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Did You Know This About New Zealand?

Wednesday, 12th February 2020

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Updated 12th February, 2020.

How much do you really know about New Zealand? It is a county with plenty of cinematic acclaim (often dubbed the ‘other Hollywood’), home to incredible landscapes and exotic wildlife. It has developed a distinctive personality since the Maori first set eyes on the islands about 1000 years ago and is a land of many interesting quirks that will impress any travel and trivia enthusiast. Read on to find out more…

New Zealand is a very young country

Not only was New Zealand the last large and liveable place in the world to be discovered, it is also one of the youngest in geological terms. This spectacular country of snow-capped peaks and volcanoes that you’ve seen filling the cinema screen in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ – was only really born about 5 million years ago. Having said that, there was quite a long gestation and New Zealand’s oldest rocks, which can be found near Nelson at the top of the South Island, were formed during the Cambrian through to the Devonian periods, 540 to 360 million years ago.

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It’s known as the Land of the Long White Cloud

Māori were the first inhabitants of New Zealand between 1200 and 1300 AD.

The discovery of New Zealand is attributed in Maori tradition to Kupe and and the circumstances of the landfall gave the country its Maori name. As land was approached, a long, flat volcanic cloud could be seen, Kupe’s wife Hine-te-aparangi looked to the horizon and cried out “He ao! He ao! A cloud! A cloud!” The Name of Aotearoa was given to the island – The Land of the Long White Cloud: Ao being the cloud, daylight or dawn; tea meaning white, bright or clear; roa being something long or tall.

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Most of New Zealand’s place names are (technically) not official

The New Zealand Geographic Board is in charge of officiating the names of towns and cities, taking into account factors such as history, spelling and Maori origin. Place names that are commonly used, but haven’t been made official are known as ‘recorded’. There are approximately 33,000 ‘recorded’ place names in New Zealand, which include many major towns and cities such as Wellington, Taupo, Greymouth, and Whangarei.

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The Royal New Zealand Air Force logo features a flightless bird

In the 1960s the New Zealand national symbol, the kiwi bird, was made the official emblem of the Royal Air Force. Whilst it might seem a little bit ironic that a flightless bird was chosen, the elusive kiwi bird is the national animal of New Zealand and was voted to replace the previous fern symbol.

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The longest single word place name is in New Zealand

“Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maunga horo nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu”, which can be translated as “the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as ‘landeater’, played his flute to his loved one.”

Locals simply call it Taumata Hill. But at 85 characters, this unassuming hill near Porangahau in Hawke’s Bay is the longest single word place name in New Zealand.

You can find the hill by driving south from Waipukurau for about 55 kilometres, turn right onto Wimbledon Road. A sign displaying the name is situated about five kilometres along this road. You can go and climb the 305 metre hill for a lovely view over the town.

They claim to have invented the Flat White

Over the last couple of decades, New Zealand has undergone a coffee revolution as many Kiwis have become connoisseurs of their favoured black beverage. New Zealand gained notoriety on the world’s coffee scene after being credited with pioneering the ‘flat white’. Per capita, their consumption rate is in the top 20 in the world, just ahead of the USA. Which is no surprise given the capital city, Wellington, has more cafes per capita than New York.

A word to the wise though, all New Zealand coffee starts with the exact same espresso shot (often a double); meaning you will get the same amount of caffeine regardless of what style of coffee you order (unless you specify otherwise!)

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There are approximately 500 wineries in New Zealand

New Zealand is world renowned for its viticulture, especially when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Savignon Blanc was commercially produced for the first time in the 1970s and is now New Zealand’s most widely planted variety, with Malborough leading the way in as a classic and “new age” region.

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You can spot the Southern Cross

Being located in the Southern Hemisphere, when in New Zealand you’ll be able to see a range of stars that aren’t actually visible in the north, in particular the Southern Cross. This is a constellation that features on the national flag and is the easiest to spot when you are out stargazing.

There are a couple of must-visit observatories in New Zealand, the first being the Carter Observatory in Wellington. Get along to their late night opening on Tuesdays and be swept away in this unique atmosphere at the top of the Botanical Gardens.

Alternatively, when travelling around the South Island pop in to Mt John Observatory at Lake Tekapo for stargazing at its best! The area is renowned for its sky clarity – free from light pollution, and the mysterious backdrop of the alps makes this visit simply spectacular.

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There are at least 8683 islands around the coastline

How many islands make up New Zealand? Around 600! There are the main North, South and Stewart islands but are you aware of some of the other outlying gems?

  • Tiritiri Matangi Island near Auckland is one of New Zealand’s most important nature reserves. Here 60% of the island is covered by forest and the remaining grasslands help butterfly species flourish. This island is also home to some of New Zealand wildlife royalty – the takahe, kaka, stitchbird, kakako and, if your eyesight is sharp, you can also spot New Zealand’s smallest bird, the Riflemen. Here is where you will also find tuataras – an endangered species and the only living dinosaur left on this planet!
  • Kapiti Island boasts the world’s largest population of little spotted kiwi and numerous other endangered species. The team work very hard to keep pests away here – this sanctuary is a nature lovers paradise and easily accessed from the Kapiti Coast. Kapiti is where you can unwind amongst native forests with native birds, wildlife and is also a marine reserve. Prepare to be transcended back to New Zealand’s originally untouched terrain.
  • Stewart Island is the only place in New Zealand where the timid little; brown kiwi can be seen in the wild. Or take a day trip over to Ulva Island – to learn about native flora and fauna from a local Maori guide.

Feeling Inspired?

Browse our sample of holidays to New Zealand or get in touch with our team of accredited Kiwi Travel Specialists to plan a tailor made itinerary.

Want to read more interesting facts? Check out our did you know guides on Canada, Norway or Antarctica.