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New Zealand Is Not Australia

New Zealand Is Not Australia

The Japanese and Koreans, or the French and English, get most indignant if mistaken for the other. Canadians abroad are pretty much resigned to being taken for Americans. And New Zealanders regularly bear the cross of being identified as Australians.

New Zealand flag (top) and Australian flag (bottom) - similar but different.
New Zealand & Australian flags

This is in spite of Australia and New Zealand being about 9 times further apart than Japan and Korea, over 50 times further apart than Great Britain and France, and infinitely further apart than the US and Canada. (Measuring the closest point between mainlands.)

At their closest points, New Zealand and Australia are about 1,650 km (1,025 miles) apart. That's almost the distance from New York to Miami, and the distance from London to the Bay of Algiers.


Yet, granted, put a Kiwi and an Ozzie together, and there are numerous similarities. They both speak the same language with accents that other English speakers find hard to distinguish. Most of the populations are originally from Britain. Both countries were British colonies, New Zealand was administered from Australia for a time back in the 19th century, the flags look similar, they drive on the left, they fought as one in both world wars, and both countries still share the same monarch.

But, as any self-respecting New Zealander or Australian will tell you, the differences are far greater than the similarities.


Australia is a largely flat, mostly tropical, continent with vast swathes of desert, and the sixth-largest country in the world. New Zealand is about 29 times smaller than Australia, and comprises lush, very mountainous islands, with a temperate climate.

New Zealand's annual average rainfall is a hefty 1,380 mm, compared to Australia's scanty 419 mm.


New Zealand is one of the few, if only, territories in the world that has almost no native terrestrial mammals—just a few species of bat. Australia, on the other hand, has 379 recorded species of native mammal, among them the famous kangaroo and koala. That's not to say you won't find non-human mammals in today's New Zealand—sheep being the most conspicuous.

And, of New Zealand's native terrestrial organisms, the only one that is venomous is the katipo spider. No other New Zealand creature, native or introduced, poses any threat to humans. New Zealand has native reptiles in the form of lizards, but no snakes whatsoever. Australia, on the other hand, has 20 of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world, and is home to the fearsome saltwater crocodile.


New Zealand has far fewer people than Australia. New Zealand's population is about 5 million people compared to Australia's 25 million.

The human history of New Zealand is much shorter than that of Australia. The Maori were the first humans to live in New Zealand, and estimated to have arrived there in about the 13th century A.D. However, the Australian Aborigines are estimated to to have arrived in Australia about 50,000 years ago.

The first European to sight New Zealand did so in 1642. The first European to actually set foot in New Zealand did so in 1769. However, Europeans had not only sighted Australia but actually landed there 163 years before, in 1606.

New Zealand is more ethnically diverse than Australia. About 64% of New Zealand's population is of European origin, while it is estimated that at least 85% of Australia's population is of European origin. In New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, those of European ancestry make up only about 43% of the city's population, the next biggest group being those of Asian birth or ancestry, at about 29%.


Politically, New Zealand is somewhat more liberal than Australia. For example, the last execution to take place in New Zealand was in 1957, whereas it would take another ten years for Australia to end the death penalty.

New Zealand women have been able to vote in parliamentary elections since 1893. Australian women would have to wait almost a decade before they were granted the same rights federally, in 1902.

New Zealand Maori men were able to vote from 1867 (although Maori women, like all women in New Zealand, had to wait until 1893). However, Aboriginal Australians had to wait almost another century before they could vote, in 1962.


New Zealand decriminalized consensual sex between men in 1986. It would take another 11 years before decriminalization happened right throughout Australia, in 1997.

Same-sex partners in New Zealand were able to marry in 2013. Australians had to wait another 4 years, in 2017.


New Zealanders are less religious than Australians, with almost half of all New Zealanders stating they had no religion (in 2018) compared with about one-third of Australians saying they had no religion (in 2016).


Finally, getting away from bare statistics, Kiwis and Aussies like to stereotype each other in ways that accentuate the differences between them. Australians are often stereotyped by New Zealanders as being brash, showy, or too "faux-Hollywood" for down-to-earth New Zealand tastes. On the other hand, Australians like to tease New Zealanders for what they perceive as country bumpkin characteristics: reticence, boringness, and being generally behind the times. Like all stereotypes, they are completely anecdotal but broadly reflect different held and perceived identities.

So, enjoy New Zealand, its lush, rugged, often cloudy landscapes, its relatively small size that makes it easy to drive around, its diverse population, and its wilderness free of scary critters—because you'll miss them all if you cross the Tasman Sea!

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