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Famous Expatriate New Zealanders

Famous Expatriate New Zealanders

New Zealanders live on one of the world's most isolated archipelagos. The country's remoteness required that those settling it engage in great feats of migration. The Maori who settled the country in about the 14th century spent weeks or months on canoes, steering by the stars. The British, who first set sight on New Zealand about three centuries later, did much the same, but in sailing ships. This article looks at five famous New Zealanders through the years who ended up living overseas. Here they are in order of when they were born.

Rachel Hunter, a famous expatriate New Zealander.
Rachel Hunter, a famous expatriate New Zealander

Furthermore, many of the first British and Chinese settlers in the nineteenth century did not stay here, but came only to find their fortune, and returned, meaning that, even in the era of sea travel, remoteness was not enough to make migrants stay.

New Zealand, an isolated archipelago.
New Zealand, an isolated archipelago

Fast-forward to the mid-20th century, when the advent of air travel drastically reduced New Zealand's physical isolation. The urge to know what was happening in what was for most New Zealanders the far-distant "homeland" of Great Britain and the rest of the world was given wings. 

Cheaper airfares from about the 1970s onward, meant travel and relocation was no longer the preserve of the privileged or particularly adventurous few. New Zealanders began traveling and settling overseas in ever greater numbers.

Turn the clock further forward, to today, and there are an estimated 60,000 to 150,000 New Zealanders living in the UK, about 500,000 in Australia, and at least 50,000 living in other countries.

Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford, a famous expatriate New Zealander
Ernest Rutherford, a famous expatriate New Zealander

Ernest Rutherford, AKA the Father of Nuclear Physics, was born in what is now Brightwater, New Zealand, in 1871. At age 24, he won a scholarship to study physics at Cambridge University in the UK. From then on, his life was spent between mainly Canada and the UK. Rutherford's early work resulted in his identifying protons and electrons, and the fact that radioactive energy, or radioactivity, was emitted from within atoms. Also, in proving that most of an atom's mass was in its nucleus, he set the stage for the modern atomic model. In 1908, at age 37, Rutherford was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Rutherford died in Cambridge, U.K., at age 66, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield, a famous expatriate New Zealander.
Katherine Mansfield, a famous expatriate New Zealander.

Katherine Mansfield is one of New Zealand's most famous writers. Born in Wellington in 1888, she left for the UK at the age of just 15 to continue her schooling there. She returned to New Zealand once her schooling was done, but quickly tired of it, not feeling at home there, and headed back to Britain at age 19. She spent the rest of her short life based in Britain, with frequent sojourns in Europe, mainly seeking cures for the pulmonary tuberculosis she was diagnosed with at age 29. Mansfield's works of mainly short stories and poetry are important works of literary modernism and have been translated into dozens of languages. She died and was buried in France at age 34.

Peter Snell

Peter Snell, a famous expatriate New Zealander.
Peter Snell, a famous expatriate New Zealander

Peter Snell was a champion middle-distance runner, born in Ōpunake, New Zealand, in 1938. A major feat of his was winning both the 800 and 1500 metre races at the 1964 Olympics. The (former) world records of 1:44.3 that he set for 800 meters, in 1962, and 2:16.6 for 1000 meters, in 1964, are still the records in New Zealand for these distances. In 1971, at age 33, he moved to the United States to study the physiology of exercise, and stayed there, in Dallas, Texas, until his death in 2019 at age 80.

Kiri Te Kanawa

Kiri Te Kanawa, a famous expatriate New Zealander
Kiri Te Kanawa, a famous (former) expatriate New Zealander

Kiri Te Kanawa, a soprano, is New Zealand's most famous opera singer, and was born in Gisborne, New Zealand, in 1944. She was educated at the venerable St. Mary's College in Auckland, run by the Sisters of Mercy order, and which has a strong musical tradition. Te Kanawa began her career as a performer in clubs around New Zealand and got her break in 1965, when she won the Mobil Song Quest with her performance of the "Habanera" from Carmen. With this, she was able to go to London at age 22, where she trained at the London Opera Centre. Her talent earned her success, which included singing in performances at Covent Garden and many other famous opera houses throughout the world. At the peak of her popularity, in 1981, she sang at the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. After living 55 years in London, Kiri Te Kanawa moved back to New Zealand only this year.

Rachel Hunter

Rachel Hunter, a famous expatriate New Zealander.
Rachel Hunter, a famous expatriate New Zealander

Rachel Hunter is a former model and actress, born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1969. She began her modeling career at the age of 16, appearing in advertisements and publications not only in New Zealand but in Australia and France as well. She found almost instant success when, still at age 16, she was featured in a New Zealand television advertising campaign for the "Trumpet" ice cream produced by Tip-Top Ice-Cream. Soon afterwards, she was signed up by Ford Models in New York and began an international career, based in Los Angeles, USA. At age 21, Hunter married Scottish rock star Rod Stewart, their marriage lasting nine years. After a career as a model and actress, she has reinvented herself as a yoga teacher.


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