When the British Government was concerned with the growing menace of the German Navy and proposed to construct four dreadnoughts, New Zealand, through its Prime Minister, Sir J. G. Ward, offered on 22 March 1909 to pay for “a first-class battleship of the latest type”. This gift was accepted and in June 1910 the battle cruiser New Zealand was laid down at the Govan Yard of the Fairfield Shipping Co., on the Clyde. There had been an earlier warship of this name built in 1904 but in 1909 it was renamed Zealandia. Launched in July 1911 and commissioned in November 1912, the New Zealand was 580 ft overall with a beam of 80 ft, a draught of 26 ½ ft, and a displacement of 19,000 tons. Her turbines developed 44,000 h.p. and four screws drove her through the water at 26 knots. She had 31 coal-fired boilers, but these were later converted to oil. The armament included eight 12 in. and sixteen 4 in. guns and two submerged 21 in. torpedo tubes. In peacetime she carried 800 men. Three officers in the first commission were New Zealanders.
After a brief work up she left Portsmouth on 8 February 1913 to visit New Zealand, arriving at Wellington on 12 April. During the next 10 weeks she visited most New Zealand ports and was inspected by half a million people; indeed, the New Zealand made New Zealand people navy minded. She returned to England late in 1913 and as part of the battle cruiser force of the Grand Fleet took part in every action in the North Sea during the First World War. The first was at Heligoland Bight on 28 August 1914 when New Zealand torpedoed the German light cruiser Köln. On 24 January 1915 at the Dogger Bank she assisted in sinking the armoured cruiser Blücher. She was also in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, where she engaged the German battle cruisers, firing 430 rounds and received only one hit.
New Zealand returned to New Zealand waters in August 1919, flying the flag of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Jellicoe, who in a world tour was to investigate and report on the problems of naval defence, both of the Empire and of New Zealand. But New Zealand was to play little part in it for, as a result of the Washington Naval Treaty, she was scrapped in 1921.