15 Things You Might Not Know About New Zealand

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I've been to New Zealand multiple times now, and yet I'm still constantly learning new things about it. Even though the country may not be as “exotic” as other destinations around the world, it still has characteristics and quirks that many people may not be aware of.

Sure, you probably know that Kiwis (AKA New Zealanders) drive on the left, love rugby, and have a lot of beautiful scenery to look at. But do you also know they were the first to give women the right to vote, or that the country only has one native mammal? I didn't.

Lupins at Lake Tekapo in New Zealand

So, allow me to shed some light on some things you may not know about New Zealand.

First, here's a cool video from New Zealand:

15 Fun Facts About New Zealand

1. There are no snakes

Much like Hawaii, New Zealand is an island grouping devoid of native snakes. It also has no deadly spiders, killer jellyfish, or other creepy crawlies that are likely to kill you. Australia is home to all of those.

(Edit: New Zealand does have a couple venomous spiders – only one of which is native – but it's very rare to see or be bitten by one.)

2. New Zealand has only one native mammal

Before settlers began arriving, the country had only one mammal – a bat the size of your thumb. Most of the country's native fauna come in the form of birds, and many of the native bird species in New Zealand are flightless (like the kiwi, takahe, weka, and kakapo) because there were, historically, no large land predators to endanger them.

Takahe on Kapiti Island
Takahe bird

When Europeans arrived, however, they brought with them invasive species like possums, stoats and rabbits that threatened a lot of the native birds (which is why many of them are now endangered).

3. Very high sheep-to-human ratio

There are roughly a little over 4 million people in New Zealand, and about 30 million sheep. You'll find sheep farms all over the country, including huge sheep stations (where they farm thousands of sheep) on the South Island.

Because of the large number of sheep, you can find lamb and mutton on just about any menu in New Zealand – including the one at Subway.

Sheep in New Zealand

The number of sheep in New Zealand has actually dropped, though. Dairy farming is on the rise (in fact, New Zealand is the world’s largest exporter of dairy products!), and New Zealand also farms deer for meat (NZ venison is delicious!).

4. New Zealand was home to Sir Edmund Hillary

Yes, the first man to summit Mount Everest was a Kiwi. Quite fitting, isn't it, considering New Zealand's claim of being the “adventure capital of the world”? Hillary is even on the NZ $5 bill.

Other famous people from New Zealand include actors Russell Crowe, Sam Neil and Anna Paquin, and director Peter Jackson. 

5. A country of firsts

My favorite “first” from New Zealand is the fact that the country was the first to give women the right to vote in 1893. Kate Sheppard, the country's most famous suffragette, is now on the NZ $10 bank note. 

Another fun “first”? The town of Gisborne on New Zealand's east coast is said to be the first city to see sunrise each day!

Cathedral Cove in New Zealand

6. New Zealand has 3 official languages

While English is the predominant language spoken in New Zealand, Maori is also an official language, in honor of the native people that originally inhabited the islands.

When looking at the numbers, only about 3 percent of the population actually speaks Maori, but the two languages can be found everywhere. Most place names in New Zealand have both a Maori and an English name, with many of them going by just the Maori name. (The Maori name for New Zealand, by the way, is Aotearoa, which means “the land of the long white cloud.”)

Mount Cook in New Zealand
NZ's tallest mountain goes by both its Maori and English names: Aoraki / Mount Cook

And, as of 2006, NZ Sign Language is the country's third official language. Way to go, NZ, being one of the first countries to do this.

7. There's a range of climates

Want mountains? Beaches? Volcanoes? Rainforests? You'll find all of it (and more) in New Zealand. The country is amazing for the fact that you can drive for 4 or 5 hours and experience so many different landscapes and climates.

There are deserts near snow-covered volcanoes, and glaciers that descend down through temperate rainforests. Crossing from one side of the Southern Alps to the other can mean the difference between 2 meters and 8 meters of rainfall per year.

Redwoods Tree Walk in Rotorua
There's even a spot where redwoods grow!

8. Never far from the coast

Even though New Zealand has a ton of different climates, the country is shaped so that nobody living in the country is ever more than 120 kilometers from the coast.

Granted, that coast (which stretches for more than 9,300 miles!) changes drastically depending on where you are in the country. But you'll never be far from it.

Katiki Point in Moeraki, New Zealand
New Zealand even has orange beaches! (This is Katiki Point in Moeraki)

9. Kiwis, kiwis, and kiwis

The word “kiwi” refers to three different things in New Zealand. First, there's the nocturnal flightless bird with the long beak that's one of NZ's most famous native species. The people of New Zealand have also been nicknamed “Kiwis.” And then there's the kiwi fruit, which, yes, you'll find all over New Zealand, even though technically the fruit came from China!

10. Bungee jumping was born here

Even though some Vanuatu tribes have been jumping off high structures with vines tied around their ankles for decades, bungee jumping in its current form began in New Zealand in the 1980s. AJ Hackett designed the elastic bungee cord, and began bungee operations off the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Tandem bungee jumping at the Kawarau Bridge
Tandem bungee jumping at the Kawarau Bridge

RELATED: Completing the Bungee Jumping Trifecta in Queenstown

11. The government is unicameral

New Zealand is run as a form of parliamentary democracy, and is part of the British Commonwealth, meaning it is technically still tied to the Queen in England.

Unlike the British government which has two governing houses, however, New Zealand only has one – the House of Representatives. They have a Prime Minister, and also have a truly representative form of government, with all of the country's active political parties being represented in Parliament.

12. Milford Sound is No. 1

Milford Sound – the stunning fjord located in Fiordland National Park on New Zealand's South Island, is renowned the world over for being a must-see spot.

Milford Sound from the air
Milford Sound from the air

In 2008, Milford Sound was judged the world's top travel destination in an international TripAdvisor survey, and Rudyard Kipling even once called it the eighth wonder of the world. (Though I can personally argue that Doubtful Sound is just as amazing, if not better.)

This is one New Zealand cruise worth taking.

RELATED: New Zealand Fjord Smackdown: Milford Sound vs. Doubtful Sound

13. No tipping necessary

Going out for dinner in New Zealand? No need to leave a big tip like you would in the USA. Either it's not expected, or it will be automatically tacked on to your bill as a service charge. This goes for taxi drivers, too, although none of them will turn down a couple extra dollars if you offer them in thanks. 

And speaking of eating out… it's different from what you're probably used to in the US. Servers won't check on you 17 times, and they usually won't deliver a bill to you at your table. You have to go up to the register to pay, and some smaller cafes won't even keep track of what you ordered; they just trust you to tell them what you ate.

Wellington Cable Car

14. Forget the change

New Zealand phased out its 1-cent and 5-cent coins a few yeas ago, which means most prices either end in a 0, or are rounded up. But, this doesn't necessarily cut down on coins in your wallet, since NZ has $1 and $2 coins instead of paper bills.

15. A great place to go for the apocalypse

This is kind of a joke I have with some New Zealand friends, but it really would make a great place to hide out during the apocalypse. NZ is a nuclear-free zone. Nearly 30% of the country is protected as national parks. And Kiwis really are some of the nicest, most laid-back people you'll ever meet.

That Wanaka Tree

Essential New Zealand info

For further reading, check out these top NZ posts:

Want to get to know NZ better? Watch these movies:

Have you been to New Zealand? Did any of these New Zealand fun facts surprise you?

Pin it for later:

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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159 Comments on “15 Things You Might Not Know About New Zealand

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  1. “Kiwis, kiwis, and kiwis” no, it’s kiwis kiwis and kiwifruit. We never call kiwifruit kiwi.

    .my partner and I spent 3 weeks in a campervan touring both islands it was amazing no two days were the same scenery was stunning people were great would go again if possible

      I’ve done that in New Zealand, too, and agree that it’s a great way to see the country!

    Loved your descriptions of NZ. Here are some more fun facts which you might be interested in. A New Zealander, Richard Pearce, was the first person to fly using a motorized engine. This was just weeks before the Wright brothers flew without an engine. Lord Rutherford, another Kiwi, was the first person to split the atom. And a New Zealander broke the land speed record in the USA with his motorbike; an Indian. New Zealand has had three women prime ministers such as the current one, the lovely Jacinda Ardern. You may have guessed that I’m a Kiwi.

    There are four species of snakes which have been found naturally in New Zealand. All of them, however, are sea snakes. The most commonly seen species is a type of hydrophiine sea snake, the yellow-bellied sea snake (Hydrophis platurus, formerly Pelamis platurus), while the other three species are all types of krait.
    Reference: nzconservation.blogspot.com/2018/04/new-zealands-native-snakes.html

    Ed Hilary AND Tensing Norgay conquered Mt Everest together. Also, we have volcanoes all over the place, a few of which are active and the others are having a snooze. Oh, and, earthquakes. And a risk of tsunamis from offshore trenches. NZ is on two tectonic plates which are constantly moving. Yippee! Nowhere’s perfect aye 😀

    This was very interesting to me. I have never been to NZ and probably will never be there. However, my sister just got back from a visit to NZ and it sparked an interest in me. It sounds like a very lovely place to live besides being very beautiful. My sister went there for the second time because of all of the different birds that are there. Now I would like to know even more about NZ.
    Thank you for sharing the amount of information that you did.
    Helen Janda

      New Zealand has so many interesting birds! If your sister loves birds, no doubt she loved NZ even more!

    Omg what was this “The Takahe” picture? Never saw this animal before!

    Love the article and the blog, I hope someday get to know New Zealand!

    Thanks for sharing!

    No more 5 cent coins! I totally forgot about this! I am a born New Zealander and after 21 years living in Australia, I’m sick of it and going home! It’s going to be odd getting use to 10 Cents being the lowest coin as Australia still uses 5 cent coins. Thank you for writing all of this and I have to agree with you about Milford Sound.

    Thank you so much! This is really a detailed post about NZ!
    After reading your post, I really want to take a trip to NZ right now. What I like most in this country is that it has no snake (as you mentioned), I am so scare of them. Do NZ has other poisonous animals? Like poisonous insects?

      I think there’s one rare spider in New Zealand that’s poisonous, but other than that all the dangerous creepy-crawlies live over in Australia! Haha.

    This is why I am in love with New Zealand as an adventurous landscape photographer. From being able to climb truly massive mountains (I’m a Queenslander), to trekking just about everywhere you go, to the generally lovely people, a lack of ANYTHING that could harm you except your own stupidity or maybe a rogue volcanic eruption, incredibly humbling visuals no matter where you look…

    I’m going back soon and that won’t be the last.

      I love all those things about New Zealand, too!

    Omg what was this “The Takahe” picture? Never saw this animal before!

    Love the article and the blog, I hope someday get to know New Zealand!

    Thanks for sharing!

      A takahe is a type of native New Zealand bird! They were actually thought to be extinct for decades, but it turns out they’re not! There are less than 300 of them, though.

    I’m pretty sure NZ isn’t the first country in the world to grant its local sign language official status. Quite a few European countries had done so earlier – Sweden as long ago as 1981 – as well as Canada and the US. Of course, it’s good that NZ has joined the list.

    Sorry to bother you again.
    I’m leaning towards NZ. I love skiing, watersports, cycling, hiking, football (unfortunately, as I understand rugby is the big sport there). As a family, we want to get away from all the work stress and “I’ve got more money than you ” attitudes etc in UK and Europe. We want a good work/life balance. Quality of living is our main priority. We will also be bringing our cat (expensive and not straight forward!). Erm, oh yea. I’m thinking the south island might be the safest. But where would suggest is a good place that’s geologically safe (ish), good accessibility to shops and amenities, jobs (I work in health care), with the possibility of renting a small house with a decent size garden. I won’t hold you to this. It will just give me a base to research my possibilities. Where would you choose to live in NZ? Thank you again.

      When I lived in NZ, I lived in Wellington (on the North Island) and loved it. But it doesn’t have the best weather. 😉 On the South Island, the biggest city other than Christchurch is Queenstown, but it’s expensive and also sees a LOT of tourists, so I’m not sure that would be my pick for where to live. I guess it depends on how small of a city you’d be willing to live in! Nelson is also nice.

        Hi again Amanda.
        I’ve been doing a lot of research online, but I do value your opinion.
        I’ve come up with two towns/cities. Hamilton and Cambridge.
        There’s all sorts of stuff online, but would you consider both or either of these good for schools (primary and secondary), crime rate, things to do, public transport, jobs (health care mainly), and earthquake possibility (of course, I’ve come to terms that these can’t be predicted precisely and it’s just one of those things you live with in NZ). The earthquake is the least important on this list, but may aswell try to minimise the chances. Thank you

          Unfortunately since I don’t live in New Zealand (I love the country, but I’m actually American!), I’m not the right one to ask any of those questions. I can’t speak to things like education or crime rate or jobs, especially in those cities since I have not spent much time in them. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help!

    Thanks for your reply Amanda. That’s quite reassuring.
    I see you have been to Iceland (amongst a lot of other places). We are considering NZ or Iceland. I’ve been to Iceland and loved it. Of course, that is the land of fire and ice, and is currently expecting four volcanoes to do something. How would you compare these two countries? Thank you again

      Iceland and New Zealand are similar in many ways (i.e. amazing landscapes, nice locals, being easy to get around), but different in others. New Zealand is generally much further away for most people, and would require a longer trip to truly experience in my opinion. But New Zealand also has so many *different* landscapes. You’ve got beaches and volcanoes and rainforest and snowy mountains and rolling farmland and glaciers… things are more varied in NZ, I think, than in Iceland. (NZ also has many more large cities!)

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