In the 20th century, kite making and flying in New Zealand enjoyed a renaissance. Māori revitalised traditional kite-making methods, using natural materials. Other New Zealanders began to create kites far more sophisticated than the home-made toys flown by their European ancestors, and in some areas began to lead the world in kite innovation.
Many older New Zealanders have childhood memories of making the familiar diamond kite with two crossed sticks, a string-line joining the ends of each spar, and a covering of brown paper or newspaper. The kite was often given a long tail decorated with paper bow ties. This style was brought to New Zealand by the first European settlers in the mid-1800s. For new arrivals in an undeveloped land, making kites with the simplest of available materials provided recreation for children who often had few other toys.
Most home-made kites required light to moderate winds, and were flown in open fields, parks, or perhaps at the beach. Winds around the New Zealand coastline are variable throughout the year, but the Bay of Plenty’s gentle ocean breezes provide excellent conditions for kite flying. It was here that Māori took advantage of winds striking the coastal cliffs to lift their kites.
By the 1960s cheap factory-made plastic kites from Asia were being sold in New Zealand. For several decades these were popular with children as they were relatively durable, cheap, and usually easy to fly. The manufacture of nylon cloth and fibreglass in the mid-1970s meant that kites were even more durable and offered better performance.
In the 1980s and 1990s, high-tech materials such as carbon-fibre rods and rip-stop nylon attracted some people back to the art of designing and making kites. In response to the upsurge of interest, a national kite-fliers association was established and a number of retail outlets opened throughout the country.
The renaissance of kite making in New Zealand reflects a global resurgence. However, New Zealand has led the world in the design and manufacture of high-performance kiting equipment.
Kiteboarding, kitesurfing and kiteskiing were among the kiting sports that became popular in the early 2000s. People make use of kites to pull them over land, snow or water, sometimes at break-neck speeds. In New Zealand the Hyundai NZ Kitesurfing Nationals draws crowds each year.
Peter Lynn, kite maker
In 1973, engineer Peter Lynn established a kite-making business in Ashburton and within a decade was exporting kites around the world. He developed kite traction – using kites as sails to propel boats, skis, surfboards and buggies. He also developed the first usable kite buggy, and initiated kite buggying as a sport. Lynn designs new kites every year, contributing to a growing sport in New Zealand and around the world. He was recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1997 for creating the world’s largest kite, the MegaBite.