General information about New Zealand

New Zealand comprises three main islands, North Island, South Island and Stewart Island and is located 1600km east of Australia and extends from latitude 34°S to 47°S.

Satellite view of New Zealand

Brief History of New Zealand

About 1000 years ago, Polynesian Maori settled in New Zealand.
More on Maori history and culture at this page
The first European arrival was the Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642, but it was not until the voyages of Captain James Cook in 1769 and 1779 that the islands were charted and explored by Europeans. The vessel Captain Cook first arrived on was “Endeavour”.

British settlers began to emigrate after British sovereignty was established in 1840, and Wellington was founded soon afterwards.
New Zealand was granted internal self-government in 1852, and the later years of the century saw a rapid growth in investment, communications and agricultural production.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to extend the vote to women.

New Zealand became a Dominion in 1907, and its forces took part in both World Wars. The country is a member of the British Commonwealth and also several other international organisations, including the Five Power Defence Agreement and the South Pacific Forum.


The north of New Zealand is subtropical and the south temperate. The warmest months are December, January and February, and the coldest June, July and August.
In summer, the average maximum temperature ranges between 20-30°C and in winter between 10-15°C.

New Zealand people

How many New Zealanders are there? Check the NZ Population Clock.

New Zealand society reflects many years of migration from all parts of the globe. The majority are of British descent, along with other European cultures such as Greek, Italian, French, Dutch, Dalmatian, Scandinavian and German.

More recently people from islands throughout the Pacific, such as Samoa and Fiji, have also migrated here, along with immigrants from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The largest non-European group of people are the Maori, the first settlers of New Zealand, known as the ‘tangata whenua’ (the people of the land) who make up around 15 percent of the population. Maori culture, art and traditions are an important part of New Zealand’s heritage and culture.

English and Maori are both official languages, though the vast majority of people speak only English.

One of the last places in the world to be discovered and settled, New Zealand today is a modern high-tech western nation with a well-developed economy and a government structure based on the British parliamentary system.

Recreation and Sports

New Zealand is a great country for sports and leisure – its countryside offers limitless possibilities, and New Zealanders enjoy playing sport.
You can explore the outdoors with tramping, skiing and cycling, or take up team sports such as rugby, basketball and netball.
New Zealanders are very serious about rugby particularly, and their national team, the All Blacks, are world renowned and triple World Champions.

Kees Meeuws try

Gymnasiums operate throughout the country if you want to start a personal fitness programme.
If you enjoy fishing, swimming or golf, you’ll find plenty of opportunities. New Zealand’s coast, lakes and rivers have been the mecca of game fishermen world-wide. New Zealand golf courses are of international standard, not at all overcrowded, and charge very reasonable green fees.

Many New Zealanders own their own yachts, from small “p-class” children’s vessels, right through to ocean going luxury and sports yachts.
Auckland has the highest level of boat ownership per capita in the world and Team New Zealand was twice winner of the America’s Cup, yachting’s most sought after international sporting trophy.
And for the adventurous, there’s always bungy jumping, white-water rafting, para-gliding, hang-gliding and skydiving!
Recently several international extreme sports events have been held in the South Island, where contestants race from one coast to the other across the Southern Alps!
So, there is plenty to do!

Culture & Arts

The world’s most photographed public toilet in the world can be found HERE!

As well as the National Opera, Royal New Zealand Ballet and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, many cities have theatres, orchestras and sometimes opera companies of their own.
Auckland is home to several professional modern dance companies, while Wellington is acknowledged as the theatre capital, with three full time professional theatres operating.

Wellington is also home to the huge biannual International Festival of the Arts, while Christchurch, New Plymouth and Tauranga also host Arts Festivals. Wellington is the new home to the internationally acclaimed Wearable Arts Awards

The new Museum of New Zealand Te Papa opened in a huge specially designed building on Wellington’s waterfront, and showcases New Zealand Art and culture, as well as hosting international exhibitions.

New Zealand has a lively film and television industry with a huge international profile- the cult series “Hercules” and “Xena” were both filmed in Auckland, and the international teenage hit “The Tribe” is filmed out of Cloud Nine studios in Wellington.
Keisha Castle-Hughes received an Oscar nomination for her performance in Whale Rider when she was 12 and Anna Paquin, then only 11, became the country’s youngest Oscar winner for her performance in “The Piano”, shot entirely in New Zealand.
The trilogy “Lord of the Rings” was produced in Wellington, having been filmed entirely in New Zealand, with a New Zealand director, Peter Jackson, and crew.
The first 2 films picked up 6 Oscars out of 19 nominations and The Return of the King set an Oscar record by winning all 11 awards for which it had been nominated.

Shopping & Food

Shops in New Zealand open most days of the year. Most open at 9am and close at 5.30pm from Monday to Friday (although supermarkets open earlier and close later). Some shops have a late night during the week – usually Thursday or Friday depending on the city or town they are in.
Most open at least on Saturday during the weekend, and shopping malls are open 7 days. Some shops (such as some takeaway food outlets and petrol stations) stay open 24 hours a day.
You can buy almost every type of food in New Zealand – from specialty stores such as butchers and delicatessens to large supermarkets. New Zealand has most international fast food chain outlets.

You will find restaurants, cafes and bars throughout New Zealand, of all nationalities, especially in the larger cities. Wellington has more cafes and bars per capita than New York. Most restaurants are licensed, which means they can sell you alcohol, and some are BYO (or Bring Your Own), which means you can bring your own alcohol (usually wine only) with you.
Alcoholic drinks are available from supermarkets and specialty Liquor outlets 7 days/week.

Public Transport

With the exception of air travel, which is extensive and regular, New Zealand’s public transport system is not as extensive or developed as one might expect. This is because the small population and high level of car ownership make it increasingly uneconomic for public transport companies to operate.
For example, despite commuter trains and public bus services, Auckland’s huge urban sprawl means it is difficult to move around unless you travel by car. In other cities also, most people find it more convenient to drive themselves, rather than use public transport.
And in the country the high level of car ownership has made it uneconomic for extensive train and bus services to compete, although national bus and train services do operate between most cities and towns.

Regular ferry services operate (three or four times per day) that take travellers, vehicles and even goods trains across Cook Strait (the 25 mile stretch of water between North and South Islands). There are also many luxury tour buses that take tourists throughout the country on specialised tours.

Private Transport

Cars are the most popular way of getting around in New Zealand, (2.3 million vehicles for a total population of just over 4 million people) particularly for long distances. Many families own two cars.

Up until around 1970 most cars and motorbikes were of British (or Australian products of General Motors or Ford) origin, but today the market is dominated by Japanese vehicles.
However, other makes are readily available, such as Fords, Holdens, Mercedes, BMW’s, Jaguars, Land Rovers and Harley Davidson, Ducati, BMW and Triumph motorcycles.

If you have a driver’s licence in your home country and also have an international driving permit, you can drive in New Zealand for a maximum of one year.
After one year, you will need to apply for a New Zealand driver’s licence and (for some countries) pass a theory test. However, if you come from Australia, Canada, Norway, countries in the European Union, South Africa, Switzerland, or the United States, you can convert to the NZ licence without the need to sit any test.
You will need to get specific licences if you ride a motorcycle or drive a heavy transport (HT) vehicle.

New Zealanders drive on the LEFT side of the road!

Road conditions in New Zealand are generally good – most roads are sealed “two lane blacktops”, although in country areas many secondary roads are still unsealed.
The maximum speed limit ranges from 50 kilometres per hour (30 mph) in urban built up areas to 100 kilometres per hour (60 mph) on the open road. There are no motorways or autobahns except around major cites but even then, the speed limit is 100 km.

Petrol (unleaded 91) is currently approximately NZ$1.88 per litre (September 2016).

Do not drink alcohol and drive. This is a very serious offence in New Zealand, and police can and will stop you for random checks to see if you have been drinking. They may also set up checkpoints at random places and stop every vehicle for checking, at any time day or night.
If you are stopped by the police, they will usually give you a breath test, where you speak into a special machine that measures the amount of alcohol in your breath. If you fail this test or refuse to take it, the police officer will ask you to go to a testing centre, where you will blow into another electronic device that measures your alcohol level. You may also need to have a blood sample taken.

You will not be entitled to any insurance cover if you have an accident after you have been drinking more than the legal alcohol limit.
If you are convicted, you will automatically lose your licence and will be heavily fined, and you may be put in jail.


You do not need to be a resident of New Zealand to open a bank account. It is an easy process – most banks will open an account for you within a matter of days. To avoid a high rate of tax on interest earned by the account, you will need to provide a New Zealand IRD (tax) number to the bank. You will also need to give the bank your permanent address details.

New Zealand has a wide variety of banks and banking services and are quite competitive, especially in the mortgage market. Most banks open to the public at 9.00am and close at 4:30pm.
Most also operate automatic teller machines (ATMs) which dispense cash and are everywhere in cities, shopping malls and many petrol stations. You don’t need to be a customer of any particular bank to use the machines – they will all accept other banks cards, as well as major credit cards, although you may have to pay extra fees to use another bank’s ATMs.

Most banks offer telephone banking services, which means you can access your accounts 24 hours a day by telephone, and also most offer their services through the Internet.
Many banks offer special services for new migrants and have staff who can help you with information, advice and useful introductions.

All major retail outlets and many smaller ones operate a system called EFTPOS (Electronic Fund Transfer at Point of Sale). This allows you to pay for goods and services by swiping your card through a small reader at the checkout and entering your pin number.
If you have enough funds in your account, the money is automatically debited from your account and credited to the retailer, so it is like paying in cash.
New Zealand was the first country in the world to have this system in common use (because it was first trialled here) and many New Zealanders rarely use actual cash.

Television and Radio

New Zealand has four national free to air television channels. There are also regional television stations and some other private, specialist channels.
FreeView works with a satelite receiver but requires no monthly payments to view, as all available channels are paid by advertising.
You can pay to get Sky (satellite) Television, which has channels showing movies, sports, documentaries, international news (such as CNN and BBC), magazine programmes and teenage drama programmes.

Currently a number of local cable television companies offer these and many other channels, some in different languages. You also have to pay for these, and they are available only in the bigger cities.

There are two main State-owned radio stations and about 120 privately owned radio stations including ones that provide programmes in different languages.

Telecommunications and Internet

New Zealand has many competing providers of telecommunications services – the biggest are Telecom New Zealand and Telstra-Saturn.
Telecom operates most of the “local call” network, although several firms compete in this market now, as well as in the market for national and international toll calls.
There are about 20 telecommunications companies providing international toll or long-distance services to New Zealand, including a large number of “callback” operators – companies that usually connect calls through the United States.
All offer very competitive pricing plans – it’s a good idea to compare prices, especially for international toll calls. The more often you call and the longer you talk, the cheaper it can be per minute.

Telephone books are supplied free by Telecom. There are several versions – each one covers a particular area or region.
There are both analogue and digital mobile communications networks covering most of the country.
98% of New Zealand homes have a telephone – though slightly more have a colour television! (July 1999 – Source: Statistics NZ) You will also find public telephone boxes throughout New Zealand.

An estimated 47 percent of New Zealanders have a computer at home, with 25 percent having an Internet connection. (July 1999 – Source: Statistics NZ)
New Zealanders are heavy users of the internet. America has 4.7 percent of the world’s population, but 57 percent of the world’s internet connections. At the other end of the scale, there are three African countries which have no internet connections at all.
New Zealand’s doing relatively well – on most surveys we rank in the top five for connectivity. An independent research house estimates that the New Zealand internet subscriber base will grow at more than 20 percent a year and hit 1.5 million in 2004.
(Source: Theresa Gattung, Telecom New Zealand CEO at Local Government New Zealand Conference, 10 July 2000)


New Zealand has a wide variety of religions, although the country is predominantly Christian in one of many forms including Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian. However many New Zealanders attend church only rarely.
Anyone can attend any place of worship they choose. Many ethnic groups also have their own places of worship.


Smoking is banned in New Zealand on public transport (including airlines) and in public places such as meeting rooms and shopping malls. Also, schools are smoke-free.
As from 10 December 2004, smoking is not allowed in bars and restaurants and on all areas of the workplace.
Shops are prohibited from selling cigarettes to persons under 18.

Citizens Advice Bureaux

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is a great place to go for free, up-to-date information. Anyone can use their services, you do not need to be a New Zealand citizen. The CAB will help you find the services you need, or provide answers to difficult questions or problems.


What is Kiwiana? All those names and items woven into New Zealand society over the years, so much that they have become a part of us that we hold dear, like Buzzy Bee, No.8 wire, gumboots, fish&chips, hokey pokey ice cream, jandals, paua shell ashtrays, pavlovas and Aunt Daisy to name just a few.
To see them all, visit KiwianaTown