New Zealand is proud of its diverse population; while the majority of Kiwis are of British descent – often referred to as ‘Pakeha’ – many originate from the Pacific Islands or Asia. Other European cultures are also represented, but the largest non-European group is the Maori population. New Zealand’s blend of cultures results in a vibrant national identity; at its heart, it is about innovation, independence and celebrating diversity.
Indigenous Maori culture is a strong element of cultural identity for all New Zealanders, Pakeha included. You only need to watch the haka being performed by the All Blacks before a rugby game to see how proud Kiwis are of their shared heritage! New Zealand’s Pacific location also lends a distinctive flavour to life in New Zealand; Auckland contains the world’s largest population of Pacific Islanders and is informally regarded as the capital of the Pacific. Colourful island culture is evident at the Otara Markets, where visitors can buy tapa cloth and taste Cook Island donuts, and in events such as the huge annual Pasifika Festival.
The majority of New Zealand’s 4.7 million people live in the North Island, while the South Island is more sparsely populated. Auckland is the nation’s largest city, with a population of more than one million, while the political capital is Wellington. The second-largest city is Christchurch, in the South Island. New Zealand is a sovereign state ruled by a Westminster-style democratic parliamentary government.
Kitschy Kiwiana has grown hugely in popularity during recent years, and its icons are instantly recognisable to Kiwis the world over. Reproductions are readily available to buy in gift shops while the originals are coveted and collected.
While New Zealand literature and film are often known for their dark themes, the cultural flipside is Kiwiana. Kiwiana is a collective term for unique and quirky items from New Zealand’s culture and history that contribute to a sense of nationhood and Kiwi identity. These iconic touchstones include jandals (flip-flops), meat pies, the tiki symbol, ‘No. 8 wire’ (a term describing Kiwi inventiveness), sheep, and anything made of Paua (abalone) shell. Some New Zealand personalities, too, have become so iconic that they can be classed as Kiwiana – they include Mount Everest-conquering hero ‘Sir Ed’ (Edmund Hillary), ‘bushman’ and author Barry Crump, who epitomises the ‘good Kiwi bloke’, and fictional characters Wal Footrot and his sheepdog (Dog) from the long-running comic strip Footrot Flats, created by the late Murray Ball.
Buzzy Bee This colourful wooden pull-along toy is popular with Kiwi kids and was famously loved by Prince William in his toddling years!
Edmonds Cookery Book This collection of recipes is found in every Kiwi kitchen and is bound to be well-thumbed and marked with the odd greasy and/or floury stain.
Gumboots and black singlets This used to be almost a uniform for Kiwi farmers – and not just on the farm! Keep an eye out in country pubs and you’ll see the tradition has not completely died out!
Hokey pokey ice cream Vanilla ice cream with crunchy bits of toffee is the nation’s favourite flavour and high up on the Kiwiana list.
L&P Short for Lemon & Paeroa, this sparkling, New Zealand-only lemon-flavoured soft drink was invented in 1904. An advertising slogan for it gifted the nation the phrase “World Famous In New Zealand”, which most Kiwiana could be described as!
Kiwiana Around The Country
Visitors can experience Kiwiana all over New Zealand, but some towns have taken things a step further:
Otorohanga The main street of the self-titled Kiwiana Town of New Zealand pays tribute to Kiwi popular culture with its murals, sculptures and displays. www.kiwianatown.co.nz
Taihape The so-called ‘gumboot capital of the world’ holds a gumboot-throwing competition every year in April that is worth watching – or entering, for those brave enough to take on the locals! www.taihape.co.nz
Paeroa This small town south of the Coromandel Peninsula is where New Zealand’s national soft drink L&P was invented. The town boasts a massive L&P bottle, making for great snapshots! www.paeroa.org.nz