New Zealand Famous People

New Zealand Famous People

Because of its relatively young history, New Zealand’s heroes are modern heroes. Regardless of whether, like ERNEST RUTHERFORD, they have made a contribution to the fundamentals of modern research, like KATE SHEPPARD to equal rights in society, or like ARTHUR LYDIARD to the introduction of a new popular sport, jogging. The New Zealand heroes have one thing in common: their theme is progress, and their achievements are, in most cases, groundbreaking.

National heroes

According to agooddir, New Zealand’s probably greatest hero is the nuclear physicist ERNEST RUTHERFORD. In 1908 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his investigations into the decay of the elements and the chemistry of radioactive matter. In his experiments he had found out that there are different types of radioactive particles. He named them alpha and beta radiation. The knowledge that atoms have a nucleus also goes back to Rutherford. His model of the atom with a nucleus provided the basis for all modern atomic research.RUTHERFORD has lived and researched in England since he was 18, where he was honored and is now buried. In New Zealand he is still considered the most important compatriot. His portrait adorns the 100 dollar bill.

SIR EDMUND HILLARY is popular, adored and emotionally closer to many New Zealanders than RUTHERFORD. In 1953, together with the Nepalese Sherpa TENZING NORGAY, he was the first to climb the highest mountain on earth, Mount Everest in the Himalaya Mountains. In addition to worldwide fame and recognition, he earned a title of nobility awarded by the English QUEEN ELIZABETH II for this achievement .In the following years he received countless other high-ranking honors. HILLARY is still very popular today because it shows not only heroism but also kindness of heart: since 1961, he has been committed to the Nepalese mountain people of the Sherpa, and he set up his Himalaya Trust foundation especially for this purpose. In New Zealand, EDMUND HILLARY is immortalized on the five-dollar bill.

KATE SHEPPARD is shown on the ten dollar bill. You could call her the most important heroine in New Zealand history. As a committed women’s rights activist (suffragette), she campaigned for equality between men and women at the end of the 19th century. After three petitions, with the support of around 32,000 New Zealanders whose signatures she had collected, she succeeded in convincing the government to introduce women’s suffrage. In 1893 the law was passed. New Zealand is thus at the top of the world: in England and Germany women’s suffrage was introduced in 1918, in Austria in 1919, in America in 1920 and in Switzerland only in 1971.


In addition to ERNEST RUTHERFORD, New Zealand has two other Nobel Prize winners to boast: The physicist MAURICE WILKINS made it possible to deduce the structure of DNA with his work . He succeeded in scanning DNA with X-rays and making it visible. Together with JAMES WATSON (USA) and FRANCIS CRICK (Great Britain), who were then able to deduce the form and arrangement of the genome, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology / Medicine in 1961.
The chemist ALAN MACDIARMID received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery and development in 2000 together with ALAN HEEGER (USA) and HIDEKI SHIRAKAWA (Japan)conductive plastics. They are regarded as a material with a promising future and are already used in modern electronics, for example in cell phones.

After all, COLIN MURDOCH is a hard-working inventor. One of his over 40 patents is for the sterile, plastic, disposable medical syringe, which he invented in 1956.


Sport is one of the most important issues in New Zealand’s social life. In the country where extreme sports are particularly popular, there has always been a real urge to break records. The New Zealanders hold on to the conviction that with the farmer and inventor RICHARD PEARSE they produced the first airplane pilot in the world. In March 1903 PEARSE is said to have started in Waitohi with a self-made motorized flying machine and flown 140 meters. The American WRIGHT brothers, who took off in December 1903, are generally considered to be the first to fly.

The flying success of the pilot JEAN BATTEN is undisputed: In 1934 she broke the record from England to Australia with her Gipsy Moth biplane. The Garbo of the Skies, as BATTEN was also called, landed there after 14 days. From 1936 to 1980 she held the long-distance record for London-Australia-New Zealand.

The New Zealanders are at least as successful on the ground. The athlete PETER SNELL enjoys legendary fame, who ran gold over 800 meters at the Summer Olympics in Rome in 1960, won both 800 and 1500 meters unbeaten at the subsequent Games in Tokyo in 1964 and broke two world records in 1962: over 800 meters and one Mile. SNELL was trained by his compatriot ARTHUR LYDIARD, the world-famous inventor of jogging, whose methods are still used by top athletes today.

The racing driver DENNIS HULME is one of the greats in the New Zealand Olympic athletes. From 1965 he drove successfully in Formula 1. He won eight of the 112 races he contested, and in 1967 he became world champion. After HULME stopped in 1974, he returned as a touring car driver in the mid-1980’s. As such, he died in 1992 during a race.

The fact that you don’t have to be human in New Zealand to be celebrated as a successful athlete is proven by the racehorse PHARLAP, which was born in New Zealand, but was trained in Australia and won legendary 37 races. The animal was the victim of an assassination attempt in 1930 and died under mysterious circumstances in California in 1932. PHARLAP is still a celebrity in New Zealand and Australia, and in 1983 his life was even made into a film.


Recently, New Zealand filmmakers have become increasingly aware of them. There are also important New Zealand artists in the other cultural areas . The opera singer KIRI TE KANAWA is an established star, has appeared on all the major stages in the world and appeared at the wedding of the English heir to the throne PRINCE CHARLES with DIANA SPENCER in Westminster Abbey in 1981.

As grandes dames of literature are KATHERINE MANSFIELD and JANET FRAME to name. Both women, one from the early 20th and the other from the early 21st century, are common names in the international literary scene.

In the film sector, the director and screenwriter JANE CAMPION caused a sensation with The Piano (1993) and the filmmaker PETER JACKSON with his Lord of the Rings (2001 to 2003)
. LEE TAMAHORIS Once Were Warriors (1995) and NIKI CAROS Whale Rider (2002) were also celebrated worldwide.

Actors like ANNA PAQUIN, TEMUERA MORRISON or KEISHA CASTLE HUGHES achieved fame through these productions.

RUSSELL CROWE (Gladiator, 2000), who grew up in Australia but was born in New Zealand, and SAM NEILL (Jurassic Park,1993) complete the constantly expanding New Zealand star line-up.

And there are also pop stars in New Zealand. From the lively and diverse music scene, bands like CROWDED HOUSE or OMC also made it into the European charts.

New Zealand Famous People