New Zealand travel information Tourleader New Zealand

Culture of New Zealand


Visitors to New Zealand will notice a number of unique items and habits that have become locally famous over the years, be sure to look out for them.

  • New Zealand KiwiThe Kiwi bird as the country’s icon goes back to the association of New Zealanders with a shoe polish brand used in WW2. The charismatic birds are a fitting symbol for all of its unique inhabitants (see Animals of New Zealand).
  • A “bach” or a “crib” used to be a simple and self-built holiday home on the beach for those fantastic summer holidays with the kids, a place for being happy without any worries. Some have been replaced with million dollar glass and steel designs but you can still find some good old Kiwi baches, even for rent.
  • Many Kiwis love to walk barefeet and encourage their kids to do so. Others have no other footwear but “Jandals” (Japanese sandals), don’t be surprised to see plenty of flip flops in winter.
  • Nothing prevents a hands on and humble Kiwi from using corrugated iron on the roof, a common practice and typical New Zealand sight for the last 150 years.
  • New Zealand rugbyThe All Blacks are New Zealand’s heroes, the official rugby team is of course the world’s best, except during world cups. In the months before a world cup 4 of 5 commercials will feature at least an All Black and a broken All Black finger will have precedence over any other headline. Before every game the All Blacks perform their intimidating and impressive Maori challenge, the Haka, signalling their determination not to walk away as loosers.
  • Gumboots were already worn to dig up Kauri gum and are not only used regularly in the garden or farm but also thrown around in gumboot throwing competitions. Taihape is the proud “gumboot capital of the world” and black tea can also be referred to as “gumboot tea” (if you like it weaker then ask for “a weasel’s” - being “weak as weasel’s pee”).
  • New Zealand sheepSheep are in themselves a New Zealand icon, although their numbers have declined drastically down from the record 70 mio (1983) to 38 mio (2007). The grass grows well in New Zealand and has thus been successfully transformed into wool and frozen meat exports, especially before EU times when the mother country (UK) was importing most of the production.
  • Foreign visitors have a hard time memorising Maori place names like Whakarewarewa, Wairarapa, Otorohanga, Whangaparaoa, Tutukaka, Waikaremoana, with pronounciation being the next challenge (is it now “Whangarei” or “Fahngarei”...?). Try to identify often recurring or repeating word particles like “whanga” (harbour), “roa” (long), “wai” (water), “moana” (sea) etc. Most New Zealand towns have original Maori names: Auckland is Tamaki-makau-rau, Wellington is Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara and others like Kaikoura have a longer original: Te Ahi-kai-koura-a-Tama-ki-te-rangi! One hill in Hawke’s Bay is called Taumata-whaka-tangihanga-koauau-o Tamatea-turi-pukaka-pikimaunga-horonuku-pokai-whenua-kitana-tahu (“The hilltop where Tamatea, with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his kaouau (flute) to his beloved”)!
  • Bring a plate and a bottle”: this is your usual invitation for dinner, meaning not to be complicated and contributing to the meal with a dish and a bottle of wine (for example a “Sav Plonk” or a “Shardy”).
  • New Zealand KoruOther New Zealand icons you’ll certainly see are the Silver Fern (Ponga or tree fern), the Koru (curled up fern shoots symbolising birth and development), the beautiful blue coloured Paua shell, the Buzzy Bee kid’s toy and many more.
  • Every visitor should have a taste of Lemon and Paroa which is “world famous in New Zealand”. L&P is a lemonade with secret ingredients and - if many of you travellers love it - will maybe one day even be known in Australia.
  • The best value takeaway is still fish and chips, or “shark and taties”, which can fill a stomach from 3.50 NZD onwards. Even the cheapest varieties can be excellent, lemon juice or vinegar and pineapple fritters go well with that.
  • In New Zealand corner shops are called “dairy”, this is where farmers used to sell their dairy products. You can still buy milk today, as well as loads of other products and delicious ice cream (try the chocolate dip if you see one). The dairies found their niche with extra long opening hours and neighbourhood locations.
  • New Zealand PavlovaFor visitors maybe less obvious, the pride of every kitchen acrobat is the famous Pavlova, a lovely meringue cake with whipped cream and strawberries or kiwifruit on top. Pikelets are tiny hot pancakes usually eaten with jam for breakfast or dessert.
  • The Kiwi accent is easy to get used to: pronounce some “a’s” and “e’s” like “ee’s” (“bid time”) and “i’s” as some sort of “eh’s” (“sex times fesh n’ cheps”) and you’ll fit in. Finish a sentence with higher voice and add an “ay”, “sweet as” or “right”. You’ll need to throw in some Kiwi words, too: metal road (unsealed road), ute (utility vehicle = pickup truck), boyracer or hoon (the endearing names for donut burning hooded teenagers in loud undermotorised race cars with huge exhaust pipes), togs (swimming gear), she’ll be right (it will be alright), tea (could mean tea, lunch or dinner), godzone (God’s own = New Zealand) etc. See our comprehensive list of New Zealand slang words.

Recommended New Zealand books:

  • The Penguin History of New Zealand by Michael King
  • Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
  • An Angel at my Table by Janet Frame
  • The Bone People by Keri Hulme
  • The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield
  • The Book of Secrets by Dame Fiona Kidman
  • The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Recommended New Zealand films:

  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by Peter Jackson
  • Boy by Taika Waititi
  • The Hobbit Trilogy by Peter Jackson
  • The World’s Fastest Indian by Roger Donaldson
  • River Queen by Vincent Ward
  • The Strength of Water by Armagan Ballantyne (filmed in the Hokianga)
  • New Zealand culture: ice creamUtu by Geoff Murphy
  • Whale Rider by Niki Caro
  • The Piano by Jane Campion
  • The Man who lost his Head by Terry Johnson
  • Good Bye Pork Pie by Geoff Murphy - crazy road movie
  • Heavenly Creatures by Peter Jackson
  • Once were Warriors by Lee Tamahori
  • King Kong by Peter Jackson
  • What We Do in the Shadows by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement
  • The Dark Horse by James Napier Robertson
  • The Dead Lands by Toa Fraser
  • Mahana by Lee Tamahori
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople by Taika Waititi

Recommended New Zealand TV series:

  • New Zealand culture: young New Zealanders hanging out togetherPiha Rescue about the lifesavers of Piha beach
  • Homegrown, a series about Kiwi icons like sheep, cows, kiwifruit, timber & beer
  • Tangaroa with Pio / Some of my best friends are...
  • Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand
  • The Lion Man of Whangarei about Zion Wildlife Park
  • Intrepid Journeys, accompanying famous Kiwi travellers in remote places

Recommended New Zealand music:

  • Anika Moa (Songwriter)
  • Bic Runga (Songwriter)
  • Crowded House (Pop/Rock)
  • Fat Freddy's Drop (Reggae and Dub)
  • Flight of the Conchords (Comedy)
  • Herbs (Reggae)
  • Katchafire (Reggae)
  • Kiri Te Kanawa (Opera)
  • Kimbra (Pop)
  • Lorde (Songwriter)
  • Malvina Major (Opera)
  • Moana (Songwriter)
  • New Zealand culture: the Flat White!Nesian Mystik (Hip Hop)
  • Opshop (Pop/Rock)
  • Salmonella Dub (Dub and Dance)
  • Savage (Hip Hop)
  • Shapeshifter (Drum n' Bass)
  • Shihad (Rock)
  • Smashproof (Hip Hop)
  • Stellar (Pop/Rock)
  • The Black Seeds (Dub and Funk)
  • The Datsuns (Pop/Rock)
  • Tiki Taane (Songwriter, Dub and Dance)
  • Tim Finn (Songwriter)

See our tips about New Zealand museums where you can learn much more about the local culture and our New Zealand travel guide for more infos.

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