Curious New Zealand: 16 kiwi peculiarities

New Zealand is a land of contrasts, variety and diversity. Lush rainforests meet glaciers and magnificent fjords, there’s world-class surfing, heaps of gorgeous sandy beaches, deserted bays, the Southern Alps and active volcanos. The country has a strong arts scene and a vibrant film industry, being the setting of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films; New Zealand has given the world Peter Jackson, Hayley Westenra, and the Flight of the Conchords, just to mention a few very famous public figures. If you haven’t heard of any of these, then where have you been?

New Zealand oddities: an introduction to the country’s quirks

No one will blame you if you haven’t heard of any of the following though… So, to get you up to speed with a few other things that are peculiar to, trendy or happening in New Zealand, or just unknown to anyone outside the country, here’s a small list of things from Aotearoa that will surprise you. From the weirdly wonderful to the outright hilarious and everything in between, a random collection of noteworthy peculiarities. They’ll come in handy at your next pub quiz, and prepare you for your next trip (you know you want to go!):

1. Hokey Pokey

Hokey Pokey ice cream. Photo by teachernz @ Flickr

Hokey Pokey ice cream. Photo by teachernz @ Flickr

Forget the Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs of this world, Hokey Pokey is the real deal. This is New Zealand’s number one ice cream flavour. It is basically vanilla ice cream with bits of soft caramel or toffee. You can get it in any supermarket, and it is every kiwi’s favourite ice cream flavour. Yes, every.

2. Flat whites

Flat White coffee. Photo by russelljsmith @ Flickr

Flat White coffee. Photo by russelljsmith @ Flickr

Granted, this terminology is also found in Australia. The flat white is somewhat akin to a latte and usually comes with fern-themed foam art.

3. Clever branding

Bulls, full of puns. Photo by itspaulkelly @ Flickr

Bulls, full of puns. Photo by itspaulkelly @ Flickr

New Zealanders seem to have a knack for marketing. Bulls, a fine example, is a truly unforgetabull town near Palmerston North, on the North Island. They love their puns, and what they come up with is really admirabull. Lyttelton, near Christchurch on the South Island, is another place with a funky vibe and interesting branding:

Wunderbar in Lyttelton, Canterbury

Wunderbar in Lyttelton, Canterbury

They don’t let just anyone in, those kiwis. At least they’re being honest and upfront about it. And they take their business very, very seriously:

The wedding assassins in Lyttelton, New Zealand

As seen on Lyttelton’s Oxford Street, New Zealand

Brides and grooms, you’re guaranteed to have a “Special Day” there.

4. Godzone

Have you heard a New Zealander refer to his home country as godzone before? Apparently kiwis have been using this name for their homeland for over 100 years (says Wikipedia). It’s derived from God’s Own Country, the title of a poem about New Zealand, published in 1890.

5. Jandals

Jandals are Japanese sandals. Other cultures call them flip-flops, slippers, or even thongs. While the latter may lead to misunderstandings, the word jandal, although perhaps lesser known, is only dedicated to the famous footwear.

6. Kiwi, the bird

The Kiwi bird. Photo by The.Rohit @ Flickr

The Kiwi bird. Photo by The.Rohit @ Flickr

The kiwi is an endangered, flightless bird and is indigenous to New Zealand. There are a few traits that make this little fella quite an oddball. It gets about as big as a chicken and has tiny wings that don’t allow the bird to fly. However, the kiwi has a very good sense of smell and can run very fast. Its feathers are almost hair-like and it lays eggs that are up to half of its own body weight. The kiwi is also a national symbol of New Zealand, lending its name to the country’s currency (the kiwi dollar) and New Zealanders themselves.

7. Keas, alpine parrots

Kea, an alpine parrot, hopping around on Franz Josef glacier.

Kea, an alpine parrot, hopping around on Franz Josef glacier.

The kea is an alpine parrot and is unique to New Zealand’s South Island. If you’re lucky you’ll meet this cheeky creature during your hike on Franz Josef glacier. If you’re unlucky you’ll see its (damaging) work on your car’s rubber parts, your hiking boots or parts of your tent as you return from your hikes around Mt Cook. The curious bird is partial to soft rubber and will take anything apart that crosses its path.

8. The Beehive

The Beehive in Wellington. Photo by No One Nels @ Flickr

The Beehive in Wellington. Photo by No One Nels @ Flickr

No idea whether this is an allusion to busy bees or the bee’s knees, but kiwis are definitely industrious folks. The Beehive is actually one of the Parliament Buildings in Wellington (also known as the Executive Wing)!

9. Strange traffic rules

You probably know that in New Zealand, you drive on the left side of the road. As if that wasn’t confusing enough for the average visitor, there used to be a special rule until recently that car rental agents must have been so tired of explaining to tourists: the give-way-to-the-right rule.
So, you’re at a crossing and want to turn left. There’s oncoming traffic that wants to turn right, i.e. go where you want to go. In that situation, you had to give way to them. In New Zealand, the car turning left used to give way to the vehicle turning right. If you want to visualise this even more, imagine what car rental agents used to tell their customers: “Just think of it this way: if the oncoming traffic were able to hit your car on the driver’s side, you have to give way to them.” This is how it was explained to me! If it’s still not clear, watch this video:

10. The longest place name

Taumata... in Hawke's Bay. Photo by ghewgill @ Flickr
Taumata… in Hawke’s Bay. Photo by ghewgill @ Flickr

Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukakapiki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­kitanatahu is the Maori name for a hill near Porangahau in Hawke’s Bay. It is the longest place name found in any English-speaking country, and it is the second longest place-name in the world. The name indicates the hill on which a chief, warrior and explorer by the name of Tamatea, sat and played a lament on his flute to grieve for his brother, who was lost in a battle.

11. The world’s steepest street

Baldwin Street, Dunedin. Photo by Melanie Moran

Baldwin Street, Dunedin. Photo by Melanie Moran

Baldwin Street in Dunedin is the world’s steepest residential street. At its steepest point, the slope is 19°, or 35%. That means the street has a gradient of 1m in 2.86m, or simply: you walk 2.86m horizontally and climb 1m vertically. Baldwin Street is host to a special event during the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival in July every year, when thousands of “Jaffas” (candy) are released at the top of Baldwin Street and bounce their way to the bottom of the street.

Jaffa candy bouncing down Baldwin Street, Dunedin. Photo by Dunedin NZ @ Flickr

Jaffa candy bouncing down Baldwin Street, Dunedin. Photo by Dunedin NZ @ Flickr

12. The world’s southernmost McDonald’s

Sticking with the world record theme for a moment, New Zealand is also home to the world’s southernmost McDonald’s restaurant. It is located in Invercargill, at the very southern end of the South Island.

13. Snowboarding on an active volcano

Mt Ruapehu is a great place to ski on the North Island. That is, when it’s not erupting. The active volcano, neighbouring Mt. Doom (or Ngaruhoe), has some great slopes at its Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields. The last time the mountain erupted was in 2007, and some ski lodges had to be evacuated.

14. Strange rock formations

Some rocks and rock formations in New Zealand are really quite odd, from the Pancake Rocks to the Elephant Rocks and Moeraki Boulders, all of which are located on the South Island.

Pancake Rocks, South Island. Photo by matze79 @ Flickr.

Pancake Rocks, South Island. Photo by matze79 @ Flickr.

Elephant Rocks, Otago, South Island

Elephant Rocks, Otago, South Island

The Moeraki Boulders, South Island

The Moeraki Boulders, South Island

15. The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra has been around since 2005. The orchestra’s players are Age Pryor, Andy Morley-Hall, Bek Coogan, Bret McKenzie (of Flight of the Conchords), Carmel Russell, Daniel Yeabsley, Francis Salole, Gemma Gracewood, Megan Hosking, Nigel Collins, Sam Auger, and Stephen Jessup. They have an interesting repertoire and are playing in Wellington on September 9th, in case you’re there, or follow them on Twitter to get their latest news and gig announcements.

Also, Ukulele seems to be all the rage in New Zealand right now; see this ukulele flash mob in a Palmerston North mall in July 2011.

16. O for Awesome!

You’ll hear this expression when locals express their enthusiasm about something they feel strongly about. It’s an expression that originated on the TV show “Wheel of Fortune” on New Zealand television in the mid 90s. David Tua, a professional heavyweight boxing champion and guest on the show, famously asked for an ” ‘O’ for awesome”. Here’s the moment that went down in New Zealand TV history:


As you see, New Zealand has got some really astonishing sights and very cool quirks. I’d give it an O for awesome any day!

What other New Zealand oddities have you come across?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

More Posts - Twitter - Facebook

  73 comments for “Curious New Zealand: 16 kiwi peculiarities

  1. 26 July, 2011 at 14:23

    Those bull puns are hysterical! I’m a huge fan of puns in any context, so I could really get behind that particular cultural quirk. 🙂

    • Christina
      26 July, 2011 at 17:46

      I love puns and admire anyone who can pull them off.

  2. 26 July, 2011 at 15:58

    O for awesome about this post! What a wealth of fun facts and entertainment. I’m probably a little dense, but not sure I get what happens at “Wedding Assassins”….

    • Christina
      26 July, 2011 at 17:49

      Ah, thank you Cathy! The Wedding Assassins’ photography guarantees a killer wedding!

  3. Lauren
    26 July, 2011 at 16:07

    I’m now really wanting to try hokey pokey icecream, and craving jaffas and pancakes! 😉

    • Christina
      26 July, 2011 at 17:50

      Aw, Lauren, you can have Hokey Pokey next time you go down under. Just hop over the Tasman See and visit a New Zealand dairy 🙂

  4. 26 July, 2011 at 16:22

    These are great! Only knew a handful of them, actually. Glad there wasn’t a quiz at the airport when we left 😉

    • Christina
      26 July, 2011 at 17:52

      Haha, Andrea, how fun would that be! “Let’s see if you’ve immersed yourself in the kiwi culture enough… No? Gotta stay here a litle longer!” I say introduce these forms, and we’ll all fail them on purpose 🙂

  5. 26 July, 2011 at 17:01

    I love reading little-known facts about places! New Zealand is definitely on my list of places I need to get to someday. That poor “O for Awesome” guy!!

    • Christina
      26 July, 2011 at 17:55

      Yes, poor David. He contributed to NZ’s sporting history and also a lot to New Zealand’s culture, although maybe not necessarily in the way he intended. You gotta love the kiwi accent though!

  6. 26 July, 2011 at 17:12

    Hahaha, I didn’t know about Bulls, or the “O for awesome” phenomenon. That’s hilarious.

    Great list! I would love to attend the Jaffa race someday. It’s just so random!

    • Christina
      26 July, 2011 at 17:58

      Thanks, Amanda! I haven’t been to the Jaffa race either. Baldwin Street is so steep, it must be great to see all those Jaffas out of control!

  7. 26 July, 2011 at 17:27

    I was snowboarding on Mt Ruapehu in 1995 when it erupted! Btw, Flat white is a latte with tighter foam. You can also find them in UK and Canada now.

    • Christina
      26 July, 2011 at 18:01

      Oh my, that must have been scary. Knowing that you’re snowboarding on an active volcano is adventure enough, so actually experience the eruption must be quite terrifying. I hope you made it all out safely back then.
      Thanks for clarifying the flat white issue – I’m planning on going to a kiwi / ozzie cafe here in London soon, so i’ll pay attention to that extra tight foam!

  8. 26 July, 2011 at 20:45

    This was a fun read. I’m still laughing about the Hokey Pokey ice-cream, that’s quite the name.

    • Christina
      27 July, 2011 at 04:32

      I know, it’s hilarious. It’s also a sugar bomb. Probably why it’s every kid’s favourite.

  9. 26 July, 2011 at 23:14

    Oh I miss flat whites, it was hard to figure out how to order cafe when I arrived but I hated to part with them.

    • Christina
      27 July, 2011 at 04:33

      I can imagine. Kiwis have quite the coffee culture, and there are cafes in even the smallest villages.

  10. 26 July, 2011 at 23:46

    O for awesome!!! Love it.
    (Although in Australia we did have the oarsome foursome rowing team, so he’s kinda right.)
    Great list. What happens to the jaffas a the bottom of the hill, though? I wouldn’t want to eat one that’s been on the road.

    • Christina
      27 July, 2011 at 04:39

      Thanks, Barbara! The jaffas are all individually numbered. You buy a self-adhesive ticket (the money goes to charity), stick it on the jaffa, and then enter it in the race. The first five to arrive at the bottom of the street win!

  11. 27 July, 2011 at 07:08

    Loved this! A scratch beneath the surfaced!

    • Christina
      27 July, 2011 at 10:20

      Thank you, Robin! It’s all about sharing the cultural immersion 🙂

  12. 27 July, 2011 at 13:01

    O is for awesome is truly awesome! Enjoyed reading this list. I would definitely try Hokey Pokey and maybe dance while eating it 🙂

    • Christina
      28 July, 2011 at 07:30

      Debbie, please do make a video if you get to dance the hokey pokey while eating its ice cream namesake!

  13. 27 July, 2011 at 13:51

    Wow, these were awesome – O for awesome! I learned so much about this! When I was scrolling down, saw the ice cream and thought that would be the interesting thing. Nope! I never knew what Jandals were (so now your blog makes more sense) and that’s a great idea about traffic turning right! Makes perfect sense. That streets looks like a lot of fun! Anyone done any crazy stunts on it and gotten hurt?

    • Christina
      28 July, 2011 at 07:33

      Thank you, Jeremy! Apparently there are a few unicyclists trying some stunts there once in a while, and there’s also the Baldwin Street Gutbuster race every year, with athletes running up the street and then down again, but I bet there are many more shenanigans going on!

  14. 27 July, 2011 at 13:53

    I had my first flat white in London last year. Amazing!! I came back to Ohio, looked up how to make it, and asked my local coffee shop to make them for me.

    • Christina
      28 July, 2011 at 07:34

      Good on ya! Show them how a flat white is made. It’s delicious!

  15. 27 July, 2011 at 19:28

    what! the jaffas down the street is so so awesome! those puns are horribull.
    as an aussie, i knew a few of these. i tried to explain the jandal term to a friend the other day, she wasnt having it.
    but the jaffa thing. so cool.

    • Christina
      28 July, 2011 at 07:36

      Thanks, Jamie. I love the jaffa race, too. Kiwis have such quirky and fun events. I think they’re all very creative folks!

  16. 28 July, 2011 at 06:03

    jajajajja absolute gold!!! Definitely a big O for awesome!! were u at travel massive last night?! shame we never met, are you kiwi as well?

  17. 28 July, 2011 at 07:45

    Oh, I miss flat whites. And Hokey Pokey ice cream. And chocolate fish.

    • Christina
      29 July, 2011 at 04:50

      Kiwi delicious-ness 🙂

  18. 29 July, 2011 at 02:43

    Are you Kiwis trying to steal our flat whites now?? Geez, first lamingtons, then Russel Crowe 🙂 he he he.

    Great to learn more about our friendly neighbours. Hoping to get over there soon to experience it for myself. I’ve tried Hokey Pokey before but wasn’t a fan. will try it again

    • Christina
      29 July, 2011 at 04:53

      I don’t think the kiwis want to steal the flat whites. They’ve always had them 😀 Hokey Pokey is a sugar bomb, I won’t hold it against you if you’re not a big fan. It’s best enjoyed with some cake on the side…

      Glad you liked the cultural immersion programme, Caz!

  19. 29 July, 2011 at 20:03

    I love this stuff! Some of it I knew and some I didn’t. That photo of the candies on Baldwin Street is awesome, I wish I could have been there for that!

    • Christina
      30 July, 2011 at 11:24

      Thanks, Annie! The Jaffa race in Dunedin is so cool, it just took place a few days ago. They raised a lot of money for charity, too.

  20. 30 July, 2011 at 11:40

    Love this one Christina. I do have a question though on the hokey pokey photo- do those ice cream cones exist in New Zealand? They look so avant garde!

    • Christina
      30 July, 2011 at 12:53

      Thank you, Grace! I believe the “cone” are just runaway toffee bits from the hokey pokey ice cream posing as a cone. Never seen cones like that in NZ!

  21. 30 July, 2011 at 12:09

    Fun post! Great job Christina — this one had me smiling!

    • Christina
      30 July, 2011 at 12:54

      Glad it made you smile, Raymond! I had fun writing them all down.

  22. 31 July, 2011 at 02:44

    I have visited twice, so I loved reading this list. I had forgotten all about Hokey Pokey!

    • Christina
      31 July, 2011 at 21:41

      Ah, I’m glad you enjoyed reading the list and for bringing Hokey Pokey back to mind. It is a cultural institution 🙂

  23. 31 July, 2011 at 17:33

    What an awesome post! I love all the quirkiness. I would love to try Hokey Pokey. There’s a street in my hometown that claims to be the steepest in the world. It’s a controversy! But they don’t do anything as fun as a candy roll.

    • Christina
      31 July, 2011 at 21:43

      Thanks so much, Scott! Canton Street looks very steep, thanks for sharing that link. But, it doesn’t really count unless they have their own quirky festival 😉

  24. 7 August, 2011 at 07:43

    Haha, O for Awesome 🙂 Knew most of the other ones. Drove through the town of Bull when I was there, was great to see so many bull paintings and symbols everywhere. Do think that traffic rule is bit stupid to be honest, move tourist don’t know about it until they get in a near collision and find out about it.

    • Christina
      12 August, 2011 at 16:54

      Thanks Tijmen. You’re right, the traffic rule is quite peculiar and really hard to get your head around when it seems so counterintuitive after years and years of driving with a rule that tells you the exact opposite.

  25. 12 August, 2011 at 00:02

    These were all new to me, except the Moeraki Boulders. I love the jaffa candy bouncing down the street, that’s cool. I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand.

    • Christina
      12 August, 2011 at 16:55

      I’m glad you found the post informative. The O for Awesome and the jaffas seem to be readers’ favourites! Perhaps you’ll visit Dunedin one day during the chocolate carnival!

  26. 23 August, 2011 at 05:04

    New Zealand is near the top of my “I wanna go there!” list, and this list definitely makes that worse. I haven’t heard of most of these, this is an awesome list, thanks! The kiwi bird looks so cute. And I had totally heard people say “Godzone” before, and had no idea what it was about! Good to know!

    • Christina
      17 December, 2011 at 16:48

      Thanks, Faith! Glad I listed a few you didn’t know before!

  27. Jessica
    12 September, 2011 at 04:05

    Jeremy, Yes someone was killed while riding a wheelie bin down the road.
    Stupid stuff the students get up to here.

    • Christina
      17 December, 2011 at 16:49

      That’s horrible. People should stick with the jaffas if you ask me.

  28. 25 October, 2011 at 23:36

    Glad we found this blog as we’re prepping for New Zealand in January. I feel like I can hang with the local kiwis after learning all this lingo! Can’t wait to try some hokey pokey as well. Sad we only have a month to spend here.

    • Christina
      17 December, 2011 at 16:51

      Thanks Gerard! One month will give you enough time to see the most fabulous things! Anything less would be a stretch. Enjoy your trip, and hope to hear about it!

  29. 11 December, 2011 at 22:53

    I miss the Hokey Pokey Icecream it was so good!

    • Christina
      17 December, 2011 at 16:51

      So do I. Sugary goodness. Pure vanilla is just so boring now.

  30. 17 December, 2011 at 16:27

    Reading your list, Christina, is killing me … softly … and in a good way.

    For the time being, #9 is a highlight – if opposing car has any chance of hitting you, DON’T LET IT.

    I totally dig #10, as I might’ve thought Welsh names would be high in the running, too.

    • Christina
      17 December, 2011 at 16:55

      Haha, so my posts are killing people now… dangerous! I’m glad you’re enjoying it, and do let me know if you manage to tick them all off your list when you get to NZ in the new year. I’d love to see a little video of someone randomly saying o for awesome.

  31. 3 January, 2012 at 10:31

    I’m glad I could tick most of them out of the list :). I really should share this 16 kiwi peculiarities with my travel mates and that’s more than enough reason to head back down to New Zealand all over again 🙂

    • Christina
      4 December, 2012 at 22:53

      Well I sure hope you do (share and travel to NZ again)!

  32. 4 December, 2012 at 21:17

    Great post! New Zealand certainly has some unique ideas about things!

    • Christina
      4 December, 2012 at 22:53

      Thanks Spencer! Unique is the word. 🙂

  33. Martin Reid
    24 December, 2012 at 08:27

    How about L&P (Lemon and Paeroa)? Sweet as!!!

    • Christina
      27 December, 2012 at 16:39

      I should really add L&P to the list! Thanks, Martin!

  34. jun
    8 April, 2013 at 07:44

    I am planning my trip to new zealand! that’s all very useful information! thanks for sharing them=)

    • Christina
      8 April, 2013 at 19:29

      Thanks Jun! Glad it’s all useful. Let me know if you have any questions. Plenty more NZ articles on here and to come 😀 Enjoy your trip!

  35. 9 April, 2013 at 10:04

    It is all of these quirky things that I absolutely love about NZ 🙂 They give way rule has since been changed, to match the rest of world now.

    • Christina
      10 April, 2013 at 23:06

      Me too. It is a quirky country and I love it. 😀

  36. Me
    11 June, 2013 at 01:00

    Kiwi icecream takes out top honours full stop. Pick whatever flavour you prefer (hokey pokey is not everyone’s fav)NZ icecream is creamier and more delicious than any I have tasted around the world. I think it’s our fantastic milk!

    • Christina
      24 June, 2013 at 20:55

      That’s a big call! I certainly loved the hokey pokey and the ice cream at Patagonia Chocolates. Defo made with NZ milk 🙂

  37. 25 June, 2013 at 10:57

    Love it! great post Christina 🙂

    • Christina
      26 June, 2013 at 21:59

      Thanks Aga!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: