Kōrero: Rhythms of daily life

Whārangi 1. Schedules and routines of life

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Contemporary routines

In the 1990s and 2000s most New Zealanders spent most of their time in a combination of paid employment, television watching, eating and drinking and socialising. Once sleep was added to the mix, nearly 70% of the day was accounted for. With a few other activities thrown in – voluntary work, sport, gardening, housework, reading, shopping and going out, along with the necessary travel time – that was the day filled.

When these activities are put together a pattern emerges, a rhythm of daily life, managed by the calendar and the clock, and shaped by set schedules for work, education, television and public transport. The rhythm varies with the days of the week, the seasons, and holidays. It also varies according to a person’s age, family situation, and the type of paid employment or education that they undertake.

There are work days and play days. In summertime walking to work rather than driving, playing outside, and going to parks or the beach are added to daily and weekly routines. Winter cold, along with fewer hours of light, pushes people towards staying indoors and keeping warm.

Holidays allow a break from ordinary routine, a chance to ignore the clock, lie in bed, lounge on the couch reading, or watching television or DVDs, explore the internet, play games, play sport, meet friends or go swimming, biking, walking or skiing.

Wash day

In the 19th century Saturday night was time to get clean, ready for Sunday and best clothes. The habit was so widespread that one of the Māori words for Saturday – Rāhoroi – means wash day. Most 19th-century New Zealand homes didn’t have a bathroom, so a tin bath was brought into the kitchen (the warmest room in the house), and filled with water heated in the wash-house copper or on the coal range.

Nineteenth-century Pākehā

In 19th-century New Zealand the rhythm of life was strongly set by the seasons, the weather, the phases of the moon, and the days of the week. More than half the Pākehā population was rural, and sowing, harvesting, burning off, shearing, mustering and droving were all seasonal activities which were weather dependent to varying degrees.

Events – dances, meetings and even elections – were planned around phases of the moon, as a full moon made getting home after dark easier.

Weekly schedules

Home and community life ran to weekly schedules that intersected on Saturday and Sunday. In many communities Saturday was a half-holiday (although some communities chose a mid-week half-holiday instead). That meant people were at work in the morning and had the afternoon off. Saturday was also payday, when sports matches were held, and shops were open late. In rural areas it was market day.

On Sunday about a quarter of the population attended church and afterwards visited or were visited by family and friends. For non-church goers (whose children might still be sent off to Sunday school), it was a day of rest and often recreation.


Beyond the basic getting up, getting dressed and eating breakfast, children’s daily routines varied greatly. Helping with household tasks was the norm and many children worked, but most mid-19th-century New Zealand children – particularly, but not only, boys – had considerable freedom. When education became free and compulsory in 1877, a daily rhythm gradually took hold, and by 1901 almost all children attended school.

Nineteenth-century Māori

The seasons shaped the year for the 95% of Māori who were rural. Many moved around their rohe (tribal area), setting up temporary homes while gathering particular foods. Some of the paid work commonly done – harvesting and shearing – was also seasonal.

Daily rhythms among Māori differed significantly from those among Pākehā. Being alone was far less common. People slept in a whare puni (family sleeping house), food was cooked in a shared kitchen, and most of that food was grown, harvested or foraged for with the whānau. Groups washed clothes in nearby rivers or portable tubs, and paid work was done in whānau-based gangs.

Change over time

These differences between Māori and Pākehā life continued until the mid-20th century. After the Second World War urbanisation and engagement in waged work altered daily life for many Māori, bringing it closer to that of Pākehā.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Megan Cook, 'Rhythms of daily life - Schedules and routines of life', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/rhythms-of-daily-life/page-1 (accessed 20 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Megan Cook, i tāngia i te 5 Sep 2013