Your Essential Guide to New Zealand Culture

Whilst many of those who first settled in New Zealand were Europeans, New Zealand now has quite a diverse culture that has influences from the Maori and Polynesian people as well as from the Pacific Islands and Asia and so whilst much of the culture is still borrowed from the UK and Europe, there will be parts of New Zealand life that will be unfamiliar to the newcomer. Our brief guide to culture in New Zealand will aim to prepare you for your new life amongst the Kiwis.


Officially there are 3 languages in New Zealand; English, the Maori language (Te Reo Maori) and Sign Language.

New Zealand English has a few variations, mostly in the accent which may sound to our ears like an Australian accent but is as distinct from Australian as a Birmingham accent is from a Mancunian accent. Therefore it would be wise not to compare the two!

Te Reo Maori is spoken by over 150,000 people in New Zealand who have a dedicated Maori television channel and an official Maori language week. Attempts to increase this native language have largely been successful and the number of people who speak Te Reo Maori is growing.

The New Zealand Sign Language is comparable to British Sign Language but also includes Maori words and has an American influence.

Maori Culture

The Maoris were the first people to settle in New Zealand from Polynesia up to 2,000 years ago. They have since developed a very strong, traditional Maori culturethat is based on a sense of community and spiritual beliefs.

The Maoris suffered great losses when the first European migrants arrived but since the 1960s there has been a cultural revival and now the Maori people are an integral part of New Zealand’s past, present and future.

There are many wonderful Maori legends and stories as well as sacred Maori places such as the marae (meeting grounds) which are ideal for listening to tales of how New Zealand was formed by the gods of Maori legend. These experiences are available for visitors but you are asked to be respectful and not to bring any form of alcohol onto Maori ground.

Many tourist operators specialise in offering visits to marae where you can listen to such stories and eat traditional Maori food. Don’t forget to greet your hosts by touching their nose with yours.

Religion in New Zealand

The main religion in New Zealand is Christianity followed by Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. The main Maori religion is Polytheism which is the worship of multiple deities.

Typical New Zealand Traits

There is no ‘typical’ New Zealander but as a general rule of thumb, the Kiwis tend to be outdoor people. Sports are an important lesson in schools and there are a vast amount of activity and adventure sports on offer throughout New Zealand.

New Zealanders also used to claim to be a classless society because of their sense of fairness and teamwork which may have been partly to do with the Maori influence. New Zealand etiquette is not far off British etiquette.

There can be no doubting that the New Zealanders are a friendly people who are capable of giving big welcomes!