Some of the biggest inspirations for New Zealand artists are (unsurprisingly) the country’s natural assets and stunning landscapes. While painters capture the magnificent scenery, others use natural materials such as Harakeke (flax), Pohutukawa and fern leaf in their works. This is not a new development; Māori settlers developed powerful motifs and artistic forms utilising natural resources from their earliest days in New Zealand, carving bone, stone, wood and shell, and weaving native fibres.

In recent years, contemporary artists have woven a unique blend of histories and cultures, themes and styles together in their work, reflecting the diversity of New Zealand society. It is now common to see traditional Māori arts using contemporary mediums, and distinct Māori, Asian and Pacific Island influences can clearly be seen in other artworks. This unique New Zealand blend reaches across all genres. Ancient Māori performance arts, for example, employ modern interpretations, while Kiwi musicians mix popular international styles with traditional Pacific influences, and New Zealand-themed movies are shown at international film festivals.

Arts & Crafts

Excellent art galleries can be found even in small towns.

In the 20th Century, when realism and honesty about local life became dominant themes, artists like Rita Angus, Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston came to prominence. Today, painters such as Shane Cotton, who incorporates Māori themes in his work to represent shared Māori and Pakeha experiences and significant events in New Zealand history, are celebrated, and they all find a place in New Zealand’s galleries. Particularly renowned galleries include the Auckland Art Gallery (the country’s largest), Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui, The Suter Art Gallery in Nelson, Christchurch Art Gallery and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. The World of WearableArt™ Gallery in Nelson showcases the full force of Kiwi creativity. Displaying the garment collection from the annual World of WearableArt™ Awards Show (now held each year in Wellington), the gallery delights all the senses with its dramatic mix of lighting, music and movement.

A great way for visitors to experience arts and crafts is by visiting a workshop. Many studios offer a hands-on approach, giving visitors the opportunity to try weaving (at Te Puia in Rotorua, for example) or carving; Hokitika on the West Coast is especially renowned for jade carving workshops. Another way to experience arts and crafts is by browsing markets or visiting the country’s renowned art and craft trails. There are good trails in Kerikeri, Nelson and Marlborough, but for a comprehensive list visit


Live music performances are easy to find in cities and country pubs.

New Zealand’s musical tradition dates back to the nation’s earliest settlement by the Māori people. In more recent times local artists have increasingly mixed popular international styles with Māori and Pacific Island influences. Split Enz, Crowded House, Scribe, Bic Runga, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Flight of the Conchords, The Naked and Famous, Broods, and Lorde have struck a chord (pardon the pun!) with audiences worldwide, while songstress Hayley Westenra has made an impact on the classical music charts and Kiri Te Kanawa is an operatic force. Watching a live band perform is a great way to sample a slice of local culture.


New Zealand has a long tradition of amateur and professional theatre.

New Zealand has been on the professional theatre touring circuit since the 1860s. In the 1960s, Downstage Theatre in Wellington (now closed) was established and others soon followed; Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre, Christchurch’s The Court Theatre, Palmerston North’s Centrepoint, Wellington’s Circa and Auckland’s Mercury Theatre (now the Auckland Theatre Company) all now offer vibrant work.


The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies have made New Zealand scenery famous amongst moviegoers.

New Zealand’s diverse and dramatic landscapes are a major drawcard for filmmakers. The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, directed by Wellington-based Peter Jackson, were both filmed here. New Zealand has doubled for ancient Japan (The Last Samurai), was the inspiration for the computer-generated world of Avatar (with further sequels being here), and more recently, Fiordland housed deadly organisms for Alien: Covenant. There are also distinctly New Zealand stories told on film: Whale Rider is a haunting tale examining Māori culture and myth, The World’s Fastest Indian tells the story of Southland motorcycle legend Burt Munro, and Taika Waititi’s oddball charmer Hunt For The Wilderpeople was acclaimed all over the world. To enjoy Kiwi cinema, visitors can go on a LOTR tour or catch a movie in an iconic cinema such as the Fiordland Cinema (Te Anau), Cinema Paradiso (Wanaka), the mighty Civic Theatre (Auckland), or the Embassy Theatre (Wellington).

Films To Watch

Goodbye Pork Pie Geoff Murphy
The Piano Jane Campion
Whale Rider Niki Caro
The Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson
River Queen Vincent Ward
The World’s Fastest Indian Roger Donaldson
Sione’s Wedding Chris Graham
Boy Taika Waititi
Rain Christine Jeffs
Hunt For The Wilderpeople Taika Waititi


Read a New Zealand book for a glimpse of the Kiwi psyche.

Kiwi writers aren’t afraid to speak their minds and to broaden the minds of others, whether in the prophetic poetry of James K. Baxter, the rich prose of Keri Hulme, the modern myths of Witi Ihimaera, or the searing autobiographies of Janet Frame. The landscapes, the rich Māori storytelling tradition and the country’s love of individuality and creativity have combined to produce a diverse range of books and authors that stand tall on the world stage. Children’s author Margaret Mahy has over 120 titles to her name and is beloved the world over, Eleanor Catton is a recent winner of the Man Booker prize for The Luminaries, and New Zealand also has its own tradition of literary prizes, scholarships and festivals.

Books To Read

In a Fishbone Church Catherine Chidgey
Owls do Cry Janet Frame
Tu Patricia Grace
The Bone People Keri Hulme
The Haunting Margaret Mahy
The Garden Party Katherine Mansfield
No Ordinary Sun Hone Tuwhare
The Denniston Rose Jenny Pattrick
The Luminaries Eleanor Catton

Dance & Kapa Haka

New Zealand dance performances range from traditional Māori kapa haka (posture dance), sometimes in modern interpretations, through to spectacular shows performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. One of New Zealand’s most famous dancers was Freda Stark; famous for performing for NZ and US troops during World War II wearing little more than gold bodypaint, she earned the title ‘Fever of the Fleet’.

Experiencing Creative New Zealand

From galleries and workshops to art trails and tours, there are many ways to experience the creative side of New Zealand.

Galleries There are intriguing art galleries all over the country, but particularly renowned ones include the Auckland Art Gallery, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (New Plymouth), the Sarjeant Gallery (Whanganui), The Suter Art Gallery (Nelson) and the Christchurch Art Gallery. The World of WearableArt™ Gallery in Nelson showcases Kiwi creativity with its dramatic mix of lighting, music and movement. Another highlight is Fred and Myrtle Flutey’s Paua House, lovingly recreated at Christchurch’s Canterbury Museum.

Literary trails and locations Suggest your clients take a literary sightseeing tour by strolling along one of New Zealand’s writers’ walks ( or by visiting highlights such as the Frank Sargeson House (Takapuna) and the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace and Heritage Garden (Wellington).

Craft trails and studios Highlights amongst art and craft trails include the Kerikeri, Nelson and Marlborough Art and Craft Trails. There are also craft studios where visitors can watch artists at work – from potters and glass blowers to sculptors, wood turners, Māori carvers and weavers, and jewellers – they may even get the opportunity to try their own hand!

Film locations and tours The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogies, both filmed here, helped to put New Zealand’s magnificent natural scenery in front of a worldwide audience. Tours to ‘Mount Doom’, ‘Hobbiton’ and other LOTR film locations are hugely popular. You can research film locations online to create a custom itinerary, or book a themed guided tour for the ultimate film location sightseeing trip.

Live music venues and festivals Live music venues range from country pubs and town halls to clubs and stadiums. Kiwi vineyards often act as a stunning setting for musical performances. Outdoor venue highlights include New Plymouth’s TSB Bowl, Mission Estate Winery’s amphitheatre, or Queenstown’s Earnslaw Park.

Theatres Take your pick from intimate venues and large auditoriums, from the best in international theatre and Kiwi productions, from great dramas and improv comedy, and from contemporary experimental theatre to good old Shakespeare!

Māori & Pacific Treasures

Traditional Arts Weaving and carving in wood, bone and greenstone are important Māori traditions. Examples of taonga Māori (Māori treasures) can be seen at museums and galleries all around the country. Contemporary examples are available for purchase at galleries, workshops and studios.

Auckland Museum The museum is home to He Taonga Māori, the Māori Treasures Gallery, and displays over 2,000 pieces – including the last, magnificently carved, Māori war canoe to be used in battle.

Te Papa Tongarewa New Zealand’s national museum on the Wellington waterfront contains a marae and works with iwi (tribal groups) to curate a fascinating exhibition programme of taonga. The Kura Pounamu exhibition explores the origins and stories of greenstone.

Hokitika Dubbed the greenstone capital of New Zealand, Hokitika showcases jade shops and artists’ studios where visitors can join workshops to make their own crafts!

For the latest on Māori art and exhibitions, see the Toi Māori Aotearoa website: