Story: Domestic recreation and hobbies

Relaxing hobby or useful work? New Zealanders often blur the boundaries when it comes to leisure activities around the home. Favourites include gardening, sewing and home maintenance. Meanwhile popular pastimes such as watching TV and socialising are almost always just for fun.

Story by Kerryn Pollock
Main image: Gendered recreational activities, 1995

Story summary

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Opportunities for recreation

In the 1930 and 1940s new laws limited the hours that New Zealanders had to work, and people had more leisure time than before. However, for some people, especially women, family commitments and household tasks took up a lot of free time. The amount of income people earned determined the types of recreation they could afford.


In the 19th and early 20th centuries families and friends gathered in each other’s homes. Evening gatherings were often held around the piano, with one person playing and others singing or dancing.

Sometimes families picnicked together. On public holidays large community picnics were held with organised games and entertainment. In the early 2000s many local councils ran summer entertainment programmes that recalled the community picnic era.

Reading, listening and watching

After school became compulsory in 1877 more New Zealanders learned to read fluently. Public libraries opened in the 19th century, and reading became a popular leisure activity.

Radio broadcasts started in the 1920s. Housewives had the radio on while doing chores, and families listened together in the evenings. When television arrived in New Zealand in 1960 watching it quickly became the nation’s foremost recreational activity.

In the 1990s internet use took off. However, a 2011 survey showed that radio and television were still more popular sources of entertainment.

Gardening, making crafts and home maintenance

Some useful activities blur the line between work and leisure.

Until factory-made clothes became cheap in the second half of the 20th century many women saved money by sewing their family’s clothes and furnishings. Vegetable gardening has sometimes provided cheap food. Do-it-yourself home maintenance can also save money. However, many New Zealanders enjoy these activities as hobbies for their own sake.

How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Domestic recreation and hobbies', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 5 September 2013