Kōrero: Housing

The first European settlers lived in Māori-style whare or simple cottages made from raupō (reeds) and flax or supplejack and clay. As more settlers arrived, British-style villas and cottages were built, mainly from wood. Most were individual houses on their own sections, and the ‘quarter-acre dream’ became a New Zealand ideal. In the 2000s sections were smaller, but people still preferred single-detached houses.

He kōrero nā Ben Schrader
Te āhua nui: Houses built on spec, Mt Cook, Wellington

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The first houses

At first, European settlers lived in Māori-style whare or small cottages. Later, prefabricated wooden houses were shipped from Australia.

Settlers in the 1840s lived in tents or shelters while houses were being built. Some erected temporary houses or got Māori to build them raupō (reed) or timber cottages.

Housing types

Most New Zealand houses are individual dwellings on their own sections. Semi-detached houses (two-dwelling units) and terrace housing (three or more dwellings in a row block) were less common. More of these were built in the later 20th century. Blocks of flats were built from the 1910s, and inner-city apartments became popular in the 1990s.


  • The first houses were cottages, and some had only one or two rooms. Often everything was done in a single space.
  • Villas were larger and more ornate. Public spaces such as parlours were at the front, and private spaces such as bathrooms at the back.
  • California bungalows were built after the First World War. They were more open-plan, with bathrooms in the centre.
  • From the 1930s modernism favoured clean lines, large windows and open-plan layout. State houses were built facing the sun.
  • Mediterranean-style houses were popular from the 1990s.


Most early houses were built by small firms. Suburbs grew in the 1920s, and the government began building state houses from 1937. In the 2000s the industry was still dominated by small firms.


Many brick and stone houses collapsed in the 1848 and 1855 Wellington earthquakes, so wood became the main building material. Corrugated iron was used for roofs and cladding.


Not all early settlers could afford their own homes, so some rented. Some rental properties in cities became slums. State housing was intended to offer tenants security.

Home ownership was promoted, and the home-ownership rate was highest in 1986 at 73%. In 2006 it was 63%.

Ideas about housing

Houses are seen as a place of shelter from weather and threats. From the 19th century people thought work and home should be separate – a husband would travel to work while his wife stayed home with the children. In the 2000s it was common for both partners to work.

Most home-owners see their house as an investment.

Challenges in the 2000s

In the 2000s high house prices meant many people could not afford to buy. There was also a shortage of new housing. Other issues included providing housing for diverse groups, and increasing energy efficiency.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Ben Schrader, 'Housing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/housing (accessed 15 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Ben Schrader, i tāngia i te 5 o Hepetema 2013