Kōrero: Economy

Whārangi 5. Tertiary production

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Given New Zealand’s long and rugged island terrain, its thinly spread population and the country’s distance from the rest of the world, transport plays a central role.

Shipping has been important since the first Europeans arrived, with many of the country’s urban centres built around ports. In the early 21st century, a quarter by value of exports by sea was shipped through Tauranga, and a fifth through Auckland. Auckland, however, received more imports. Wellington and Picton provide important shipping links between the North and South islands. Oil products are distributed by sea where possible.

In 2003, 17% by value of exported goods went by air. Auckland airport was the second largest port for imports. Virtually all of the more than three million overseas visitors to New Zealand in 2002 arrived by air, carried by 17 foreign airlines as well as by Air New Zealand. Because of the country’s long narrow shape, air travel is a favoured form of domestic travel.

However, the most popular form of travel remains the car. In 2000 there were more than three million motor vehicles for four million people. There were more cars per person in New Zealand than in the United States, the United Kingdom or Japan, but fewer than in Germany or Australia. In 2001, 73% of New Zealanders drove or were driven to work.

Railways do not play the central role in the transport system that they did in the past. Nevertheless, they remain major haulers of long-distance freight, and there are sizeable commuter networks in Auckland and Wellington.

In the last decades of the 20th century, the transport sector increasingly relied on market mechanisms (supply and demand) rather than on public ownership. Even so, following the privatisation of Air New Zealand and New Zealand Railways in the 1980s and 1990s, the government subsequently bought back a major shareholding in the airline and renationalised the rail track.


As in other parts of their lives, New Zealanders have been offered choice and technological sophistication in communications since the late 1980s. In radio there is a range of private stations, including Māori tribal stations, many operating on the FM network, with the government retaining only National Radio, Concert FM, a network for broadcasting Parliament, and Radio New Zealand’s broadcasts to the South Pacific.

Television has seen the Crown-owned TV1 and TV2 and other smaller channels competing with a privately owned free-to-air network (TV3) and a range of channels transmitted through subscriber television networks such as Sky Network Television’s digital transmission. In 2004 a government-funded Māori television channel (renamed Whakaata Māori in 2022) began broadcasting.

New Zealanders have also quickly picked up on telecommunications developments, especially cellphones and the internet. Whether in schools, libraries, at work or at home most New Zealanders have regular access to the web. Increasingly bookings and purchases are transacted that way. As email took off, stamped mail became much less important as a vehicle of personal communication.

The information and communications technology (ICT) sector is thriving, and New Zealand is exporting hardware, software and services.

Commercial services

Wholesale and retail trade contributes about 15% of gross domestic product (GDP). Like many other sectors in recent years, it has been transformed with a relaxation of shopping hours (they can open for 24 hours a day except for Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Anzac Day), the increased use of credit cards, and new presentational formats based on ICT and overseas bulk purchasing. The end of liquor licensing restrictions in 1989 and the growing number of women in employment resulted in an upwelling of restaurants and bars in city centres, and the growth of fast-food outlets. In the early 21st a much higher proportion of meals was prepared and consumed outside the home than was the case for earlier generations.

Other significant commercial services include the provision of banking and insurance, while the education and health sectors sell services to foreign customers, and a growing number of New Zealand companies provide services offshore via broadband.

New Zealand is also playing a significant role in the developing world biotechnology industry.


Tourism is the world’s largest industry, and with air travel becoming cheaper and effective promotion, New Zealand captured a share of this market. The country promoted its distinctive South Pacific culture and opportunities for adventure and sophisticated recreation, from world-leading museums to groomed ski slopes. It cashed in on major events such as the America’s Cup yachting competition, the release of the locally made Lord of the rings movies, and rugby and football world cups. Overseas tourist numbers doubled during the 1990s and tourism became the country’s leading earner of foreign exchange. In 2004 there were nearly 4,000 establishments offering accommodation and the restaurant trade was booming.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Brian Easton, 'Economy - Tertiary production', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/economy/page-5 (accessed 19 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Brian Easton, i tāngia i te 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Sep 2016