These are our top 5 facts about New Zealand culture. If you’re keen to visit Aotearoa, you need to read this article.
If you’re from another country, New Zealand might seem like Australia’s little brother, but this small southern nation has incredibly unique culture shaped by its rugged landscape and Māori roots.
Before you head off on your New Zealand holiday, make sure you read this article so you don’t hop off the plane totally unprepared. We’ve put together five New Zealand culture facts you might not have known, so start reading and learn all about Aotearoa’s most fascinating customs.
Our Top 5 New Zealand Culture Facts
Bakeries and dairies
We’ll start with an easy one – New Zealand’s incredible food. If you haven’t been to the Land of the Long White Cloud, this might come as a surprise to you, but the tastiest Kiwi chow isn’t from fancy restaurants or inner-city hangouts.
Instead, you’ll find it in tiny corner stores scattered across the country, often encased in a generous helping of pastry. New Zealand pies and sausages rolls are, hands down, some of the tastiest baked goods you’ll ever sample, so don’t be surprised when you find out these are pretty much a staple food for Kiwis.
We’re not talking frozen supermarket pies, either – these are delicious, full-blooded helpings of tender meat and flavoursome gravy, designed to be eaten in the back of a ute or while casting a line in the surf.
Dairies are another NZ cultural oddity that you probably won’t encounter anywhere else. These tiny, family-owned grocery stores emerged during the early 1900s, and were originally known as ‘dairy produce sellers’.
Over time (and thanks to the Kiwi fondness for slang), they simply became ‘dairies’, and evolved into full-service corner stores offering everything from lollies and ice-cream to deodorant and bread.
If you’re doing a bit of travelling on your New Zealand holiday, it’s an awesome experience just to pop into a dairy and grab a bite to eat.
Our recommendation? Find a dairy that stocks handmade ice cream, or try Tip Top, the country’s biggest ice cream brand. We’re not joking when we say Kiwi ice cream is genuinely to die for.
New Zealand’s culture is inextricably linked with the fact of its Māori heritage, and chances are you’ve seen things like the haka or been welcomed with a friendly “kia ora!”.
But what about the less famous aspects of Māori culture?
The revival of Te Reo Māori, the Māori language?
The pūrākau, the ancient Māori tales of the land and the gods?
Tā moko, the tattooed reflection of a person’s whakapapa (ancestry) and their own unique identity?
If you’ve never visited New Zealand, it’s time to get educated about Māori culture.
First off, Māori culture is referred to as Māoritanga.
It encompasses everything from the revitalised Māori language to traditional cultural activities like carving. Here’s a few of the most fascinating aspects that you might not know about.
Whakairo: Traditional carving techniques practiced on mediums like wood, pounamu (New Zealand jade) and whale ivory. You can see examples of whakairo across the country, including at the international arrival point in Auckland Airport.
Pōwhiri: A traditional Māori welcome ceremony, which includes ritualistic aspects like a wero (challenge), a karanga (welcome call) and a koha (gift). You’ll also touch noses in a hongi, a traditional greeting which symbolises sharing the breath of life.
Hāngi: It sounds similar to a hongi, but a hāngi is actually a Māori cooking technique where meat and vegetables are cooked in an earthen oven using heated rocks. If you get the chance to experience this, make sure you snap it up – it’s an exceptional culinary experience you don’t want to miss.
If you’re from America, the UK or pretty much anywhere else in the world, it’ll probably seem like the Kiwis you meet aren’t even speaking English. A thick New Zealand accent combined with a generous helping of incomprehensible slang will probably leave you smiling vacantly and wondering what on earth was just said.
Luckily for you, we’ve found a couple of the most common Kiwi slang words – pretty soon you’ll be saying “chur cuz” as you accept a pie from one of the boys.
Ay/Eh: An Aussie/Kiwi word that gets tacked onto the end of sentences, generally inviting agreement. “That’s mean as, ay bro” would translate to “That’s quite nice, isn’t it, friend”.
Chilly bin: The Kiwi way to say ‘esky’ or ‘cooler bin’. “Chuck the piss in the chilly bin ay.”
Chur: Derived from ‘cheers’. Means ‘thank you’.
Cuz/Bro/Bruz: A similar meaning to ‘friend’ or ‘mate’. A general way to reference someone.
Jandals: The Kiwi way to say ‘thongs’ or ‘flip-flops’. “Why are you wearing jandals, bro?”
Pakaru: A Māori loanword meaning ‘broken’.
Squiz: An Aussie word that Kiwis use meaning ‘to look’. “Take a squiz at that, cuz.”
One New Zealand culture fact you probably haven’t heard of is ‘tramping’. What’s tramping? Well, it’s a distinctly Kiwi phenomenon roughly comparable to multi-day hikes in other countries.
New Zealand’s cool climate means outdoor walks over rough terrain aren’t the sweat-soaked nightmare they are in other countries (hello, Australia!), and there’s plenty of amazing tracks that showcase the natural beauty of the landscape.
Most of these feature ‘tramping huts’, which are small backcountry buildings used by trampers for overnight stays. If you’re going on a traditional Kiwi tramp, make sure you practice hut etiquette – basically, look after the hut you’re staying in, don’t make a mess, and ensure everything’s clean and orderly when you leave.
Some of the most popular tramping tracks include Te Ararao (The Long Pathway, stretching roughly 3,000 kilometres along the length of the country) and the nine Great Walks.
Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk (44 kilometres long, North Island, goes through forest and grassland)
Tongariro Northern Circuit (50 kilometres long, North Island, includes the Tongariro alpine crossing)
Whanganui Journey (145 kilometres long, North Island, actually a water journey via kayak/canoe)
Abel Tasman Coast Track (60 kilometres long, South Island, popular coastal track)
Heaphy Track (78.4 kilometres long, South Island, includes moors, forest, rivers, bush and coast)
Routeburn Track (32 kilometres long, South Island, panoramic views of the Southern Alps)
Milford Track (53.5 kilometres long, South Island, passes through mountains, rainforest and wetlands)
Paparoa Track (55.7 kilometres long, South Island, due to be opened December 2019)
Kepler Track (60 kilometres long, South Island, traverses mountains, forests, lakes, gorges and wetlands).
Rakiura Track (32 kilometres long, Stewart Island, coastal track with the opportunity to spot kiwis)
Because of New Zealand’s small population, pastoral economy and relatively isolated location, you’ll find that most Kiwis embrace a laid-back attitude that lets them cruise through life without stressing over the little things.
The everyday headaches of modern life – traffic, pollution, the nine-to-five rat-race – are still present in cities like Auckland and Wellington, but, overall, things are pretty relaxed.
It’s not uncommon to see people heading into the local Countdown in short-shorts, raincoats and gumboots, so don’t feel like you need to dress up if you’re going on a Kiwi holiday.
New Zealand’s colonial past and mountainous landscape have also given birth to a DIY culture that’s unusual in a burgeoning gig economy. Pretty much any problem can be solved with duct tape, number 8 wire and a casual “she’ll be right”.
What do you think? Feel like you’re ready to tackle New Zealand? Check out our resorts at Rotorua and Wanaka for some holiday inspiration. Alternatively, read our article about New Zealand’s top experiences before you head off. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see you over here with a Monteith’s in one hand and a meat pie in the other!