New Zealand and Māori Glossary

We've put together a brief glossary of words and terms you might hear if you visit New Zealand. They will also be useful when you're talking with us here at NZ Pacific. Either way, feel free to suggest additions or disagree with our translations - language here downunder is always 'under construction'!

Pounamu - Pounamu refers to several types of hard, durable and highly valued nephrite jade, bowenite, or serpentinite stone found in southern New Zealand. Pounamu is the Māori name. These rocks are also generically known as "greenstone" in New Zealand English.

West Coast - The West Coast (Māori: Te Tai Poutini) is a region of New Zealand on the west coast of the South Island and is one of the more remote and most sparsely populated areas of the country. The West Coast is renowned for its beautiful scenery, friendly people ('Coasters') and wild, spectacular beaches. 

Whānau - Whānau is a Māori-language word meaning extended family. It has become a commonly used word by all Kiwis to describe their family and circle of close friends - "he's one of the whānau".

Kia ora  - Literally meaning "be well or healthy", this is a term used to greet people - say 'Hi', but also to farewell and to thank someone. So a very useful phrase with lots of uses and something that you will hear often if you travel around New Zealand.

Kia ora tātou - Hello everybody! This greeting is used to say hello to a group of people - often you'll hear this greeting used by someone addressing groups of people.

Tēnā rawa atu koe  - Thank you very much

Wharenui - Meeting house, large house - main building of a marae where guests are accommodated. Many are decorated with carvings, rafter paintings and tukutuku panels.

Marae  - The area for formal discussion in front of a meeting house, or wharenui.

Tēnā koutou - Greetings! Used when addressing a number of people.

Kiwi - A flightless, near blind, nocturnal bird that is native to New Zealand. Also used to describe New Zealand nationals - Kiwis.

Boohai - A very remote or non-existent place - 'up the boohai where the ducks fly backwards so they don't get dust in their eyes'.

Gone to see a man about a dog - Where Kiwis go when they don't want to tell you where they're going.

Across the ditch - Australia, also known as the 'other side' (of the ditch).

Rattle your dags - Hurry up (a good term to use with us if you need something urgently).

Crikey dick - An expression of surprise.

Going bush - To get away from it all, to take a break (something we do from time to time).

Wop wops - The middle of nowhere - also known as 'out in the sticks'. Where we go when we 'go bush'.

Aotearoa - Māori name for New Zealand - 'the land of the long white cloud'.

Pākehā - New Zealander of non-Māori descent.

Pakaru - Broken.

How's it going mate? - Classic Kiwi greeting - long way to say hello.

Taihoa - To hold off or delay something - can also use 'hang on a minute mate'.

Hosing down - Raining very heavily - 'it's hosing down here mate' (commonly heard on the West Coast).

Dry as a sack full of snake bones - Used to describe drought conditions - this is a strange one given we don't have snakes in New Zealand.

Downunder - The Southern hemisphere - particularly used to refer to Australia and New Zealand.

Hard yakka - Hard work

New Zealand Jade, Greenstone, Pounamu - Jade is a stone that holds deep intrinsic value and spiritual importance to many cultures including the Māori, Chinese and Mayans.

The Chinese have the oldest and most enduring relationship with jade. They believe jade reflects positive human virtues - resilience, beauty and durability. They also believe that the stone brings good fortune and blesses the wearer with dignity and long life.

Jade may change colour over time, a quality that the Chinese regard as evidence that the stone ‘lives’. In their culture, when the stone darkens and takes on deeper green hues, this is evidence that it likes the wearer. The darkening colour is a result of the stone absorbing the wearers bad chi (qi) or negative energy. This helps protect the wearer. 

New Zealand jade (known as Greenstone or Pounamu) is deeply important to the Māori people of New Zealand. It is often gifted as a symbol of peace or love and is worn as a protection amulet when on a journey. It is believed that Pounamu carries its own mana or spirit. That it carries the spirit of all those who have worn it forever engrained within. It is passed down through the generations as a family heirloom and is considered a part of one's family.

Long drop - Outdoor toilet consisting of a shed over a hole in the ground - you might want to avoid accomodation advertised as 'rustic with the beloved kiwi longdrop' - this is not a swimming spot with high diving facilities!

Mana - Authority, power and reputation. Someone with mana has prestige and good standing - this is a widely understood concept throughout Polynesia.

Kaimoana - seafood, shellfish. Derived from the Māori 'kai' - food, and 'moana' - sea