12 Pop Culture Kiwiana You Can’t Miss

by Kelli Mutchler

All too often, foreigners confuse the distinguishing cultural points of Australia and New Zealand, causing consternation to people of both nations. If you’ll be visiting, studying, or volunteering abroad in New Zealand, it’s best to sort out their differences before you go! Suffering from self-proclaimed “Little Brother Syndrome,” Kiwis are exceedingly proud of the things that make them different from their “big brother” across the Tasman Sea. They call these unique things Kiwiana, and no volunteer program abroad in New Zealand is complete without seeing and understanding the following:

Students riding a cable car in New Zealand.
Defying heights - a Kiwi adventure. Photo by Kelli Mutchler


This flightless bird is the mascot of New Zealand, and one of many native winged creatures there. New Zealand’s ecosystem developed without any large predators (besides humans), and nearly all its indigenous species are birds or plants. Massive efforts are being made to protect the endangered Kiwi, and the special country it represents. The kiwi fruit is named for the Kiwi bird, because the tart green fruit has a fuzzy outer skin that closely resembles the soft feathers of the Kiwi.

L & P

Lemon and Paeroa is a soft drink you can only find in New Zealand. Created in the town of Paeroa on the east coast of the North Island, L & P tastes like a refreshing mix of Sprite and lemonade.

Hokey Pokey

Another national specialty, hokey pokey is a vanilla-based ice cream with chunks of honeycomb toffee mixed in. For the purest taste, try the brand Tip Top.


Crowded House

For such a small country, New Zealand has a surprising amount of famous musicians. Leaving an international legacy are the Finn Brothers, who created several Kiwi bands, the best known being Crowded House. With hits like “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Four Seasons in One Day,” the band remains extremely popular in recording and radio coverage.

All Blacks

In 2011, and then again in 2015, the New Zealand national rugby team, the All Blacks, won the Rugby World Cup. To fans, the double victories were long-awaited proof of their team’s athletic prowess. Win or lose, New Zealand stands firmly behind the men in black.


The spiral shape, carved into green jadestone necklaces and stenciled onto t-shirts, symbolizes new life and growth. Before it became a popular tourist image, it was important to Maori art and carvings. Koru can be seen all over the country in the unfurling fronds of a silver fern plant.

Silver Fern

Green on the top and silver underneath, this is a native New Zealand plant. Its spiraling fronds have come to represent the country on sporting uniforms, company logos, and tourist souvenirs.

Pohutukawa Tree
Pohutukawa Tree

Pineapple Lumps

As portrayed in a 2008 Kiwi commercial, when God was handing out national treasures, New Zealand overslept and didn’t realize they were getting candy, not pineapples. Now, the fruit-flavored chewy lumps are a favorite sweet.


The native New Zealand tree explodes with large, red blossoms in December, and is thus called the Kiwi Christmas tree.


Like many things, this dessert is claimed by both New Zealand and Australia. However, most sources now attribute the meringue-based treat to a Kiwi who created it for a visit by the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Topped with cream and fresh strawberries, it even shows up on the McDonald's menu in New Zealand.


They might be flip-flops to the rest of the world, but in New Zealand, they’re “jandals.” The unusual name was inspired by the image of the flat, open-strap shoes worn by the Japanese, or “Japanese sandals.”

Paua Shell
Paua Shell

Paua Shell

These iridescent mollusk shells are used to represent the eyes in Maori carving and jewelry. Paua have also become an iconic symbol of the country and make great souvenirs to take home with you at the end of your volunteer program in New Zealand. 


Never to be outdone by Australia, New Zealand took the recipe for the beloved Aussie food, vegemite (a yeast extract spread) and made it “better.” While visitors might disagree, the vegetable-based extract has an acquired taste that nearly every Kiwi champions. If you’re planning on volunteering abroad in New Zealand, you’ll get a taste of marmite sooner or later.