Story: Sports and leisure

New Zealanders have always been good at making their own fun – pottering in the garden, reading, walking in the hills or heading for the beach. But they’re also happy to pay for pleasures such as dining out, taking a flutter on Lotto, going to the movies or the theatre, or to professional rugby matches. Whichever way it comes, Kiwis enjoy their time at play.

Story by Jock Phillips
Main image: Veteran golfers

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Home and city

For many New Zealanders, home is still where they like to spend their leisure hours – watching television, reading books, or working on their houses. Three in five adult New Zealanders spend time in their gardens. Increasingly, Kiwis are finding fun in the city by eating out, listening to live music, watching movies, or cruising the shops.


For much of the 20th century New Zealanders gambled either on horse races or on lotteries, especially the Golden Kiwi. Since 1989 new forms of gambling have emerged: Lotto, gaming machines, casinos and betting on sports results.

Informal sports

Almost three-quarters of New Zealanders go walking for enjoyment. Some are keen trampers, and in winter, skiing and snowboarding are popular. Others hunt pigs, deer or goats.

The beach is a favourite place for New Zealanders to enjoy themselves. They swim, surf, snorkel, dive, sail and windsurf. A quarter of adult New Zealanders go fishing, whether angling for trout, surfcasting at the beach or netting whitebait.

More people are involved in informal recreation than in organised sport.

Organised sports

New Zealand has as many passionate followers and fans of sport as other Western countries – and probably a higher percentage of people who actually play sport.

The most popular sport to play is golf. New Zealand has more golf courses per head than any other country.

Rugby union is the most popular sport to watch. It has been regarded as the national game since a famous tour to Britain by the All Blacks team in 1905. Rugby is now a professional game, as are rugby league and football. Cricket is the major organised summer sport.

Among women the most popular sport to play and watch is netball.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Sports and leisure', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 June 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 September 2015