A Traveller’s Guide to Music in New Zealand
The first European to set foot on New Zealand, Captain James Cook, famously said that the New Zealand music was, “harmonious enough but very doleful to a European ear.” Ask travellers to New Zealand about the music today and it’s more likely that it will be one of the most captivating experiences of the trip. New Zealand music has Western and Polynesian influences with popular genres being jazz, blues, country, rock and hip hop. While travelling around New Zealand, you’ll get the opportunity to hear New Zealand music through music festivals and Maori cultural attractions. Find out more in this guide to New Zealand music.
Fun Facts About New Zealand Music
Let’s get started with a few fun facts!
- Early Maori instruments called “taonga puroro” were made out of hollowed-out wood, stone, whale ivory, albatross bone and human bone
- In2013, Lorde became the youngest solo artist to reach number one in the US at 16 years old
- The best-selling New Zealand pop song of all time is How Bizarreby OMC
- In 2011, Kimbra collaborated with Belgian-Australian singer Gotye on “Somebody That I Used to Know” topping the charts in around 25 countries and selling more than 13 million copies worldwide
- May is New Zealand Music Month, so it’s a good time to look out for local gigs.
New Zealand Musicians Who Have Had International Success
If you have heard songs from any New Zealand musicians, it’s likely to be the musicians who have had international success. Famous music artists from New Zealand include:
- Flight of the Conchords
- Split Enz
- Bic Runga
- Fat Freddy’s Drop
- Brooke Fraser
- Gin Wigmore
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
New Zealand also has a national orchestra, the New Zealand Symonphy Orchestra, based in the country’s capital, Wellington. The orchestra tours around New Zealand, mostly performing in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch, and less frequently Hamilton and Dunedin. Internationally, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has performed at the BBC Proms in the UK, the Concertgebouw in the Netherlands, and the World Expo in Japan.
While travelling around New Zealand, the music you’re most likely to hear through live performances is Maori music. There are several forms of Maori music that has developed over time. Some notable music forms include:
- Waiata – songs are sung solo or in unison, usually lullabies, love songs or laments
- Karanga – performed during a welcome ceremony known as a powhiri. It is the ceremonial call performed by the women of the welcoming tribe
- Moteatea – traditional chanting performed even before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand
- Kapa haka – a type of Maori performing arts where groups showcase their cultural heritage through song and dance.
Aspects of each music form can be seen in Maori cultural attractions around New Zealand. See Maori performances at the following attractions:
- Tamaki Maori Village, Rotorua
- Mitai Maori Village, Rotorua
- Te Puia, Rotorua
- Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, Rotorua
- Ko Tane, Christchurch
- Nga Hau e Wha Marae, Christchurch
- Auckland Museum, Auckland
See the 10 Best Maori Tours in New Zealand for more attractions with musical performances.
Music Festivals in New Zealand
A great way to experience local music from New Zealand is through New Zealand music festivals. New Zealand has a lively schedule of festivals each year, most of which occur through December to March. Learn more about New Zealand seasons here.
Annual Music Festivals in New Zealand
- Rhythm & Vines, Gisborne (29-31 December)
- Rhythm & Alps, Cardrona Valley (30-31 December)
- Soundsplash, Raglan (mid-January)
- Splore, Auckland (late-February)
- WOMAD, New Plymouth (mid-March)
- St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Auckland (late-January)