Our Top List of New Zealand Facts (Including 15 Fun Facts Too)
New Zealand is a country steeped in culture and endowed with a rich geographical landscape. From its longstanding Māori history to the allure of the Milford Sound—New Zealand holds a distinct charm that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Despite being one of the last places on Earth to be formally settled, this island nation has also managed to make a name for itself internationally. From its natural beauty to its vast economic prospects, New Zealand is a place where hopes, dreams, and fantasies (Lord of The Rings, anyone?) come alive.
Ready to know more about this grand island nation in the South Pacific? Well, keep reading, as this list of New Zealand facts will surely leave you in awe.
Things To Know About New Zealand
Without further ado, let’s jump straight into these must-know facts about New Zealand.
New Zealand Climate & Weather
New Zealand’s weather and climate vary a lot—and that’s no understatement. The climate in the North Island reaches subtropical levels, with summers in places like Auckland reaching 21°C to 26°C. Winters, on the other hand, are mild and often sunny, with temperatures reaching only about 10°C to 14°C.
The further south of the country you go, the colder the climate will be. Unlike the weather in the North Island, South Island experiences a subantarctic climate with lots of rain. For reference, in Christchurch, it can dip as low as -10°C during the winter months and reach about 23°C during the peak of summer. The climate and wind chills in alpine regions are also vastly colder than the ground temperature.
Getting there: Visas & Immigration
Australians, visa-holding tourists, and returning locals can enter New Zealand freely so long that they have a valid passport that isn’t due to expire in three months or less. For citizens of countries that are designated the “visa waiver” status, they would need to request a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) upon entry on a tourist status. A current and valid passport is also mandatory.
Citizens that don’t meet the conditions above would need to apply for a visitor visa. If you are currently holding a foreign passport and want to apply for a long-term stay in New Zealand, you can do so as long as you meet the requirements.
New Zealand’s Government
New Zealand is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy. As of 2023, King Charles III assumes the role of head of state following the passing of his mother and former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
The monarch appoints an official representative, known as the Governor-General, which acts in their name and exercises executive power. Currently, this position is held by Cindy Kiro, who was appointed by Queen Elizabeth II on the 21st of October 2021.
The Prime Minister is responsible for the majority of government actions, while Parliament holds legislative authority. Every three years, 120 Members of Parliament are elected through the national General Election. The current Prime Minister is Chris Hipkins, who has been in office since January 22, 2023, following the resignation of former Labour leader PM Jacinda Ardern.
New Zealand’s Economy
Founded on free-market principles, New Zealand operates an open market economy that pushed it to become a developed nation. Its economy was heavily regulated by government intervention early on, but by the 1980s, only a few remnants of it still operate today, one of which is a revised social security system.
New Zealanders typically have a high standard of living thanks to the bountiful economic prospects in this island nation. One of its major sources of domestic income is exports, taking up one-third of the country’s GDP. According to the Treasury, New Zealand’s agricultural, service, and manufacturing sectors are also sizable.
New Zealand Currency & What Things Cost
The official currency used in New Zealand is the NZ Dollar (NZD). One NZD is equal to 0.62 US Dollars, 0.59 Euros, and 0.52 British Pounds.
New Zealand is a relatively expensive place to live. It’s not New York or Singapore-levels expensive, but visitors should still be financially prepared before visiting or living in this island nation.
In Auckland, for example, one-bedroom apartments will set you back NZ$1600 a month and basic groceries are around NZ$130 per person per week. Want to own a house in New Zealand? That can cost you upwards of NZ$1.35 million.
While these look expensive, many Kiwis are capable of getting by financially. The median salary in urban centres in New Zealand is about NZ$71,000 per year.
Furthermore, the minimum salary is set to rise to $22.70 per hour by April 2023, allowing more financial leeway for working professionals.
Driving In New Zealand
Kiwis drive on the left side of the road, just like their neighbours in Australia and the United Kingdom. If you’re from the United States or parts of Europe, you may have to get used to this new orientation.
The minimum age to drive is 16 (with a learner’s license), while you must be 18 or over to obtain a full driver’s license. The roads of New Zealand tend to be windy and steep, especially the further you branch out from cities and towns. Wearing a seatbelt is compulsory and using your phone while driving is illegal.
But don’t be scared by these must-dos, New Zealand is one of the most scenic places to grab a rental car and drive to your heart’s content. Places like Milford Road and the Crown Range are absolute beauties and need to be traversed at least once in your lifetime.
There are plenty of modes of transportation you can consider when moving from place to place. The cheapest way to move around NZ is by riding the national bus network found all over the country. There’s also a scenic train network, but it’s pretty limited as far as destinations go. Planes can cover long distances quickly, but it’ll make you miss the opportunity to see the beauty of New Zealand up close.
One of the easiest ways to move around New Zealand is by car. You get incredible flexibility and freedom to explore the lush landscapes that make up the country. But don’t just take our word for it, New Zealand has the 3rd highest rate of per-capita car ownership worldwide. Kiwis love their cosy automobiles!
New Zealand Population
New Zealand has a population of 4.93 million residents as of February 2023. This nation has a growing population—one of the highest in the developed world—and it’s expected to keep on growing for another 50 years.
Three-fourths of Kiwis reside in the North Island, as that’s where many economical centres are situated. This includes Auckland, Hamilton, Waikato, and the capital Wellington. That said, there are some small towns with a population of 10,000 and 20,000 scattered all over New Zealand, and these are vital locations considering the strong rural sector of the nation.
Immigrants are taking up the majority of the population growth in recent years, particularly people from Asia and the Pacific Islands. However, locals of European descent and Maori people still make up the two most populous ethnic groups, at 64% and 15% respectively.
Compared to the world average, New Zealanders also live longer lives; male Kiwis have a life expectancy of 80 years while women can expect to live up to 84.
New Zealand Plants & Animals
About 40% of plants, 70% of animals, 80% of freshwater fish, and 90% of fungi in New Zealand can’t be found anywhere else. When we said that New Zealand holds some unique creatures, we meant it!
The rich biodiversity in New Zealand partly stems from the distinct geographical features that separate it from the rest of the world. The country has two main landmasses and a bunch of offshore islands, which is why some of the animals are endemic to specific areas only.
Some species unique to New Zealand include the kiwi, kokako, glowworms, carnivorous land snails, galaxiids, torrentfish, cabbage trees, and kauri trees.
A lot of local species have been preyed upon following the introduction of dogs, mice, and other foreign species by past European settlers. Today, a lot of these animals are also endangered or vulnerable due to threats to their habitat and extreme weather patterns.
When taking in the awe-inspiring beauty of New Zealand, always, always remember: leave no trace behind!
Maori People & Culture
Maori people are the first indigenous settlers of New Zealand, believed to have arrived in the 13th century. This group is made up of Polynesian people who sailed across the seas from Hawaiki—the ancient homeland of Maori people—in canoes.
Today, Maori culture has been embraced by many Kiwis and still plays a strong part in everyday life. This is seen through the numerous cultural festivals that originate from these people, such as hui (gatherings), tangi (funerals), and waka ama (canoe racing).
The Maori language is also an important part of this culture, and in attempts to revive the language, it has been given official status by the government since 1987 through the Maori Language Act. As of 2018, about 186,000 New Zealanders could hold a conversation in Maori.
15 Fun Facts about New Zealand (including a few slightly bizarre)
New Zealand is well-established as a beautiful country. That much everyone knows. There are also many other interesting things to learn about Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand meaning ‘the land of the long white cloud’). We decided to do some research and put together this list of 15 interesting facts about New Zealand to enrich what you know about our beloved country.
1. We’re the first country to see the sunrise
We start off with a mildly controversial one as the knowledgeable among you may know that Samoa is technically the first country to welcome the new day. However, thanks to the curvature of the Earth, the North Island city of Gisborne on the East Coast is the first to see the actual sunrise!
It’s a great place to visit, particularly on New Year’s Eve if you’re a party animal, as it really kicks off. It’s otherwise a good one to tick off the bucket list and the East Coast is an amazing place to visit. Read more about the world’s first sunrise.
2. ‘God Save The King’ is an official national anthem of New Zealand
No one in our team actually knew this, but ‘God Save the King’, England’s national anthem, is (and was) the first national anthem of New Zealand. As a matter of fact, we’re one of only two nations in the world to have more than one, the other being Denmark.
Our more widely recognised national anthem, ‘God Defend New Zealand’, didn’t become the second national anthem until the 1970s by petition (with Queen Elizabeth II’s blessing). That’s all but taken over but if you’re at a particularly regal event you might hear ‘God Save the King’ in full voice.
3. First country to give women the vote in 1893
One of our more honourable New Zealand facts is that we were the first self-governing country to give women the vote in 1893. This was due, in no small part, to Kate Sheppard, an iconic figure in the women’s suffrage movement.
Her efforts in gathering 30,000 signatures for parliament led to the establishment of universal suffrage and for that, she can be seen on our $10 note. As well as this, we were also the first country to have our three top positions held by women. These were Helen Clark (Prime Minister), Dame Silvia Cartwright (Governor General) and Sian Elias (Chief Justice).
4. We conquered Everest and discovered the proton
Kiwis have a great track record of being experts in the very big and very small. This is proved by the fact that we were the first to conquer Everest and the first to discover the proton!
The two New Zealanders responsible for the above feats were, of course, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Ernest Rutherford. Interestingly, they are often mistaken for being British but they are Kiwis through and through. They also both have the honour of appearing on our $5 and $100 notes respectively.
5. Taumatawhakatangi – hangakoauauotamatea – pokaiwhenuakitanatahu
This epic word is actually the name of a 300-metre high hill in the beautiful Hawke’s Bay. What’s so special about it, as you may have guessed, is that it is the longest place name in any English speaking country in the world.
There are 40 syllables in the place name which is a great one to practice to impress the locals. If that’s a bit beyond you, you can use its shortened name of ‘Taumata’.
6. Volcano country
New Zealand is, you could say, slightly precariously placed on what’s known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. Quite a few of them are classified as still being active including the iconic Mt Ruapehu otherwise known as Mt Doom from The Lord of the Rings.
On top of this, our biggest city, Auckland, sits on a large volcanic field of approximately 53 volcanoes. You need not worry though as the last eruption there was about 500 years ago and is most probably unlikely to erupt again.
7. Clearest waters in the world
People often talk about our pristine scenery and clear waters and they’re not just being nice. It’s actually true!
The Blue Lake, in the Nelson Lakes National Park, was dubbed by scientists in 2011 to be the clearest natural body of water in the world. Remarkably it has a visibility range of up to 80 metres, the same as distilled water. Its Maori name is ‘Rotomairewhenua’ which means ‘Lake of Peaceful Lands’.
8. Our insects are big
If you’re a bit adverse or have a phobia of the creepy crawlies, then New Zealand may not be the place for you. That’s because our insects have a habit of being very big.
One of our best examples of this is the Weta, the largest insect in the world, which has ears on its knees, loves carrots and weighs in at 70g. Another is the Powelliphanta snail which has a carnivorous diet of earthworms (which it sucks up through its mouth), weighs 90g and can live for up to 20 years.
9. Our birds were big
As well as big insects, there was a time when our birds were especially big as well. No, we’re not talking about our kiwi birds. We’re talking about the Moa and the Haast Eagle.
The Moa was a giant flightless bird, the largest species of which were as tall as 3.6 metres and 230 kg. The only predator species of Moa (other than man) was the incredible Haast Eagle, the largest species of eagle to have existed, weighing 15 kg with a wingspan of over 2.5 metres and an attack speed of 80km/h.
10. Our dolphins, not so big
Like our achievements, our animals are either very big or very small and in this case, the latter. Hector’s Dolphins (closely related to our Maui Dolphins) are recognised as the smallest dolphins in the world at 1.5m in length.
These beautiful creatures, with rounded dorsal fins and shades of white, grey and black are also very friendly. So much so that you can swim with them in the hidden gem that is Akaroa. An amazing experience to include on your next trip.
11. A land of a lot of sheep
New Zealand is well known for its huge industry of agriculture and farming but most don’t realise just how big it is.
There’s a bit of debate about this, but the generally accepted consensus is that there are 9 sheep to 1 person living in New Zealand. That puts the total number at around 40 million sheep. When visitors hear that they must think they’ll see sheep walking the city streets and relaxing at the beaches. You’re actually more likely to see them in the countryside during your epic road trips.
12. And a lot of cars!
Speaking of driving, cars are just as prevalent in New Zealand! It’s not quite to the tune of 9:1 people ratio, but they estimate there are 3.5 million cars on our roads. That’s a fair few considering there are only around 5 million people!
The car has always been the number one choice of travel in New Zealand. The roads are pretty good, the scenery is very good and you have the freedom to go where you want, when you want. We’ve got plenty more information about driving in New Zealand so feel free to check it out!
13. Plenty of cheese and butter to go around
We’ve already mentioned the scale of farming in New Zealand and that results in a lot of two things. Cheese and butter. A crazy amount of it.
How crazy? Well, New Zealand produces the equivalent of 100 kg of butter and 75 kg of cheese each year for every person in New Zealand. It’s a good thing it’s enjoyed and exported to countries around the world because we could never get through it all on our own!
14. The Force is strong with our people
We’ve always been big fans of the Star Wars movies in New Zealand, proving it in our enthusiastic attendance of all the films over the years.
That’s not where our commitment has stopped, however. In the 2001 New Zealand Census, over 50,000 Kiwis entered their religion as “Jedi”. That made it the second-highest religion in the country at the time and the highest per capita in the world.
15. Hobbits rule
As strong as we are with the Force, we are all transfixed by the One Ring and the world of Hobbits.
Unless you’ve been living in an actual shire somewhere, you’ll know the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in New Zealand by Sir Peter Jackson. It was a massive project that involved 275 days of shooting at 150 locations with 300+ sets. The strange little fact here was that we even had a Minister of the Lord of the Rings in government. The minister’s main responsibility was to make sure we took advantage of the tourism opportunities presented by the films.
New Zealand facts to remember for your next visit!
So there we have it! 15 fun facts about New Zealand to inform your next holiday to our wonderful country. We hope you’ve found it enlightening and that it may even encourage a few more of you to make the trip down under!
It’s amazing how many people want to find out more about New Zealand. Whether they are planning a trip from overseas, looking at places to go in New Zealand or simply looking for some fun facts about New Zealand, people are always searching Google for more answers. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about New Zealand:
What is New Zealand famous for?
We’ve already covered quite a lot of these above but New Zealand is famous for a lot of things. Right up there are: sheep, rugby, kiwi fruit, manuka honey, wine, Lord of the Rings, stargazing, glaciers, geothermal wonders, adventure sports, bungy, and wildlife. We’ve missed loads off this list, however you can browse all our other posts to discover many of these amazing places, activities and attractions that New Zealand is famous for.
What food is New Zealand famous for?
Not only do people want to know what New Zealand is famous for, they also want to know more about the food we are famous for – it’s good to get your priorities right when booking a trip! Thankfully, we have already covered this one in some depth so make sure you check out our post which covers 20 of the most famous foods in New Zealand and where you will find them.
Who are some famous New Zealanders?
Rounding off some of the most frequently asked questions is one about famous New Zealanders and we definitely have our fair share. We have already touched on two of our most famous Kiwis in Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Ernest Rutherford but other names to join those two include another knight, Sir Peter Jackson, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Lorde, Neil Finn, Steven Adams, Flight of the Conchords, Jonah Lomu and Jacinda Ardern. You can read more about all of these famous New Zealanders here.
Updated: 1 September 2021