Kiwi Culture: A Primer

Below is everything the visitor to New Zealand need know about kiwi culture.

Flight of the Conchords

What it is

Flight of the Conchords is a popular musical sit-com on HBO about two kiwi musicians trying to make it big in New York, albeit with little success.

Bret and Jemaine are quite self-deprecating as they deadpan their way through zany situations, mixing in the odd (and I do mean odd) musical segment. It's funny.

To the right, you'll find the canonical example of their humor, er...humour.

Why it matters

All kiwis want to think they're this funny. Humour them.

Lord of the Rings

What it is

HobbitonMuch of the hit movie trilogy, Lord of the Rings (LOTR), was filmed in New Zealand between 2001 and 2003. This was partly due to NZ's stunning natural splendor and partly because the director, Peter Jackson, is from Wellington and wanted to hook up his homies with sweet gigs.

Six years on you can still take tours of many of the sites used in the movie.

Why it matters

Kiwis seem to have mixed reactions when you bring up LOTR. They are either extremely proud or mildly defensive depending on whether they think you're taking the piss (see Slang).

Kiwi males are unanimous, though, in their judgement that Jackson's best work was in fact not Lord of the Rings, but rather that pièce de résistance of the "splatstick" genre, Bad Taste.

Extreme Sports

What it is

Ride the Zorb in RotoruaTraditional bungy jumping isn't the only way to physically endanger your life on a visit to New Zealand. Those ingenious kiwis have come up with dozens of ways to increase your odds of visiting hospital while on holiday. (And no, kiwis don't say "the hospital" ... just "hospital".)

You can do 360s in a jet boat, jump off the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere, get bounced 4 stories in the air on giant rubber bands, and even roll down a big hill enclosed in a giant plastic ball, a practice known as "Zorbing."

Why it matters

Kiwis are quick to note that bungy jumping was invented in New Zealand. The funny thing is, you rarely see a kiwi doing extreme sports. They're usually safely off to the side strapping a harness on some bewildered tourist.


What it is

SheepNew Zealand has a lot of sheep. You may have heard that there are more sheep than people in New Zealand. In fact, there are 10 times as many sheep as people in New Zealand.

Why it matters

It doesn't. It's just funny.


What it is

Zebra crossingThe only zebras in New Zealand are in zoos. That doesn't stop kiwis from calling sections of road with big white stripes painted on them "zebra crossings" (that's pronounced "zehbra," not "zeebra," by the way).

Why it matters

I'm not sure, but I think kiwis consider it sporting good fun to floor it whenever a pedestrian dares attempt to cross a street anywhere except at a zebra crossing.

Even there, where it's required by law, kiwi drivers stop, but only grudgingly. Notice, in the photo to the right, how these experienced pedestrians keep a watchful eye on the stopped motorist, alert to any sign of an emotional snap that might send him lurching forward.

All Blacks

What it is

An All Black crushes some hapless opponent (photo from, this isn't some kind of pre-civil-rights era "separate but equal" restaurant. It's the national obsession religion rugby team.

Traditionally, New Zealand has had the best rugby team in the world (though that reputation has taken a bit of a hit this year with a few ugly losses and closer-than-they-should-have-been wins.) This is no mean feat considering the country's population is less than the state of Kentucky. Speaking of mean, take a look at that dude to the right. He'd just as soon eat opposing players for breakfast.

One particularly intense source of kiwi pride is the haka, a traditional Māori warrior challenge the All Blacks perform before every match. It's a controversial spectacle that is unique in all of sport. (And, no, kiwis don't say "sports" ... they say "sport".) Have a look for yourself and answer this, what's that smell coming from the opposing teams trousers?

Why it matters


Māori Words & Phrases

About 1000 years before Europeans colonized New Zealand, Polynesians known as Māori had settled most of the North and South Islands. Māori culture is a major presence in New Zealand, so it's good to know a few of the more common words and phrases.

The pronunciation of the language is similar to Hawaiian in that words are usually pronounced as pairs of letters. It's important to note that "wh" is pronounced like "f" and that "ng" is pronounced like the letter "n".

Wondering about a particular word or phrase not listed below? Check out this English/Māori translator!

the Māori word for New Zealand, meaning "Land of the long white cloud"
love/unconditional respect
Haere mai
Traditional Maori dancersHaka
challenge dance, performed by men (and All Blacks) before going into battle
a traditional feast where the food is cooked in an earth oven
traditional Māori greeting featuring the pressing together of noses
Kai te pai
Sweet as! (See Slang)
local protocols/customs
Kia ora
hello/good afternoon (informal, literally "be healthy")
Kī tōnu taku waka topkaki i te tuna
My hovercraft is full of eels
gift/donation (you might see this at the entrance to a museum, for example)
Marae at the Waitangi Treaty GroundsMarae
sacred meeting place, situated within a village, you have to be invited inside
foreigner, person of European descent, some might say it's akin to "howlie" or even "honky", though it's used pretty widely by both whites and Māori
man/woman (you sometimes see this on restroom doors)
sacred, restricted
Te Papa
literally "our place", also the name of the national museum in Wellington
Traditional Maori war canoeWaka
canoe (like the ones used by the Māori to get to Aotearoa in the first place)
a family or extended family
toilet (literally "house of poos and wees")


Kiwis say stuff funny. In fact, researchers say kiwis speak like Neanderthals. See the video to the right for an example of the local dialect or watch this guide to proper kiwi pronunciation.

The following are some words and phrases you may hear during your visit:

Sweet as ("Sweet as, bru.")
cool, great
Choice ("Choice, aye, bru?")
cool, great
Stink ("Aww, stink, aye, bru?")
not cool, not great
Heaps ("I'm heaps beached, bru.")
much, lots, tons
Chips ("It's cheap as chips, bru.")
no, not potato chips, but french fries (also called "chups"), though sometimes even kiwis get confused on this point, again, see the video to the right
Take the piss ("Are you taking the piss, bru?")
to mock, ridicule or tease
Classic kiwi bachBach
pronounced like "batch" not like "Johann Sebastian," a bach is a holiday home, usually near a beach (kiwis also use the word "crib" for the same kind of dwelling … with a straight face) (in the photo to the right, note the tractor where one might expect to see a car; this is a sure sign of an authentic kiwi bach)
The mainland
what South Islanders call the South Island, I guess because it's slightly bigger than the North Island (clever South Islanders)
to have sex (to put it politely) … for example, you probably don't want to say you're "rooting for the All Blacks" unless you're involved in some kind of kinky fundraiser
Bob's your uncle (said primarily by old people)
that's all there is to it

Bob's your uncle!