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Famous New Zealanders


For such a small country, New Zealanders have achieved some big things. We can’t cover them all here, but here are some of the most notable (in alphabetical order by surname).

Some of the Most Famous New Zealanders

Frances Alda – International opera star, born in Christchurch in 1879.

William Atack – the first sports referee who used a whistle to stop a game.Jean Batten – made the first ever direct flight between New Zealand and England, in 1936.

John Britten – revolutionary motorcycle designer who worked from his garage.

Russell Crowe – Internationally famous actor now based in Australia.

Neil and Tim Finn – Brothers who founded group Split Enz; Neil later went on to form world-famous group Crowded House.

Bill Hamilton – invented the Hamilton jet boat.

Sir Edmund Hillary was the first man to conquer Mt Everest (with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay) in 1953.

Rachel Hunter – famous fashion model. Married Rod Stewart.

Peter Jackson – an Oscar-winning film director who made the Lord of the Rings trilogy and is currently working on The Hobbit.

Jack Lovelock  – the first New Zealand athlete to win an Olympic gold medal, for the 1500m at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Arthur Lydiard – Invented jogging (building up physical fitness by increasing stamina).

Alan MacDiarmid – discovered that plastics could conduct electricity. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2000.

Katherine Mansfield – writer who revolutionised the short story in the 20th century.

Colin McCahon – New Zealand’s most revered artist.

Colin Murdoch – invented the disposable syringe and the tranquiliser dart gun.

Sam Neill – Internationally famous actor.

Keith Park – defender of Britain in World War Two. In 1942, he led the defence of Malta.

Richard Pearse – made the first powered flight, in 1903 (before the Wright Brothers).

Ernest Rutherford – one of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century, the creator of modern atomic physics. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1908.

Kate Sheppard – the leader and main figurehead of the suffragist movement in New Zealand, the first country in the world to give women the opportunity to vote.

Dame Kiri te Kanawa – Internationally famous opera star.

Charles Upham – the outstanding soldier of World War Two, he was the only combatant soldier to receive the Victoria Cross and Bar for his exceptional bravery.

Maurice Wilkins – helped lead to the discovery of the DNA structure; Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology and Medicine in 1962.

Think we’ve missed someone? Email us the details and we’ll add them to our page!

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