How Much Do You Know About the History of New Zealand?


By: Laura DeFazio

7 Min Quiz

Image: Matteo Colombo/Moment/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Located in the Pacific Ocean southwest of the Polynesian Islands and southeast of Australia, New Zealand is one of the most fascinating and beautiful countries in the world. (So beautiful, in fact, that one of the great blockbuster epics was filmed in its entirety there, but you'll have to take the quiz to find out which one.) New Zealand is home to the Maori, a culture quite unlike any other whose traditions and history you can learn more about as you scroll down and start to answer questions. 

Although the islands that comprise New Zealand don't have a very long human history compared to other regions of the world, that history is chock full of notable happenings. Things kicked off with an epic voyage across the ocean undertaken by the country's original settlers, followed by a bustling colonial history full of alternating bouts of conflict and peacemaking. In modern times, New Zealanders have made significant contributions to science, entertainment, sports, social justice and all other areas of human achievement. 

So, start testing your knowledge! See if you can name New Zealand's capital, its current head of state, the currency used and more! Test your knowledge of Maori culture. You'll be thinking like a kiwi by the time you're through... and you might just be tempted to buy a plane ticket as well.

As a fairly small island nation, New Zealand has to import many products from elsewhere. Can you name its principle import?

Petroleum and petroleum products are New Zealand's primary imports. As of 2011, most of them came from Australia (19 percent), followed by China (15 percent). Other major imports include machinery, vehicles, plastics and electronics.


New Zealand was once a territory of this colonial power:

Britain's Colony of New Zealand existed from 1841 to 1907. New Zealand was granted the right to govern itself in 1852. The country doesn't have an "Independence Day" to celebrate, as independence came about in small steps.


Do you know which currency is used in New Zealand?

Before 1967, the currency was the New Zealand pound, but once it was decimalized (divided into 100 cents), it became the New Zealand dollar. In local slang, it's called "the kiwi."


Sir Edmund Hillary is one of the most famous New Zealanders. Do you know what he was best known for?

Sir Edmund Hillary, a beekeeper and philanthropist, became known around the world when he and Tenzing Norgay (his Sherpa guide) became the first people to scale Mount Everest in 1953. Afterward, Hillary devoted much of his life to improving health and education programs for Nepal's Sherpa people.


Which box office hit began filming in New Zealand in 1999?

The Fellowship of the Ring (as well as the rest of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) was filmed entirely in New Zealand. The Shire was located in the bucolic dairy farmlands around the town of Matamata, and the Elvin city of Rivendell was in Wellington's Kaitoke National Park.


New Zealand was ahead of the curve in a lot of ways. Which of these did it offer, funded by national taxation, before any other country?

Germany offered a contributory pension before New Zealand did, but New Zealand's was the first funded by general taxation. It was implemented under liberal Prime Minister Richard Seddon and granted to elderly persons deemed to have good character.


In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to...

New Zealand's women were granted the right to vote in 1893, whereas the U.S.'s women weren't granted that right until 1920. It wasn't until 2011 that Saudi Arabia finally allowed its women to vote.


Who is the official head of state in New Zealand?

Although New Zealand is almost completely independent from Britain, it is technically a constitutional monarchy and still retains Queen Elizabeth as its official head of state. She acts on the counsel of New Zealand's governing bodies.


Can you name New Zealand's current Prime Minister?

Jacinda Ardern of the Labour Party took office in 2017 at age 37, becoming New Zealand's youngest leader in 150 years. She is New Zealand's third female Prime Minister and has been praised for taking action against racism, sexism, homophobia and violence.


In March of 2019, a tragic mass shooting took place in Christchurch, New Zealand. Do you know where, specifically, the violence began?

Two attacks took place in Christchurch on March 15th, 2019, the first at the Al Noor Mosque and the second at the Linwood Islamic Centre. 51 people in total were killed, making this the deadliest act of terrorism in modern New Zealand history.


The New Zealand Wars took place between 1845 and 1872. Can you name the principal combatants?

Various small conflicts sprung up locally over land purchases and eventually escalated into a nationwide conflict in which various Māori peoples and their allies fought against the colonial government and British imperial forces (with some Māori allies). The British/colonial forces came out on top.


The New Zealand Wars occurred between 1845 and 1872. Do you know which of the following was not one of its major conflicts?

The Battle of Manners street was a riot and that took place in Wellington, New Zealand in 1943 during World War II. Brawls broke out between New Zealand servicemen and American servicemen stationed there when some Americans became angry that Māori soldiers were permitted to use the military social club alongside Caucasians.


In Māori culture, what is Ta Moko?

Ta Moko tattoos appear on various parts of the body, but especially the face and head, as those are considered the most sacred parts of the body. They are inscribed with chisels rather than punctures, which leaves the skin grooved rather than smooth.


The 1981 Springbok rugby tour in New Zealand was extremely controversial. Do you know why?

Although South African team Springbok was considered New Zealand's principle rival, South Africa still upheld the severely racially segregated system known as apartheid in 1981. Springbok's New Zealand tour sparked many protests, and afterward, the two countries did not engage in sporting competitions until after apartheid ended in 1994.


Rugby is wildly popular in New Zealand. Do you know when the first official match took place?

The first rugby match took place on May 14th, 1870 between the Nelson Football Club and a team from Nelson College. It was introduced by Charles Monro, who had played in England while he was studying there.


Can you name the famous New Zealander who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1908?

Following the discovery of radioactivity in 1896, Ernest Rutherford made several important discoveries, including the existence of alpha and beta radiation. In 1902, he and Frederick Soddey put out the groundbreaking theory that elements could break down and be transformed into other elements.


Where does the name "New Zealand" come from?

The first European to sight New Zealand was a Dutch explorer, and it went down on Dutch maps as "Nova Zeelandia," which was later anglicized. Zeeland is a province in the Netherlands that translates roughly to "Sealand".


In Māori culture, what is the poi?

Poi is a type of dance and performing art that involves swinging weights on tethers, also called poi. These were traditionally made by tying a ball of raupo (a type of plant) to a rope made of flax, but now can be constructed of various materials, including fire. Some performances feature extensive choreography; others are done by solo artists.


What is currently New Zealand's top export?

Dairy, eggs and honey make up about 26.5 percent of the country's exports. Meat is second, at 13.5 percent. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, wood and paper products are all significant exports as well.


Which New Zealander topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart with her debut single "Royals" in 2013?

Born Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor, Lorde was only 16 years old when she released "Royals" in 2013, making her the youngest number one solo artist the U.S. charts had seen in 26 years. She grew up in Devonport, a seaside suburb inside the city of Auckland, New Zealand.


In 1931, a devastating natural disaster killed over 250 people in New Zealand. Do you know what it was?

Also called the Napier Earthquake, the Hawke's Bay Earthquake occurred on February 3, 1931, centered about 15km north of the city of Napier. With a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale and lasting two-and-a-half minutes, it killed hundreds, injured thousands and leveled countless buildings in Napier and nearby Hastings.


Aotearoa is the contemporary Māori name for New Zealand. What is this usually translated to?

"Land of the Long White Cloud" refers to the clouds that helped Polynesian explorers discover the land mass. Originally, it only referred to North Island, but since the late 1800s, it's referred to the country as a whole.


Can you name New Zealand's capital?

Found on the southwestern tip of New Zealand's North Island, Wellington is the second most populated urban area in the country. (Auckland is the first.) It takes its name from Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington and two-time Prime Minister of Britain in the 19th century. The city is known for its postcard-perfect scenery, high windspeeds and was once dubbed "the coolest little capital in the world."


New Zealanders are often affectionately nicknamed "kiwis." Do you know what the term refers to?

The kiwi bird (Latin name: Apteryx, or "wingless") is a ratite, a classification of mostly large, predominantly-flightless birds that also includes ostriches and emus. The kiwi, which is about the size of a chicken, is much smaller and shorter-legged than most of its relatives.


What was New Zealander Neil Finn famous for?

Finn founded the wildly popular New Zealand rock band Crowded House, and they saw worldwide success in the '80s and '90s. They sold over ten million albums worldwide.


Te Ruki Kawiti and Hōne Heke Pōkai led Māori forces in which conflict of the New Zealand Wars?

Also known as the Flagstaff War, the Northern War took place in the far north of the country near the Bay of Islands between March of 1845 and January of 1846 between British New Zealanders and Māori peoples who felt that the crown had overstepped its recognized rights.


Do you know many islands make up New Zealand?

It's hard to count 'em all, but 600 is the going estimate. Of these, South Island and North Island make up the vast majority of the country's area (103,733 square miles), at about 56 percent and about 42 percent respectively. The next largest is Stewart Island at just 0.6 percent.


When Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand, he was the second European to do so. How much time had elapsed since his predecessor?

Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand in 1769, long after the island was first put on European maps in 1642. It would be the first of Cook's three voyages to that region of the Pacific.


In Māori culture, what is the hangi?

The hangi refers to a type of oven and cooking methodology used by the Māori people, whereupon food is cooked using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. When speaking, be careful not to confuse this with the hongi, which is another important aspect of Maori culture!


"Iwi" is a Māori word that translates to "tribe" or "confederation of tribes." Can you name New Zealand's largest iwi?

In the 2013 census, 125,601 New Zealand Māori identified with this iwi. Ngāti Porou is the second most populous iwi at 71,049 people. At the time of the census, one in seven people living in New Zealand were of Māori ethnicity.


Europeans didn't reach New Zealand until 1642. Can you name the first European to discover the island?

Abel Tasman was a Dutch explorer who came upon New Zealand while in the service of the Dutch East India Company. He is also credited as the first European to sight Tasmania, Tonga and the Fiji Islands.


In 1840, over 500 Māori chiefs signed a treaty with the British Crown. What was the treaty's name?

The treaty was signed five years after the Māori declared independence from the British. It was intended to form a foundation of partnership between the two groups coexisting on the island. The signing of the treaty was a monumental moment in New Zealand's history, although there has been much controversy and debate over the years about how well its spirit has been upheld and how well the Māori have fared in this partnership.


In Māori culture, what is the hongi?

The hongi is a traditional and symbolic Māori greeting whereupon two people press their noses and foreheads together and exchange a symbolic "ha." This translates roughly to "breath of life." This can occur between Māori and non-Māori people. U.S. President Obama and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shared a hongi when Obama visited New Zealand in 2018.


According to many Māori traditions, who was the legendary navigator who first reached New Zealand from Polynesia?

Kupe is a legendary figure in the oral histories of many Māori iwi (tribes). Many have him arriving with the wave of Polynesians that is generally accepted to have first settled New Zealand between 1200 and 1300 AD, but some say he found New Zealand several centuries earlier.


It's estimated that New Zealand was first discovered and settled between 1200 and 1300 AD. Do you know by whom?

The Māori are a Polynesian people that arrived in New Zealand in the 13th century. The traveled via waka hourua ("traveling canoe") from Hawaiki, the ancestral Māori homeland that isn't on modern maps, but historians usually identify as Tahiti.


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