Story: North Americans

From hunting whales in storm-tossed seas to felling giant trees in the depths of the bush – adventurous money-making schemes lured Canadians and Americans to New Zealand in the early 19th century. Over the next 200 years North American ideas, inventions and expertise left a deep impression on this country. A taste for adventure continues to bring North Americans to New Zealand, but now they often come to watch whales and enjoy the tranquillity of the bush.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: A group of people enjoy milkshakes or malted milk, soft drinks and ice cream sundaes

Story summary

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North Americans – people from Canada and the United States of America – make up only a small part of the New Zealand population. Many have come as visitors rather than immigrants, but their culture has had a big impact.

Early North American visitors

Before 1840, Americans arrived to hunt seals and whales in New Zealand waters. This industry declined, but American interest revived when gold was discovered in Otago in 1861. Canadians took part in these activities, and were also recruited to fell bush. As well as settlers, travelling entertainers and drifters arrived before 1870.

Ideas and inventions

The proportion of North Americans in the New Zealand population declined from the 1870s until the Second World War, but visiting religious, political and social campaigners were very influential. They gave impetus to the temperance, women’s suffrage and trade union movements. American and Canadian expertise also contributed to the development of forestry, geological exploration, education and public health in New Zealand.

Wartime bonds

Though they were only temporary residents, American troops stationed in New Zealand between 1942 and 1944 left a lasting impression. New Zealanders quickly took to American-style food and entertainments, and many New Zealand women married American soldiers. And New Zealand pilots who trained in Canada brought Canadian brides back with them after the war.

An ongoing relationship

The relationship between New Zealanders and Americans has sometimes been strained by political disagreements, and cultural differences between Americans, Canadians and New Zealanders can cause confusion. But since the 1960s Americans and Canadians have come to New Zealand in greater numbers, often to work in teaching and multinational companies. Many of these recent immigrants are attracted by New Zealand’s relaxed lifestyle and clean, green image.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'North Americans', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 June 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 March 2015