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It’s been a little under four months since we arrived here in New Zealand.

Fresh from a week of relaxation aboard a yacht cruising the Whitsunday Islands we were rejuvenated and ready to start the next chapter of our travels.

Boarding the plane in Brisbane the smiling stewardess checked my passport,

‘Kia Ora’ she said.

‘Erm excuse me?’ I replied.

My brain was on overdrive and all available function was dedicated to calming my nerves. I’m a terrible flyer and dissolve into a nervous wreck at the thought of air travel.

She laughed and said ‘Welcome aboard’.

I gave her a sheepish grin, embarrassed that I’d not recognised the Kiwi greeting, and walked through the cabin towards my seat.


kiwi-isms-Rotarua in the 1940'sCredit: CC Flickr Courtesy of Rae Allen

To many the Aussie and Kiwi accent appear indistinguishable however having spent time living in both countries we are starting to notice the subtle variances in pronunciation and language.

Surprisingly the two Antipodean nations have undergone significantly different evolutions. New Zealand was the last habitable land mass on earth to be colonized, Polynesian ancestors of the Maori encountered the islands around one thousand years ago. Whereas we have evidence that Australia was home to the early aboriginals over forty thousand years earlier.

The first English speaking settlers, seal hunters from the Australian port now known as Sydney, arrived in 1792 and since then a steady influx of various influences have made their mark on the language spoken in the country.

Today there are three recognised languages in New Zealand; English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language. While ‘Kiwi English’ was heavily influenced by ‘Australian English’ at the time of the settlers arrival, a large proportion of its vocabulary comes from traditional Te Reo Māori.


Over the course of New Zealand’s recent history use of the Māori language has suffered a decline and in the 1860’s speaking it was actively discouraged. While a number of missionaries worked with Māori chiefs to document the dialect the relevance of the language was never fully understood. With so many external ideas polluting the native culture the Māori themselves began to lose their sense of identity.

Fortunately the Māori persisted and maintained a level of use throughout the country however it wasn’t until as recently as the 1970’s that Māori people reasserted their individuality placing a huge importance on maintaining their heritage.


Kiwi Isms Maori Family, Te Taurua, Rotorua.Credit: CC Flickr, Courtesy of Josiah Martin

The Te Reo Māori has influenced parts of the modern ‘New Zealand English’ vocabulary. All living languages are influenced by others that the native speakers hear and consequently there has been a lot of transliteration on both the English and Māori sides.

Many places are referred to by an adaptation of an original Maori name, some have both English and Maori forms however many appear to have retained the original name given by the Maori tribes. Like many European place names the first Maori settlers chose to commemorate noted individuals and places from their homeland.

We’ve noticed that pronunciation of place names is varied with some preferring to use the authentic Maori articulation and others a more ‘English’ alternative.

Our favourite of all the names we’ve come across is Waikikamukau pronounced “Why kick a moo cow” and although it is the name of a small rural town it is commonly used by Kiwis to refer to any remote village out in the countryside.

Rivaling the hilarity of Waikikamukau we have the north island town of Waipu prodounced ‘Why Poo’,  and to add delight for those with a juvenile mind a whole list of towns beginning with what appears to sound like the F Word.

Whakamoa, Whakatane and Whakarewarewa all begin with ‘wha’ which is pronounced ‘fha’ and to add insult to injury the name of one of the country’s most popular ski resorts makes reference to a rather unsavoury act with one’s father – ‘Whakapapa’. Postcards bearing the name are rather popular however the comedy is lost on many Kiwis who find the jovial reference insulting.

New Zealand is also home to a town with a world record breaking name.

Taumata Whaka Tangi Hanga Koauau O Tamatea Turi Pukakapi ki Maunga Horo Nuku Poka I Whenua Kitana Tahu is acknowledged in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest name in common usage.

Unsurprisingly the locals prefer an abbreviated version and refer to it simply as Taumata.


Kiwi Isms gumbootsCredit: CC Flickr, Courtesy of Kaz

Now that you’ve sat through a lesson on Kiwi history I’ll get back to the original motivation for this article.

Kiwi Isms.

We’re slowly growing accustomed to the Kiwi turn of phrase, and like many countries around the world it is the idiosyncrasies that make this language so unique. The vocabulary is an entertaining combination of external influences and home grown expressions that provides an interesting linguistic challenge to the untrained ear.

  • Exhibit A

How’s it going bugalugs? You want some greasies while we watch the gridiron? We’ll be home ‘n hosed until the chilly bin is empty eh?!

Loosely translated this means..

How’s things? Would you like some fish and chips while we watch the football? I think we’ll be ok until we run out of beers don’t you agree?!

Like many countries all over the world isms are a dialectal evolution and change with each new generation. So for those bugalugs planning a trip over to the islands of ‘The Long White Cloud’ here’s our wanderlust dictionary of Kiwi phrases to aid you during your stay.

  • Jandals / Flip Flops
  • Wellies / Gumboots
  • Togs / Swimsuit
  • Chilly Bin / Cooler
  • Judder bars /speed bumps
  • Bach (pronounced batch) / Vacation Home
  • Dairy / corner store
  • Gridiron / American football
  • Lolly / Any type of chocolate or sweets
  • Bugalugs / mate
  • Fagged out / tired
  • Get off the grass / exclamation of disbelief
  • Crickey dick / exclamation of disbelief
  • Hard yakka / hard work, associated with labouring
  • Bogan / Redneck
  • Scull / Drink alcohol quickly
  • Chur Bro / Thanks
  • Crook / feeling sick
  • Pukeroo / pretty crap, ruined
  • Pakeha / any non-maori person
  • Wop-wops / middle of nowhere
  • Rattle ya dags / hurry up
  • Lolly / Any type of candy
  • Ice Block / Ice lolly
  • Kiwi Bird / A flightless bird and national symbol of NZ
  • Kiwi / A person from New Zealand
  • Kiwifruit / The fruit known in most of the world as the Kiwi
✈ ✈ ✈

Have you visited New Zealand? We’d love to hear your favourite Kiwi place names and phrases, share them with us in the comments below.

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21 Responses

  1. Christopher Barton

    From what I have read, ‘Waikikamukau’ is a *generic* name for a small rural town. It does not exist as an actual place.

  2. Ashley

    As a kiwi I love hearing what others might think of our language! One of my favourite kiwi-isms is the use of ‘egg’ as an insult- if you don´t know what I´m talking about then you need to check out Taika Waititi’s film ‘Boy’.

    I had a conversation once where I referred to a friend as an egg and ended up having to repeat myself ten times to British friends who first off didn´t understand my pronunciation and after finally getting it still didn´t understand what I was trying to say.

  3. Gemma

    I lived on the Coromandel Peninsula for a while, and I loved saying I was going to the beach at Whangamata (Fong-a-mah-tah) or further afield to Whakatane. It was hard not to want to say everything was ‘sweet as’ all the time!

  4. Hannah

    Another good place name is Te Puke (Teh Pu-keh) or as my family used to say to me driving into town “To puke or not to puke that is the question?” I was not a good car traveller.
    It occurs to me that puke might be a kiwism too – they do sneak up on you. Is it?

    • Charli | Wanderlusters

      Hi Hannah, thanks for stopping by.

      We’re actually house sitting in the Papamoa Hills at the moment and often drive through Te Puke or indeed ‘To Puke or not to puke’! I think that must be a popular saying as we’ve found ourselves referring to it by that name also!

      It actually means ‘The hill’ and should be pronounced “teh-pook-eh”, but it’s much more fun to be a tad creative with the pronunciation don’t you agree!

  5. jill

    Love, love the kiwi-ism. I always get a big kick out of these strange English phrases from different parts of the world.

  6. Suzy

    That’s pretty funny what Waikikamukau means. I haven’t heard of all of these Kiwi-isms.

  7. Abby

    Loved this! Great reminder and tutorial on fun Kiwi phrases… It’s funny, after a few months traveling with Aussies and Kiwis, I began to think it was so easy to tell them apart. These days? I’d have no clue!

  8. Freya

    Hey bugalugs what a great post 🙂 Languages are indeed a funny thing sometimes what is perfectly normal in the one sounds very strange or even worse in another language. I don’t think I would understand a word they are saying but luckily I have your list now. WoW just back from a week yacht cruising? I’m so jealous.

    • Charli | Wanderlusters

      Hey Freya, I know what you mean regarding the subtle differences in meaning. Sometimes words that sound similar in different languages have completely opposite meanings! We’re slowly picking up the New Zealand slang although bugalugs was a new one for me!

  9. Nicole | Suitcase Stories

    I love the kiwi-isms! As an Aussie I knew of most of them but not all.

    Right now, I’m off to the dairy to get me a lolly before I’m too fagged out to scull my booze bugalugs! lol

  10. cosmoHallitan

    Great post! Equal parts fascinating and hilarious. It’s so interesting how language develops and evolves. I sometimes have to turn the subtitles on when watching British shows and movies to keep from getting lost!

  11. Kate | Canuckiwikate

    Gotta love the kiwi-isms! It took me a wee while to suss out the vocab, but once I did I was away. The real challenge, was learning to teach in NZ because I had to learn Te Reo Maori at the same time as teaching it to my little cherubs! I’ve got a good handle on it now, and it’s surprising how much I naturally use on a daily basis. One of my favourites is ‘tutu’ as in “don’t tutu with that” or “don’t be a tutu”, which is not what a ballerina wears, but means ‘to fidget’ or be a fidgeter.

    • Charli | Wanderlusters

      Oh wow. I love listening to Te Reo Maori. we have the Maori channel on in the background sometimes. It’s very soothing! I bet Maroi isms could be a whole different post! Thanks for sharing your love of Kiwi isms Kate.