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Five Famous New Zealanders

Five Famous New Zealanders

Our list of famous Kiwis includes mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, rugby star Jonah Lomu, current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, scientist Sir Ernest Rutherford and opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Sir Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) was, along with Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay, the first person to climb Mount Everest in 1953. During his career as an adventurer, Hillary reached both the North and South poles as well as climbing several other peaks around the world. He dedicated his later life to the Himalayan Trust, helping to build schools and hospitals in Nepal. A statue of Hillary at New Zealand's highest mountain, Mount Cook/Mt Aoraki captures him gazing towards the summit of the mountain. His death was marked with a state funeral.

Jonah Lomu

There have been many famous All Blacks, but Jonah Lomu (1975-2015) probably captured a wider audience than most. His sensational displays on the wing at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa catapulted Lomu to world fame just as the game was turning professional. Tragically Lomu was to die aged only 40 after suffering from a serious kidney ailment.

Ardern with US President Donald Trump
Ardern with US President Donald Trump in 2019

Jacinda Ardern

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (born 1980) is probably the most famous Kiwi of the 21st century. Ardern was the country's third female PM after Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark. Born in Hamilton, Ardern worked in the office of Helen Clark as a researcher in her youth. Blessed with the common touch, she is a progressive and republican, hoping to see New Zealand sever its links with the British monarchy during her lifetime. Ardern resigned from her position in 2023 citing the pressure and stress of the job, saying she "no longer had enough in the tank".

A statue of a young Ernest Rutherford at his memorial in Brightwater, New Zealand
A statue of a young Ernest Rutherford at his memorial in Brightwater, New Zealand

Sir Ernest Rutherford

Nobel prize-winning scientist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) was born in New Zealand and lived here until age 24, but then spent much of his life in the UK at both Manchester and Cambridge universities. He is known as the "father of nuclear physics" for his pioneering work on the nature of the atom. He is buried in Westminster Abbey in London near the grave of Sir Isaac Newton.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

Opera star Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (1944-) was adopted at birth and is of Maori descent. A soprano, she trained in London before embarking on a successful singing career that took her around the world. She famously sang Handel's Let the bright Seraphim at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Her Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation supports young New Zealand singers and musicians.


Famous Expatriate New Zealanders

Books about New Zealand

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