8 Interesting Facts About New Zealand

The New Zealand flag. Note the Union Jack in the canton, which is the national flag of the UK, and the stars meant to symbolize the Southern Cross constellation.

Over my years on the road, several times I have found myself circling back to the Land of the Long White Cloud (a common nickname and translation for Aotearoa, the Maori name for the country). New Zealand is a country best known to some as Middle Earth (yet another fun fact and a nickname given by Tolkien fans), and the lush landscape does the name justice. The three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in New Zealand are among the prettiest spots in the country, although it would be impossible to actually choose a favorite—Tongariro National Park and Te Wahipounamu are both recognized for their stand-out natural beauty as well as the cultural significance of the latter to the Maori people. 

Over my visites, I’ve driven the North and South Islands and explored many hidden pockets of the country. Given how much New Zealand offers curious travelers, it’s time for the next installment of 8 Facts You Might Not Have Known: New Zealand facts edition.

1. New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote.

Women in New Zealand (then a British colony) were granted the right to vote on September 19, 1893 and voted in the first election on November 28, 1893. Universal suffrage did not occur in the United Kingdom until 1928 and in the United States until 1920.

Bonus Fact: The Isle of Man gave women who owned property the right to vote in 1881, beating New Zealand by two years, but not fully counted since it was not universal voting rights for all women on the island at the time.

2. Nowhere in New Zealand is more than 128 km (80 miles) from the sea.

The country is an island (two to be precise), and rather long and slender. As a result, you’re never more than an hour or two from the sea, no matter where you choose to travel in New Zealand. You could be skiing in the Southern Alps and splashing in the ocean in the same day.

Fox Glacier - New Zealand
The Fox Glacier in New Zealand.

3. New Zealand has the world’s longest English language place name.

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu is a Maori word for a hill locatex on the North Island of the country. Roughly translated it means, “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”

It’s locally known as Taumata, but the long form of the word is in the official register. The longest non-English place name is the traditional name for Bangkok, Thailand—another series contender, read our Fascinating Facts About Thailand. The video below is not only fascinating, but he also pronounces the place for you to hear just how long it sounds spoken out loud!

4. New Zealand has the world’s largest hot water spring.

Frying Pan Lake near Rotorua is the world’s largest hot water spring, it reaches a temperature of 200°C at its deepest point. The area around Rotorua is actually the second largest geothermal area in the world after Yellowstone National Park.

5. New Zealand has the southernmost vineyards in the world.

The vineyards of Central Otago, New Zealand are the southern most vineyards in the world, located at 45° South.

To give you a comparison, the northernmost vineyard is at 61° North in Finland, and the Bordeaux region in France is at approximately 45° North. New Zealand wines are famous around the world, especially the white wines.

View in Queen Charlotte Sound, NZ
View in Queen Charlotte Sound, NZ

6. New Zealand contains more bookstores and golf courses per head of population than any other country.

To be snarky, the abundance of bookstores is probably due to the poor internet you’ll find in New Zealand—OK, maybe not, but it could be why so many have remained even once the internet took hold.

The golf courses is probably due to the good weather and available land. That being said, I can’t think of a great Kiwi golfer off the top of my head!

7. New Zealand has 10 sheep for every one person.

In line with the stereotypes you’ve heard about New Zealand, they actually do have way more sheep than people. The ratio used to be much more lopsided, but a growing population and a shrinking agriculture bases now has it down to a modest 10-to-1 ratio. Let’s hope the sheep never get organized.

Tug in Wellington harbor
A tug in Wellington harbor.

8. New Zealand is home to the world’s only flightless parrot, the Kakapo, as well as the only alpine parrot in the world, the Kea.

Last time I was in the country, I heard stories about the Kea and how they can take cars apart. They will literally land on cars and start dismantling the antenna, windshield wipers, hood ornaments, and anything they can get their beak on—it’s uncommonly good at the task!

Recommended Resources And Readings:

If you’re traveling to New Zealand, then you’ll likely want to pick up a Lonely Planet New Zealand guidebook for the best advice on where to go, what to see, and where to stay.

And if you’re keen to learn more fascinating facts about New Zealand’s rich history, culture, and landscape, here are our favorite reads.

Best Books About New Zealand:

34 thoughts on “8 Interesting Facts About New Zealand”

  1. I want to go there just to get away from all this negative press onthe debt crisis… what a wonderful country…

  2. I have read many blogs and articles about the this country- so fascinating to me… sounds like an amazing country, it might just have to put this on my list of places to visit.

  3. New Zealand is a very unique country. It has kind and gentle people. It also has picturesque sceneries, amazing festivals, superb food, and magical outdoor experiences. After all, the LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY was shot there. It is an amazing country that celebrates and recognizes its indigenous people.

  4. The following may explain why Keas are destructive when it comes to cars, it is an excerpt from the National Geographic news site and was written in 2001.

    “The kea, said Bond, is one of very few animal species that continue to investigate new food possibilities (including cars and bicycles) into adulthood. This flexibility allowed the kea to survive in the inhospitable mountain climate it inhabits”.

    NZ is fantastic for people who love hiking, there are many routes ranging from a couple of hours to several days. I did a short walk to see the Rob Roy Glacier in Mt Aspiring National Park and thoroughly enjoyed myself even though the weather was less than perfect. I also got to see the Keas up close, they really are fascinating birds.

  5. Love the site and your journey! Best wishes and safe travels from all of TDK! Hope you enjoyed your time with us.

  6. They ve now expanded to include a second label Southern Right to produce a varietal Pinotage and a Chenin-based white..Tim Hamilton Russell was chairman of one of South Africas leading advertising companies when he purchased a run down property in 1975 that was to become one of the finest wine farms in the country.

  7. I’m heading to New Zealand In a few months as part of a semi round the world trip and thought I’d read up a little more about it. Thanks for the Information :)

  8. I wrote quite a similar post 3 days before on my Spanish travel blog :)

    So I’ll contribute with:
    1) The original name of New Zealand is Aotearoa

    2) The first man that climbed the Everest, Edmund Hillary, was from there and appears on the 5$ NZ notes.

    3) NZ is considered the second most peacful country after Iceland :)

  9. That’s awesome! All I know in New Zealand is that it has many sheep and wide grasslands. I want to go to Frying Pan Lake. I love hot springs! The longest English place is like a tongue twister. :) Thanks for your post.

  10. That’s awesome! All I know in New Zealand is that it has many sheep and wide grasslands. I want to go to Frying Pan Lake. I love hot springs! The longest English place is like a tongue twister. :)
    Thanks for your post.

  11. This may sound funny but it wasn’t till I saw the show Xenia worrier princess on TV that I wanted to visit New Zealand. The scenery on that show was spectacular and who knows if people from NZ ever saw the show but it was a big hit in the states. So ad another thing to the list of unknowns.

  12. Hi, I am new to you’re blog but what a great time to start reading it! I am from New Zealand (Auckland originally but now live in Dunedin for university), and I love this place. If you are in Auckland then definitely try and get out to Waiheke Island for a day (40mins from Auckland by ferry but if the weather is nice then the ride is awesome), you wont regret it! Hope you are having a great time and sticking around for the RWC final next weekend! Oh and my grandma scored a hole in one back in the day :P

  13. New Zealand wasn’t on my list until I’d spent a few months in Australia and the travel bug really kicked in! Now, I’m still in Australia but absolutely cannot wait to start travelling NZ in June 2012!

    Love these little facts especially about the bookstores. Not good news about the lack of great internet though hey?

    Hope you’re enoying your time there :-)

  14. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu-I’ll try to memorize it and impress someone with this piece of linguistic trivia. New Zealand is, clearly, one of the most an absolutely pristine country from everything I have seen and heard. but what a terrible tragedy is the Rena oil spill. You are traveling from one country with the recent history of environmental disaster (in 2001 an Ecuadorian tanker carrying diesel fuel leaked it into the ocean off the coast of San Cristobal) to another. Looking fwd to reading your posts on New Zealand and the situation at the Astrolabe Reef-thank you!

  15. Absolutely fantastic info! I’m definitely adding New Zealand to my bucket list. I have to confess that it’s also partially due to the Lord of the Rings as well. Nerd alert! Thanks for sharing such a great post with us, Gary. :)


  16. It will take 24 by plane to get there but i read that its a wonderful country…would like to go there someday

  17. Nice Info Friend,

    I think one of the great place to watch in life. You know i had done one thing after read this post i put New Zealand name on the top of my travel list.

  18. I don’t know if he qualifies as “great”, but Michael Campbell won the US Open and Matchplay Champs in 2005. Sir Bob Charles is probably our best golfer from way back. Danny Lee may be the best amateur golfer ever, but hasn’t yet made it as a pro.

  19. Pretty interesting. I really want to visit New Zealand, it looks amazing, and it’s seems to always be a hot spot for backpackers to go to. But I always hear that it’s expensive. Doesn’t really seem like a budget backpacker friendly place unfortunately…

  20. Love that you mentioned the longest place name! One of my favorite random facts about New Zealand (though I can never remember how to pronounce it…)

    Did you also know that NZ’s only native mammals are very small bats? It’s why there are so many native species of birds that are flightless.

  21. I guess you are going to be seeing Auckland then as all the rest of the games are there? NZ actually has 33 islands according to wikipedia. All though the north and south islands are where most people live you are missing Stewart Island (beautiful but a long way from Auckland), the Chathams – seriously remote – but populated – like our version of the Falklands!

    If you are in Auckland – head out to Great Barrier and / or Waiheke (lots of wineries) – beautiful islands just a boat ride away

  22. Well then! We guess New Zealand needs to be added to our bucket list as well…

    OK OK, it was there already, but now we have 8 new reasons to visit. :-)

    Thanks Gary.

    Nancy & Shawn

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