Unusual Customs of New Zealand

Unusual New Zealand customs that will have you smiling when there!

They say that a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and souls of its people. New Zealand proves this in ample measure. For a small country, it sure packs a punch when it comes to displaying the most unique cultural customs. An amalgamation of European-based and Māori culture, New Zealand is a potpourri of compelling traditions. Here are some you’ll notice whilst travelling.

Yeah Nah Mate: a local term often used when they appreciate the offer but won’t accept it

The Hangi: a traditional cooking method involving fire, stones and a pit

The Hongi: the traditional Māori greeting of pressing noses and foreheads together

The Haka: a Māori war dance to commemorate victory

Love for drinking: alcohol holds special significance down under

Bare feet: New Zealanders love walking barefoot, especially in summer

Sharing food: sharing is caring here, when it comes to food

A positive attitude: no matter how bad the situation, “it’ll all be alright” in New Zealand

Keeping it private: talking about anything under the sun is fine, but don’t get too personal

Passion for sport: All Blacks is not a rugby team here, it’s almost a religion

Yeah Nah Mate

New Zealanders are friendly people and you’ll have no difficulty befriending them. They hate turning down anyone’s request, not if it can be helped. But here’s the thing…they also have this very confusing term that they use very often - ‘yeah nah mate’. So, for example, you offer someone a cup of coffee and they reply with a vague ‘yeah nah thanks’ which basically means that though they appreciate the offer, they’re fine without the coffee. It could also mean ‘kind of’ for something that they aren’t too sure of – for example, ‘is it raining outside?’ may get you a ‘yeah nah mate’.

The Hangi

This is a form of traditional cooking in New Zealand that you must definitely watch and try when you head to its shores for the first time. Basically, it’s a big pit that is filled with stones and then heated up by a large fire. Once the fire dies down and the stones are scorching hot, the meat or fish or root vegetables called kumera are placed into the earth oven, wrapped in leaves or sacks or flax mats. Mud is used to cover the food up, so that the heat is retained long enough to cook the food. The food may take anywhere between three to seven hours to cook, during which people gather around for a drink or a chat or even a game of cricket. Such a great way to spend the day, a unique Kiwi experience indeed!

The Hongi


Don’t make the mistake of confusing this with the hangi. The hongi is a personal greeting saved for special occasions. Two people are required to press noses and foreheads together – it symbolises the passing of the breath of life (te ha in Māori). Hongi is common when welcoming visitors onto Māori grounds, so next time you venture there, keep an eye out for it.

The Haka

If you’ve watched rugby matches in New Zealand, you probably know about this. The haka is a traditional Māori war dance, that has been immortalised by New Zealand’s All Blacks team. Traditionally performed to induce fear and declare the Māori warrior strength, it’s now used more before matches to create a sense of unity and cheer for the team.

Love for drinking

Auckland Night

You must realise that alcohol is a big part of New Zealand’s culture. The locals attach a lot of significance to the simple act of having a beer with a friend or colleague. Having said that, there is no judgment passed on you, if you’re a teetotaller. However, do remember that even if you are, Kiwis and alcohol are inseparable. So, if you’re invited to dinner or a barbecue party, it is common courtesy to carry a bottle of wine with you.

Bare feet

This can actually be quite endearing or odd, depending on how you see it. Did you know that the Kiwis don’t really like wearing footwear, especially in summer, when you’ll see many of them wandering about barefoot, even in cities like Wellington? Goes to prove why New Zealand is the nation of the hobbits.

Sharing food

Who doesn’t love this custom? In New Zealand, sharing food is what brings them together. Be it a barbecue or a hangi, a packet of hot chips or freshly caught crayfish, sharing is caring in New Zealand. So, remember, if you’re invited to dinner, you’re expected to bring a little something – maybe a dessert. If you’re specifically asked to ‘bring a plate’ it means that everyone invited to lunch is going to bring some food to share. So, take along some potato salad or fresh fish or whatever else you fancy.

A positive attitude

This is possibly the most striking feature about the New Zealanders. They are famously optimistic, even when the going gets tough. Even in the worst of situations, they’ll be assuring and say something like ‘it’ll be alright, mate’ or ‘no worries, mate’. Such is their positive energy that you can’t help but smile and believe it’s all going to be good.

Keeping it private

Te Puia

While the New Zealanders are a friendly bunch, you must know that they are also quite private when it comes to their personal life. So if you’re sitting with a bunch of them at a cafe or a bar, they’ll be wonderful to chat with – so go ahead and expect animated conversations when you ask for travel tips and weather predictions, best places to watch the games and history of a particular area – but don’t ask questions about marriage or kids, house, car or income. That’s not seen as good manners, at all.

Passion for sport

Te Puia

When your little country is home to the most successful sports franchise, you cultivate an almost-fanatical love for sports. The All Blacks, a rugby team that’s been victorious over the past 100+ years, is a cornerstone to New Zealand’s national identity. So if you’re visiting a Kiwi sports pub or bar, make sure you read up a little bit on rugby trivia. Conversation is likely to be interesting; we assure you.

New Zealand, as you can see, is a country that is as unique as it is beautiful. To truly appreciate it, you need to travel and live amongst them, imbibing their culture.

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