New Zealand Culture

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Janet Frame, a novelist from New Zealand, has been suggested as a possible recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Other acclaimed New Zealand writers include Keri Hulme, who won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1985, and Katherine Mansfield.

The novelist Samuel Butler used the scenery of New Zealand as an inspiration for his mythical country “Erewhon” (an anagram for Nowhere). Zane Grey used to come to New Zealand to fish.

“Dangerous Desires” by film maker Peter Wells is a perceptive and emotional short novel about life in small town New Zealand.


New Zealand has not produced many famous artists but public art galleries are found in all the main cities and towns. Of particular interest are the ones in Auckland, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin. Most have colonial collections from the Victorian era as well as recent works by local artists.


Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, one of the world's best known opera and classical music singers, is from New Zealand. She is part Maori and has a Maori name. Other New Zealanders that have distinguished themselves in opera and classical music include Malvina Major and Donald McIntyre.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is judged by some as the best orchestra in the Southern Hemisphere. New Zealand also boasts the acclaimed Auckland Philharmonic and the New Zealand String Quartet.

Although Australia has produced quite a few internationally-known pop and rock stars such as INXS, Midnight Oil, Dire Straits and Olivia Newton John, New Zealand hasn't produced anybody of note other than Neil Finn of the rock band Crowded House.

New Zealand has its own annual and country and western music award ceremony, the New Zealand Gold Guitars Awards, which are held in Late May or Early June.


The Royal New Zealand Ballet has an international reputation.

see Maori Dance


Small local theaters in Auckland produce plays like “Fresh Of the Boat”, a comedy about the trials and tribulation of newly arrived Samoan immigrants.

One New Zealander in South Korea wrote a Sound-of-Music-based satire on the effects of eating kimchi called “The Sound of Mucous”.


Most New Zealand cities have multi-screen theaters and most towns have at least one cinema for art and foreign films. The average New Zealander goes to five movies a year.

The film “The Piano” was set and shot in New Zealand. The 12-year-old New Zealander, Ana Paquin, won the 1993 Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role in the film. In addition, Holly Hunter won the Oscar for best actress and the writer of the film won the academy award for best screenplay. The beach scenes in the film were shot on the rugged Tasman Sea coastline, about 25 miles west of Auckland. The film was made by New Zealand-born director Jane Campion.

One of the most popular and critically-acclaimed New Zealand movies in the mid-1990s was “Heavenly Creatures”, a brilliant and disturbing 1994 film described by Time film critic Richard Corliss as "thrilling popular art." It was about a real-life 1954 crime in Christchurch in which two teenage girls bludgeoned to death one of the girl's mothers. The film stared Kate Winslet of Titanic fame and gave her career a big boost.

The director of “Heavenly Creatures” was Paul Jackson who also directed “Bad Taste” (1987) and “Dead Alive” (1992). Born in Wellington, Jackson began making films when he was nine. He is currently working with 300 crew members, up to 15,000 extras, and a budget of US$130 million on the film version of Tolkien's “Lord of the Rings”.

“Once We Were Warriors” is another acclaimed New Zealand film from the mid-1990s. Adapted from a controversial novel by Riwia Brown, it is about spousal abuse and passionate love between an attractive Maori couple, played by Temuera Morrison as the husband and Rena Owens as the wife. Described by Corliss as a movie with a "trajectory toward emotional wipeout," it beat out “Jurassic Park” as the biggest box office success of all time in New Zealand.

“Broken English” is a good film about a romance between a Croatian immigrant girl and a Maori guy.


Temuera Morrison is one of New Zealand's best known television and film actors. A Maori, who began his acting career at the age of 12, he has recieved critical acclaim for his role in “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” and “Once We Were Warriors”. He also appeared in the Hollywood films “Barb Wire” and “Speed II” and the popular Kiwi television series “Shorthand Street”, “Seekers” and “Gloss”.



Television sets: 1 per 2 people (compared to 1 per 102 people in Madagascar and 1 per 1.2 people in the United States).

New Zealand has three national television networks, all commercial. The "Sky" network and CNN and other satellite-relayed stations are available at many hotels.

Television Programs

Programs shown on New Zealand television are mix of British, American, Australian and local shows. The most well-known Kiwi exports are “Xena: Warrior Princess”, “Hercules” and “Young Hercules”, American-funded shows shot in Auckland. The Kiwi actress Lucy Lawless is the star of Xena.

One of the most popular television shows in the late 1990s in New Zealand was “Topless Women Talk About Their Lives”, a mini-series with 3-minute installments about the trials and tribulations of New Zealand Generation-X-ers that in fact had no topless woman. The show won the 1997 New Zealander Best TV series award and was extended into a popular and acclaimed film that was awarded best film, best director, best actor and best screenplay at the 1998 New Zealand Film Awards. One of the shows most memorable scenes featured the female lead giving birth in a veterinary clinic.


Radios: 1 per person (compared 1 per 58 people in Mali and 2 per person in the United States).

There are four national radio networks in New Zealand: 1) non-commercial public radio, 2) non-commercial concert music (Stereo FM); 3) National Program (AM), and 4) commercial pop and AM networks. There are also numerous local pop FM stations.


Daily newspaper circulation: 239 per 1,000 persons (compared to 15 per 1,000 people in Pakistan and 579 per 1,000 people in Japan).

Twenty-eight daily newspapers are published in New Zealand. USA Today, Time and Newsweek are widely available at newsstands in New Zealand cities.


Countries with the most Internet users (users per thousand people): 1) Finland (139); 2) Iceland (112); 3) Norway (64); 4) Australia (55); 5) Israel (53); 6) Sweden (51); 7) New Zealand (50); 8) Hong Kong (48); 9) Canada (41); 10) Netherlands (39). [1995]

In 1998, a quarter of all households had computers.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New Zealand Tourism Board, New Zealand Herald, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Reuters, Associated Press, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2023

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