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New Zealand People and History

New Zealanders are largely sophisticated and highly educated urban dwellers. Members of a unique and vibrant multicultural society, New Zealanders are embracing 21st century technology and culture in record numbers.

However, New Zealanders also have a background of quiet but rugged individualism, self-reliance, and a genius for invention--qualities still evident in the population today.


New Zealand is an independent nation and a member of the British Commonwealth. It has a diverse multi-cultural population of around 4.1 million people.

The majority of New Zealanders are of British descent, and the largest minority is New Zealand's indigenous Maori who make up around 14 percent of the population.


English is the common and everyday language of New Zealand. You may also hear other languages spoken, including Maori, which is also an official language of New Zealand.

Early Settlement

The Maori were New Zealand's first settlers. They made an epic journey from legendary Hawaiki, probably in Polynesia to the north of New Zealand, about 1000 years ago. The great explorer Kupe, who legend says first discovered New Zealand, named the new land Aotearoa, or Land of the Long White Cloud.

The first documented European to discover New Zealand was Dutch navigator Abel Tasman who came here in 1642 in search of the fabled great southern continent. Over a century and a quarter later Captain James Cook claimed it for Britain in 1769 and produced a map.

The Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand's founding document and established the country as a nation. It was signed in 1840 between leading Maori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown. The location, at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, is now one of the country's most historic sites.

The signing of the treaty began on 6th February, which has become New Zealand's national day, known as 'Waitangi Day'.

Economy and Government

New Zealand is a modern country with a well-developed economy and a government structure based on the British parliamentary system.

New Zealand has long been a sovereign nation in its own right with only tenuous ties to Britain through New Zealand's membership of the British Commonwealth.

You can find more information on the New Zealand's government and its monetary policy at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Web site and New Zealand Government Online.

Kiwis and kiwis

New Zealand's first settlers, the Maori, named the kiwi bird for the sound of its chirp: kiwi, kiwi, kiwi! This flightless bird, about the size of a domestic hen, has an extremely long beak and plumage more like hair than feathers.

New Zealanders have adopted this nocturnal, flightless and endearing creature as their national emblem.

Referring to New Zealanders as Kiwis probably dates back to the First World War, when New Zealand soldiers acquired this nickname.

In the international financial markets, the New Zealand dollar, the basic currency unit, is frequently called the Kiwi. The dollar coin features a kiwi bird on one side.

Perhaps the best-known kiwi is the delicious kiwifruit. Originating in China, kiwifruit were grown in New Zealand domestic gardens for decades as Chinese gooseberries. However, when enterprising New Zealand farmers began propagating the fruit intensively for export, it was given the name kiwifruit and has achieved worldwide fame.