1500.[14]
  • New Zealand first competed as an independent nation at the 1920 Summer Olympics
  • New Zealand has won more Olympic gold medals, per capita, than any other country.[5]
  • The most celebrated of desserts in New Zealand is the pavlova, a meringue cake topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit slices. It was named in honor of the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who visited New Zealand in the 1920s. For decades, there has been controversy between Australia and New Zealand over where it was invented. After years of research, the recipe does indeed seem to be of New Zealand origin (from a New Zealand recipe book), but it was named by the wife of a manager of a hotel pub in Western Australia.[13]
  • New Zealand’s eels live to 80 years old and breed only once, at the end of their life—and they swim all the way to Tonga to do it.[11]
  • New Zealand is the last major land mass outside of the polar regions to be settled by humans. The first settlers were the Māori, who arrived between A.D. 800 and 1200. Māori tradition says they came from an island called Hawaiki, and although the location of the island is unknown, there is strong linguistic connection between the Cook Islands and the New Zealand Māori.[9]
  • Lake Taupo was the source of the world’s largest known volcanic eruption in the last 70,000 years. It is estimated that its violent birth spewed 15,000 times the volume of material ejected when Mount Saint Helens in Washington State erupted in 1980.[14]
  • "Land-diving" originated in New Zealand
  • Bungee jumping may very well have originated in ancient Vanuatu in the Pacific where young men, to prove their manhood, had to climb a bamboo tower, tie some fine ropes around their legs, and jump. Modern-day bungee jumping was started in England by the Oxford Dangerous Sports Club but was commercialized in New Zealand by A.J. Hackett and Henry van Asch, who brought the sport into the spotlight when they bungee jumped off the Eiffel Tower in 1987.[9]
  • The Te Waikoropupū Springs (known as Pupū Springs) discharge 3,698 gallons (14,000 liters) of water per second and are the largest fresh water springs in New Zealand, are the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere, and contain the clearest water ever measured outside of Antarctica.[16]
  • New Zealand-born astrophysicist Dr. William Pickering was essential to the achievements of NASA’s space program. As director of the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) at Cal Tech, Pickering became a key figure in the Mariner II expedition to Venus in 1963 and Ranger VII to Mars in 1965; Ranger VIII, which photographed the moon’s surface, in 1966; and Apollo XI, which placed Neil Armstrong as the first man on the moon in 1969.[2]
  • The glowworm (Arachnocampa luminosa) is actually the larva of the fungus gnat (relative of the mosquito), which attaches itself to cave roofs in New Zealand. The bluish-green glow the larva emits comes from the sticky silk threads on its body, which it uses to trap flying insects. The hungrier the larva is, the brighter it glows.[9]
  • New Zealand’s staunch antinuclear stance has earned it the nickname “the mouse that roared.” Ironically, the person responsible for the nuclear age was a New Zealander. In 1917, nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford was the first to split the nucleus of an atom and come up with the orbital theory of the atom. He also won the Nobel Prize, and his face appears on the NZ $100 note. He has been featured on stamps in New Zealand, Russia, Sweden, and Canada.[10]
  • A local of Bluff, New Zealand, Jim Burke is the world record holder for opening the most oysters (1,719) in an hour. That equates to opening 28 oysters a minute for a solid hour.[9]
  • New Zealand is a prime golf destination
  • New Zealand boasts over 400 golf courses, both public and private. That’s one for every 9,000 people, the highest number of golf courses per capita in the world.[1]
  • Antarctica is the last great wilderness, with close to 90% of the world’s ice sprawling over an area larger than the United States. New Zealander Alexander von Tunzelmann is believed to be the first person to step ashore on Antarctica at Cape Adare in January 1895. New Zealanders also took part in the explorations by Englishmen Robert Falcon Scott and Anglo-Irish Ernest Shackleton between 1900 and 1917.[9]
  • The song “How Bizarre” was a massive hit in Europe, the UK, the U.S., and Australia during 1996. The song was by the New Zealand band OMC, an acronym for Otara Millionaire’s Club, which made light of OMC’s poverty-stricken home of Otara.[10]
  • Rotorua’s short-lived Waimangu geyser, formed after the Mt. Tarawera eruption, was once the world’s largest, often gushing to a dizzying height of 1,312 feet (400 m). It erupted only from 1900 to 1904.[10]
  • Dame Kiri Te Kanawa may be New Zealand’s most famous daughter, born in Gisborne in 1944. A megastar in the operatic world, she has played leading ladies in the world’s most renowned opera houses and she sang in front of an audience of 600 million at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. In 2005, she pulled out of a concert with Aussie pop star John Farnham after watching a video of him performing. She was put off by the footage of women throwing their underpants on stage at him.[10]
  • Pākehā is the New Zealand Māori word for “foreigner” and is especially used to refer to someone of European descent. It may be derived from the word pakepakeha which means “pale-skinned fairies,” or it might also mean “white pig.”[17]
  • The kiwi is a national symbol of New Zealand
  • The flightless kiwi bird is native to New Zealand. In relation to the bird’s body size, the kiwi’s egg is the largest egg in the world, weighing approximately one-third of the female bird’s weight. The kiwi is the only bird in the world that has a sense of smell. Its name comes from the male’s distinctive, shrill call.[14]
  • New Zealand has 44 native reptile species. The tuatara is the largest, growing up to 2 feet (60 cm) long. It is believed to be the only surviving species of a family of reptiles that became extinct in other parts of the world 60 million years ago.[14]
  • In 1926, a Hunterville, New Zealand, farmer named John Lambert promoted the idea of using small airplanes from which to drop fertilizers. This is believed to be the first use of aerial topdressing, or crop-dusting, in the world.[14]
  • According to witnesses, Richard Pearse—a Canterbury, New Zealand, farmer who began construction on his first aircraft in the late 19th century—flew his aircraft for about 0.6 miles (1 km) on March 31, 1903, months before the famous Wright Brothers made their first flight in America.[14]
  • New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary became the first man in world, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, to summit Mt. Everest in 1953. He also became the first man to drive overland to the South Pole in 1958. He accomplished that feat driving a specially adapted New Zealand farm tractor. He is featured on the New Zealand $5 note.[14]
  • According to New Zealand Māori legend, the dead leap off the Pohutukawa tree at Cape Reinga’s point to begin their trip to the underworld in the churning waters where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet.[3]
  • Cricket has been played in New Zealand for over 150 years and is New Zealand’s oldest organized sport. The country secured its first test win against the West Indies in 1956 and its first test series against Pakistan in 1969.[14]
  • Some experts believe that kumara, a kind of sweet potato that the Māori brought to New Zealand, originated in South America.[17]
  • Nancy Wake was one of the Gestapo's most wanted
  • New Zealand-born Nancy Wake (codenamed White Mouse) led a guerrilla attack against the Nazis with a 7,000-strong army. She had the multiple honors of being the Gestapo’s most-wanted person and being the most decorated Allied servicewoman during World War II.[10]
  • British Explorer Captain James Cook pioneered beer brewing in New Zealand when he established the first brewery in New Zealand at Dusty Sound. Today, there are three breweries in the country.[14]
  • New Zealand Māori revere pounamu (hard green nephrite jade) and tangi wai (softer, translucent bowenite) usually collectively known as greenstone. In Māori, the entire southwest area of New Zealand is known as Te Wāhipounamu (place of greenstone).[11]
  • Herbert James “Burt” Munro of Invercargill, New Zealand, still owns the world land speed record for under-1000 cc motorbikes. His official run clocked in on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967 at 183.567 mph (295.422 kph). His story was told in the 2005 film The World’s Fastest Indian.[4]
  • Important Dates
    DateEvent
    A.D. 800–1200Māori warrior Kupe and his party arrive in seven legendary canoes from Hawaiki, the mother island of the east Polynesians. They name the land Aotearoa.
    1531First European map appears with Terra Australis drawn on it.
    1642Abel Janszoon Tasman is the first European to see New Zealand. His party never lands and leaves after a sea skirmish with the Māori, but he does name the land Nova Zeelandia (New Zealand).
    1769British explorer Captain James Cook becomes the first European to explore the coasts of both North and South Islands of New Zealand. He also makes return trips in 1773 and 1777.
    1809First European pākehā settlers arrive at Russell.
    1815First British missionaries arrive in New Zealand.
    1840Treaty of Waitangi between British and several Māori tribes pledge protection of Māori land and establish British law in New Zealand.
    1845–1872The New Zealand (or Land) Wars occur in which Māori rebel against British colonial rule.
    1861Gold is discovered in Otago by Gabriel Read.
    1865Wellington is officially named the capital city.
    1867The Māori are given the right to vote.
    1870sWool is established as mainstay of the economy.
    1870First rugby match played in New Zealand.
    1882First refrigerated meat shipment leaves New Zealand for Europe.
    1878New Zealand government introduces the world’s first old-age pension for men.
    1887Tongariro National Park established. It is the first in New Zealand and fourth in the world.
    1893New Zealand becomes the first nation to grant women the right to vote.
    1907New Zealand becomes a dominion within the British Empire.
    1908Ernest Rutherford wins the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for splitting the nucleus of an atom.
    1914World War I begins. New Zealand sends thousands of troops to the British war effort.
    1917Temperance movement closes pubs at 6:00 p.m. Law is repealed in 1967.
    1915New Zealand troops suffer heavy casualties during the Gallipoli Campaign in Turkey.
    1939–1945New Zealand troops see action during World War II in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific.
    1942100,000 American troops arrive in New Zealand to protect the islands from the Japanese.
    1947New Zealand gains full independence from Great Britain, although it remains part of the British Commonwealth.
    1951New Zealand joins ANZUS military pact with U.S. and Australia.
    1953Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay are the first to summit Mt. Everest.
    1981Anti-apartheid protests during South African rugby tour create civil unrest.
    1985New Zealand refuses to allow U.S. nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships to enter its ports. French secret service agents blow up the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbor.
    1987New Zealand becomes a nuclear-free zone. Māori becomes an official national language.
    1993National referendum introduces proportional representation.
    1996Under a new electoral system, the number of Māori MPs rises from 6 to 15.
    1997Jenny Shipley is elected as New Zealand’s first female prime minister.
    1998Waitangi tribunal orders government to return confiscated land in Turangi Township to Māori owners.
    1999Labor Party wins election. Helen Clark becomes prime minister.
    2002Helen Clark apologizes to Samoa for New Zealand’s poor treatment of its citizens during colonial times.
    2004Māori TV begins broadcasting.
    2006Queen of the indigenous Māori population, Te Arikinui Dame Te Ātairangikaahu, dies at the age of 75 after a reign of 40 years.
    2008Sir Edmund Hillary dies at the age of 88 in Auckland.
    2011New Zealand hosts and wins Rugby World Cup. Christchurch hit by worst earthquake in country’s history.
    2012First national census is held.
    2013New Zealand becomes the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriages.
References

1 Booz, Elisabeth B. New Zealand. 5th ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002.

2 Chambers, John H. A Traveller’s History of New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands. Northampton, MA: Interlink Books, 2004.

3 Exploring New Zealand. Fodor’s Travel. New York, NY: Random House, 2008.

4 Forschler, Henrike. “Burt Munro.” NZEdge.com. May 24, 2001. Accessed December 20, 2014.

5 Gillespie, Carol Ann. New Zealand. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2009.

6 Hachette Children’s Yearbook and Infopedia. Gurgaon, India: Hachette Book Publishing India Pvt. Ltd, 2014.

7 Hempstead, Andrew. New Zealand (Moon Handbooks). Berkeley, CA: Avalon Travel, 2012.

8 New Zealand. Fodor’s Travel. New York, NY: Random House, 2014.

9 New Zealand. Insight Guides. Singapore: APA Publications, 2013.

10 New Zealand. Lonely Planet. Berkeley, CA: Lonely Planet, 2010.

11 New Zealand. The Rough Guide. London, UK: Penguin Group, 2012.

12 New Zealand (The World Factbook). CIA. Updated June 20, 2014. Accessed December 20, 2014.

13 Oettli, Peter. Culture Shock! New Zealand. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2009.

14 Smelt, Roselynn and Yong Jui Lin. New Zealand (Cultures of the World). Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2010.

15Taranaki–Milk and Volcano.” Free Guide to New Zealand. Accessed December 20, 2014.

16Te Waikoropupū Springs.” New Zealand Department of Conservation. Accessed December 20, 2014.

17 The Māori (World Book’s Early Peoples). Chicago, IL: The World Book, 2009.

Suggested for you

Prev
Next

Trending Now

Load More
>