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People of New Zealand

Welcoming Kiwis

New Zealand people - at the Hokitika Wild Food FestivalComing to New Zealand has many highlights - one of them is meeting the inhabitants. As a traveller in such a diverse country you don’t stick out as a tourist. Anyway you’ll surely have many opportunities to talk to the locals, don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation. People are generally chatty with each other and like to crack a joke with strangers. You’ll find that they are very informal and easy to talk to, Kiwis like to keep things uncomplicated and in most situations there will be no etiquette issues (except on the marae where it would be rude not to know and follow the rules). New Zealanders follow the rule “live and let live” (that doesn’t apply for possums, fish and wild pigs). Being friendly is just part of their nature, they’re so laid back they’re almost horizontal.

They are traditionally helpful to travellers and interested to learn more about where you come from and how you like New Zealand. Many have themselves experience or family abroad and know what you’re talking about. If they see you’re in trouble people will be ready to help you, sometimes you might even get a generous invitation to dinner or to stay overnight. A good opportunity to listen to some of those hilarious life stories that most have to tell. And although living on the edge of the world, that doesn’t mean New Zealanders are not modern or well informed - on the contrary, most are well educated and like to discuss their opinions on global matters, and sometimes the distance helps to see the big picture!

Can do! attitude

Born in the countryside without cash in the pockets and far from dependable supplies, having to compete with the world economy from the edge of civilisation, these sons and daughters of pioneers, immigrants, clever farmers and outdoors workers have become famous for their ingenuity and “can-do, will-do” attitude. A lack of resources will probably not deter any decent Kiwi with his own shed from repairing, maintaining or building whatever he thinks is needed. They just “give it a go”, DIY is a way of life, how else would anyone consider jumping down a bridge with a rope around his legs or build a speed record motorbike out of old parts? The “Number 8 Wire” legend only slightly exaggerates that a Kiwi can fix any problem using just a standard fence wire. Because they can fix things independently they don't like rules and authority, there’s no need to be told what to do, just get your hands dirty and finish it!

This small country took up the challenge well and knows how to claim its place in the world (or at least in the “Southern Hemisphere”). It was the first country to give women the vote in 1893 and today’s emancipated women keep giving a good example. Welfare legislation has usually been ahead of its time since “The Old Age Pensions Act” in 1898. Inventions include the disposable syringe and tranquiliser dart gun, the highly efficient round milking shed, bungy jumping, the jet boat, the blokart and many industrial advancements, even hokey pokey ice cream!

Life quality

New Zealand gardenNew Zealand has enough space for everyone, some of the best beaches in the world, most Kiwis enjoy their gardens and how well things grow in them. It is definitely an outdoors country with countless opportunities. Outdoors activities like fishing, rugby, running, hunting, sailing, mountainbiking, tennis, golf, hiking, swimming, surfing etc. are very popular and anyone can surprisingly reveal himself as a real adventurer. Kids are actively encouraged to participate in all sorts of sports events, from surf lifesaving courses to fun runs.

If the weather is good why work overtime instead of going fishing? Kiwis rarely work themselves up the career ladder for money's sake alone, if there’s no fun or deeper satisfaction they move on to something different, which is why many have several totally different careers in a lifetime. New Zealand fishingThey also contribute to their communities with a strong opinion and lots of volunteer work (15 % engage regularly for voluntary organisations or groups), people feel responsible and are generally proud of their country and region. Nonetheless they love to travel abroad, backpacking through Asia or Europe or working in England for a year, leaving New Zealand for their “big OE” (overseas experience). Then they come back and start to really appreciate where they live. Time to start a family and spend summer holidays camping at the beach, complete with the neighbour’s kids, fridge, boat and barbecue.

How New Zealanders live

Just over 4 mio Kiwis share a country as big the UK, so it’s a bit of a surprise that around 86 % live in urban areas. 97 % of the land area is practically empty! But as urban as Kiwis live these days, they share 1.5 million houses to live in. Most of these stand separate and have 3 bedrooms, so most will have a piece of land and garden to live in. Auckland alone has 1.3 million inhabitants, but the city with 440,000 houses stretches for nearly 60 km!

Maori Language Course Population in the cities (2013):

Auckland: 1,415,550
Christchurch: 341,469
Wellington: 190,956
Hamilton: 141,615
Dunedin: 120,246
Tauranga: 114,789
Lower Hutt: 98,238
Palmerston North: 80,079
Napier: 57,240
Porirua: 51,717
Invercargill: 51,696
Nelson: 46,437
Upper Hutt: 40,179

(Source: Statistics New Zealand)

Where New Zealanders come from

Kiwis know well where they come from. Be it the great-grandfather who arrived on a steamer from Scotland or the forefather and his canoe in the Polynesian migration, the line of descent is common knowledge. Evolving from a once bicultural nation the diversity is now growing, with 2/3 of all Kiwis being of European, 15 % of Maori, nearly 9 % of Asian and 6 % of Pacific Island descent. Auckland with around 190,000 Pacific Islanders is practically Polynesia's capital, with more Tongans living there than in Tonga. 37 % of Aucklanders were born overseas and in a way all Kiwis were once immigrants. After all, “the youngest country on earth” was the last one to get populated.

New Zealanders are also on the go, half a million Kiwis live overseas, most of them in Australia. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon once said that “New Zealanders who leave for Australia raise the IQ of both countries.” Sadly for New Zealand’s economy, many with high qualifications are seeking better jobs and higher salary abroad. But some expats do return for their loved ones or to leave the pressure of overseas lifestyles behind, coming back with better skills, valuable experience and a bit of money in the bank.

As you can see, New Zealand is also slowly changing into a globalised, modern and urban society. Don’t worry, the Kiwis are still out there, in so many wonderful regions for you to explore.

See our separate page about Maori culture.

Some typical Kiwis gone famous

  • Sir Edmund Hillary Once a beekeeper and awkward at sport, he discovered his mountaineering abilities during a school trip. In 1953 he stood on top of Mount Everest with his buddy Tenzing Norgay. Sir Ed’s modesty was legendary, he continued to climb, reached the South Pole by tractor (see also motifs on New Zealand banknotes) and the source of the Ganges by jetboat, but during his state funeral in 2008 he was especially remembered for his life long charity efforts. "In some ways I believe I epitomise the average New Zealander: I have modest abilities, I combine these with a good deal of determination, and I rather like to succeed." "It is not the mountains that we conquer, but ourselves."
  • Experiment: particles are deflected because of an atomic nucleusSir Ernest Rutherford This Nelson born farm boy and rugby forward with an insatiable thirst for knowledge started his studies under a corrugated iron roof (quote: "We don’t have the money, so we have to think") and later ended up with the Nobel Prize. He explained atomic structures (quote on splitting the atom: "I have broken the machine and touched the ghost of matter") and radioactivity and among other things was in 1904 the first to calculate the age of earth by measuring radioactive decay - then a delicate theory contrary to what the bible declared.
  • Bruce McLaren Growing up in an Auckland service station with a racing father, speed was his motto and he ended up the youngest Formula 1 GP winner and a top 10 driver during the whole sixties. His combined engineering talent resulted in the McLaren team, with himself as the first driver. Since then it was to win every fourth GP. He died during a test in 1970.
  • Burt Munro's IndianBurt Munro Born 1899 in Invercargill and fascinated by machines, he worked 45 years on his motorycle until some 250 motor blow-ups later in 1962, he set a world land speed record for under 1000cc bikes at the Bonneville Salt Flats with 178.97 miles per hour. "The World's Fastest Indian" is a wonderful film about his life philosophy and determination: "If you don't follow your dreams, you might as well be a vegetable." Another Kiwi motorbike enthusiast was John Britten, whose bike broke four world speed records in 1993. Both actually used No 8 fencing wire in their construction of their designs.
  • Wallace C. Footrot Uncle Wal is the fond owner and co-star of "The Dog" (he hates his real name) in Murry Ball's "Footrot Flats" comic books who were a huge success in the 70's and 80's. It's all about typical New Zealand farm life with its impossible situations and a striking resemblence to reality. This real Kiwi is a down to earth sort of bloke who loves chopping down trees, taking his girlfriend for fish n‘ chips and playing rugby with his mates, the only animals he’s afraid of are his cat Horse and a magpie called Pew.

Source for population data: Statistics New Zealand 

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