New Zealand is well-known for its beautiful natural scenery, talented national rugby union team, and its progressive politics. Despite being a relatively young country, it has a fascinating history and a unique culture. Yet, there are many fun facts about New Zealand you might not know that make it such an interesting country.
Common New Zealand Facts You Should Know
New Zealand is part of Australasia and is made up of two major islands – the North Island and the South Island. It also has 700 small islands in the Pacific Ocean, although most are not inhabited. Many of them are volcanoes, and some are fully submerged under the sea. Here are 20 New Zealand facts to help you plan your next city break.
Interesting Facts About New Zealand History
New Zealand has only been inhabited by humans since the 13th Century.
New Zealand is a relatively young country, compared to much of the world. The first people to settle in New Zealand were Eastern Polynesians, in approximately 1280. New Zealand natives, called Māori, descended from the Polynesians and have had a significant influence over the country’s culture.
The British Empire colonized the country in 1841 and New Zealand didn’t gain independence again until 1947. A bonus New Zealand fact is that the country used the Union Flag until 1902, and it still features on the current national flag, alongside the Southern Cross stars.
Earthquakes are common in New Zealand.
New Zealand lies on the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates collision zone, which makes it prone to earthquakes. There are up to 14,000 earthquakes every year, but only 150-200 are strong enough to be felt.
There are strict building regulations in the country, to minimize the potential for damage. The biggest earthquake ever recorded in New Zealand was in 1855 at Lake Wairarapa, measuring 8.2 magnitude on the Richter scale.
The biggest in the past century was in Kaikōura in November 2016, which had a magnitude of 7.8. Fortunately, only two people died, because the country’s infrastructure is specially designed to endure earthquakes. In comparison, 220,000 people died in the 7.0 magnitude Haiti earthquake.
The New Zealand Wars.
The New Zealand Wars occurred between 1845 and 1872. They were fought between the New Zealand government plus its indigenous Māori allies, and the rest of the Māori people plus other settlers.
The wars began over land disputes but escalated when the government accused the Māori of ignoring the sovereignty of the Crown and recruited 18,000 armed British troops to help.
The New Zealand government has since made a formal apology and is continuing to settle legal claims made by Māori people over the Treaty of Waitangi.
A third of the country is a protected habitat.
New Zealand is one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world, and its citizens know it. The Marine Reserves Act 1971, the Reserves Act 1977, the National Parks Act 1980, and the Conservation Act 1987 have created strict legal protection which covers a third of New Zealand.
One of the most interesting facts about New Zealand for tourists is that there are more than 10,000 legally protected areas across 8.6 million hectares. Among these conservation areas are thirteen national parks, and three world heritage sites.
The protected habitats are generally of scientific, environmental, or historic importance. Some of the most beautiful places to visit are Fiordland, the country’s largest national park, and the coastline at the Abel Tasman National Park.
Cultural Facts About New Zealand
New Zealand is a great place to live.
The country has consistently ranked high in various studies for quality of life, educational opportunities, employment, and human rights. In 2021, it came in 13th place on The Human Development Index – which Norway tops almost every year.
Life expectancy in New Zealand is 84 for women and 81 for men, which is significantly higher than the global averages of 76 and 71, respectively.
New Zealand gave women the right to vote before any other country, in 1893. They also introduced the first legal minimum wage in 1894. One of the more recent New Zealand fun facts is that it’s been piloting a four-day working week, without any loss of pay for employees.
Some of the most important facts about New Zealand are about Māori culture. The Māori are indigenous people of New Zealand and have inhabited the island for centuries. A large proportion of the population today are Māori, so their traditions and beliefs are a central part of New Zealand culture.
A significant tradition among Māori women is the moko kauae – a sacred, distinctive chin tattoo. In 2021, Oriini Kaipara made history, becoming the first Māori woman with the tattoo to present a prime-time news show.
One of the most famous aspects of Māori culture is the Haka – a rhythmic dance, which is often performed at special occasions, funerals, and before sports matches.
The national sport is rugby union.
One of the best-known New Zealand interesting facts is that rugby union is hugely popular and is considered its national sport. The country has ranked first in the World Rugby Rankings more times than every other team combined.
The All Blacks are New Zealand’s national men’s rugby union team. As the name suggests, their home kit consists of a black top, black shorts, and black socks.
New Zealand has won the Rugby World Cup three times and was the first country to do so – in 2015, 2011, and 1987. Of the nineteen nations that New Zealand has ever played test matches against, twelve have never won a match.
The All Blacks famously perform the traditional Māori haka dance before their matches. It is both powerful and intimidating to opponents. The strong rugby team is one of the things that New Zealand is famous for.
The Wizard of New Zealand is an official title.
In 1982, Ian Brackenbury Channell was appointed by Christchurch City Council as the official Wizard of Christchurch. In 1990, Prime Minister Mike Moore, who was Channell’s friend, appointed him Wizard of New Zealand and the title has stuck.
The Wizard is an activist, public speaker, and general promoter of Christchurch. He has made the headlines regularly for his outlandish views and bizarre publicity stunts, such as “hatching” from a huge egg in Christchurch art gallery and driving a “Wizardmobile” made from the front of two VW Beetles stuck together.
New Zealand Facts: Demographics And People
The capital city is Wellington.
Wellington, on the North Island, is New Zealand’s capital city. It has a population of 215,900 people in the Wellington Urban Area, and 432,800 in the wider metro area. Although, the city of Auckland has a much greater population, of 1,652,000.
Wellington was ranked the joint 4th most liveable city in the world (with Tokyo) by the 2021 Global Liveability Ranking. This is based on the quality of life and sense of community in a city. The economy is predominantly centered around tourism, business, and finance.
Some of the most interesting tourist attractions include the National Library, Te Papa national museum, and the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
One of the worst New Zealand facts for locals is that Wellington is the windiest city in the world, according to its highest recorded wind speed of 154 miles per hour.
The population is 5.1 million.
Despite being the sixth biggest island in the world, covering an area of 268,021 kilometers, New Zealand is sparsely populated and has a population of only 5.1 million.
71.8% of the population is of European descent. Māori is the second biggest ethnic group in New Zealand, with indigenous people making up 16.5% of the population. Most people in New Zealand do not identify as religious, but the largest faith group is Christianity, accounting for 37.3% of the population.
English, Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language are the country’s official languages.
The Prime Minister is Jacinda Ardern.
As of the time of writing, Jacinda Ardern has been the Prime Minister of New Zealand since 2017.
New Zealand is governed by the mixed member proportional voting system, which gives all citizens two votes. One vote is for a local candidate, and the other is for a political party. Seats in parliament are then assigned so that the vote is represented fairly. It has a high average voter turnout of about 80% and is considered a stable and democratic system.
The King of the United Kingdom, Charles III, is also the King of New Zealand and its head of state.
The Jedi census phenomenon.
In 2001, Star Wars fans around the world plotted to disrupt the census in their country by listing their religious identity as Jedi. It began with a chain email that claimed that any religion of over 10,000 people would be officially recognized. Although this turned out to be a hoax, around half a million people officially claimed to be Jedi around the world.
One of the most bizarre facts about New Zealand is that it had the highest proportion of Jedis, making up 1.5% of the entire country’s population – 53,000 people.
Unfortunately for Star Wars fans, Statistics New Zealand announced it would not be counting the responses toward official religious totals. In both the 2006 and 2018 New Zealand censuses, there were still over 20,000 Jedis.
New Zealand Facts for Tourists
Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, there are many fun facts about New Zealand regarding the franchise. Fans will recognize many locations around New Zealand from the famous trilogy. The full series was filmed in the country, at over 150 different locations.
One of the most famous is Matamata, in Waikato, which was used to create Hobbiton village in the Middle-earth Shire. Since filming wrapped, the set has become a permanent attraction open to the public and attracts visitors from all over the world. This is one of the most popular landmarks in New Zealand, you should book early if you plan on visiting.
Some other notable spots include Mount Victoria and Kaitoke Regional Park, in Wellington, and the Putangirua Pinnacles, in Wairarapa.
The Blue Lake is the clearest in the world.
One of the most interesting facts about New Zealand is that it has the world’s clearest freshwater lake, comparable to distilled water, and has visibility as far as 80 meters deep. If you’re visiting the South Island, taking a trip to the Blue Lake in Nelson Lake National Park should be high on your itinerary.
You’ll have to resist the temptation to swim in its beautiful blue waters as the lake is sacred to Māori people so entering it is strictly prohibited. The only exception was made for Klaus Thymann, who was given special permission to document the lake’s underwater beauty for scientific use.
You’ll always be within 128km of the sea.
New Zealand is a small island that is surrounded by beautiful beaches and rugged cliffs. Its coastline is the world’s ninth longest, spanning 15,134 kilometers. Wherever you are in the country, you’ll never be more than a few hours’ drive from the stunning coast. Some of New Zealand’s most beautiful beaches are Maitai Bay, Ninety Mile Beach, and Piha Beach.
There are 12 active volcanoes in New Zealand.
New Zealand’s fascinating landscape includes over 50 volcanoes, twelve of which are active. The biggest is Rangitoto (meaning bloody sky in Māori), which is 260 meters tall.
In 2019, the Whakaari volcano, 48 kilometers off the mainland on the Bay of Plenty, erupted. It killed 22 people and severely injured the other 25 people who were on the island at the time.
In the weeks before, the volcano had extremely high levels of sulfur dioxide and was close to the epicenter of a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, meaning an eruption was likely.
Fun Facts About New Zealand
New Zealanders are nicknamed after birds.
New Zealand’s distance from other countries has caused interesting biodiversity to evolve on the island, which features many endemic species. The country was largely a forest before it became inhabited by humans so many different species of birds thrived.
New Zealand’s most famous bird, which isn’t found anywhere else in the world, is the kiwi. Kiwis are unusual-looking chicken-sized birds that cannot fly and have feathers that look like hair. New Zealanders are commonly nicknamed kiwis, after the birds.
Although the kiwi fruit is named after the birds, it comes from China. New Zealand’s only native land mammals are bats.
Sheep outnumber humans by 5:1.
Another bizarre fact about New Zealand: there are an estimated 27.6 million sheep. That’s five times as many as there are people!
New Zealand is the biggest exporter of lambs in the world. Until 1987, New Zealand’s biggest agricultural industry was sheep farming and there were about 70 million sheep in the country. It’s now dairy farming, so sheep numbers have decreased.
Mānuka honey originates in New Zealand.
The mānuka tree is indigenous to New Zealand and Australia. Although modern mānuka honey is produced around the world because of its popularity, you’ll still find the tastiest, most authentic flavor in New Zealand.
This type of honey has a strong flavor that isn’t as sweet as other varieties. Interestingly, honey harvested on the North Island is a higher grade than that produced on the South Island.
It’s also scientifically proven to be an effective topical medicine that kills bacteria, due to the presence of methylglyoxal. However, it’s a myth that eating honey has any health benefits.
Mānuka honey is very expensive, fetching up to NZ$100 per kilogram in 2017. These premium prices caused a bizarre crime wave that saw hives being stolen or poisoned by competitors!
However, so many people took up beekeeping to capitalize on the premium prices that New Zealand now has more honey than it can sell. As such, top prices have dropped to around NZ$35 per kilogram.
The world’s longest place name.
One of the strangest facts about New Zealand is about a hill. On the East coast of the North Island, in Hawke’s Bay, you’ll find a hill called Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.
It’s famous for being the longest place name in the entire world, according to the Guinness World Records.
The name has Māori origins and tells a whole story. It roughly means “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, and the land-swallower who traveled about, played his flute to his loved one”.
Fortunately, it’s referred to as Taumata by locals, for ease.
Discover More Interesting And Fun Facts About New Zealand
These are some of the most important and fascinating New Zealand fun facts. From its Hollywood movie landscapes and active Volcanoes to its Wizard and Jedis, there’s so much to love about this quirky country.
If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime special vacation, New Zealand is the perfect destination for an unforgettable trip. Make sure to visit yourself to learn more interesting facts about New Zealand and even experience some related activities and culture from the above list.