New Zealand creativity: An introduction

New Zealand’s art and culture draw from many different ethnic influences, producing an intriguing blend of Māori, European, Asian and Pacific themes.

New Zealand artists

The New Zealand art scene reflects the country's interesting mix of influences. While some of our most valuable paintings are Māori portraits painted by Charles Goldie in the 19th century, many people consider the contemporary painter Colin McCahon – whose work features words, Christian iconography and Māori language and myth – to be New Zealand’s greatest artist.

A number of art galleries feature the work of Charles Goldie, Colin McCahon and other well-known New Zealand artists such as Ralph Hotere, Grahame Sydney and Rita Angus.

New Zealand writers

The international stature of New Zealand literature was recognised by its role as guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2012.

Many New Zealand writers fuse Māori culture and legend into works written in English. Keri Hulme won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1985 for her ground-breaking novel The Bone People.

Other writers to combine the two cultures and create distinctly New Zealand literature include Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera and Hone Tuwhare. Alan Duff is best known for his book Once Were Warriors and its sequel, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?, both made into films.

Lloyd Jones’ Booker Prize-nominated novel Mr Pip was adapted for the screen in 2013 by Kiwi-born Andrew Adamson. The same year, Eleanor Catton's novel The Luminaries was awarded the Man Booker Prize. Other New Zealand writers achieving international prominence are Elizabeth Knox, Emily Perkins and Nalini Singh.

New Zealand also has a proud tradition of writing for children and young readers, with books by authors such as Margaret Mahy and Joy Cowley enjoyed around the world.

Welcome to Middle-earth

The local film industry has gained in international stature following the success of Hollywood’s most expensive production, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, filmed in New Zealand. The films won a total of 17 Academy Awards and were followed up by a series of epic fantasy adventures: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).

The landscape featured in these films has boosted New Zealand’s international profile as a destination. Although most of the sets have been dismantled and locations returned to their original condition, visitors can still discover Middle-earth through the Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook written by Tolkien enthusiast Ian Brodie, which helps visitors to pinpoint filming locations, including many within national parks and conservation areas.

Visitors can also take guided tours of other Lord of the Rings and Hobbit locations, such as the Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata. Other recognisable film locations include Woodhill Forest in Auckland, Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel, Flock Hill Station in Canterbury and Elephant Rocks near Duntroon.

Māori filmmakers

Māori filmmakers are also making their mark in the movie world. Whale Rider, based on a novel by Witi Ihimaera, stunned audiences at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival and was honoured with the People’s Choice award. The film portrays life in a small Māori community, and features a cultural performance by Mai Tawhiti, a kapa haka (performing arts) group. Whale Rider was filmed on location in a small village near Gisborne in the Eastland region, which is the first place in the world to see the sunrise each day.

In 2010, Boy won a raft of international awards for Taika Waititi’s fresh and funny take on contemporary family life on the East Coast. His most recent film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016 and has attracted widespread acclaim.

Other movie landmarks

Other landmarks on the New Zealand movie scene include Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993), which won several Academy Awards for its powerful depiction of New Zealand’s natural, historic and personal landscapes.

Peter Jackson’s remake of the movie King Kong (2005) and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), based on the Narnia book series by C.S. Lewis, were all filmed in New Zealand.

New Zealand music

New Zealand music is also drawing global attention. Among the performers making sound waves internationally are Lorde, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Broods, Brooke Fraser, Ladyhawke, Kimbra, Phoenix Foundation, Aaradhna, Ladi Six and Shihad.

New Zealand comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, a cult favourite in the United States thanks to their HBO television show, won a grammy award for Best Comedy Album for their EP The Distant Future.

Moana Maniapoto and her group The Tribe have established a strong reputation overseas for acoustic Māori music.

New Zealand opera singers Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Dame Malvina Major both have international careers, as does Neil Finn, the founder of pop group Crowded House. Singer Hayley Westenra made history when, as a teenager, her album Pure became the fastest-selling debut classical album of all time.

Forefront of Kiwi fashion

Designers from throughout New Zealand have claimed their place at the forefront of the fashion world. Karen Walker, Zambesi, World and Nom-D have all been showcased at Australian Fashion Week and London Fashion Week, and their labels are sold in high-end fashion precincts around the world.

This success has helped New Zealand Fashion Week establish itself on the international calendar. Local textiles are used by New Zealand designers including Trelise Cooper, Kate Sylvester and Kathryn Wilson. The merino wool and possum fur creations of the Untouched World label have become a success both here and overseas, along with the merino garments produced by outdoor label Icebreaker and the hand-crafted handbags, wallets and accessories by the Deadly Ponies brand.

Local and international designer fashions are featured in the high street boutiques of New Zealand's major towns and cities, and in upmarket Auckland shopping precincts such as Britomart and Newmarket.

Contemporary New Zealand culture

Located on the Wellington waterfront, New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa Tongarewa (translation: repository of treasures) is a celebration of New Zealand’s identity – its people, its culture and its environment. Playful, imaginative, interactive and bold, Te Papa is quintessentially Kiwi with its high-tech, family-focused and fun-filled displays and activities.

The international calendar has no other show quite like the World of WearableArt (WOW), where fashion, design and artistic licence fuse into a spectacular pageant of wearable sculptures. WOW is held in Wellington across two weeks of sold-out performances.

Live theatre and dance have always flourished, and local performances have a uniquely Kiwi flavour. Live music thrives in smaller locales as well as the main centres, and performers pride themselves on taking their art to all corners of the country.

More information:

New Zealand overview

New Zealand's South Island

New Zealand's North Island

New Zealand cuisine

New Zealand events

New Zealand indulgence

New Zealand nature

New Zealand outdoors

New Zealand people

New Zealand sport

New Zealand wine

Visiting New Zealand - Information