22 Key Phrases For Navigating New Zealand

20 December 2016
Read Time: 3.8 mins

Kiwis speak English, albeit with their very own inflection, so it’s easy to find your way around and make yourself understood. But did you know that Maori is also an official language of New Zealand, and you will hear it spoken and see its presence in place names, terms and greetings? There are also a few ‘special’ terms unique to Kiwis that may confuse the new visitor. So we’ve put together some key phrases to help you navigate the Land of the Long, White Cloud.

All Blacks

This is the name for the formidable New Zealand national men’s rugby team, because of their black uniforms. As well as being one of the best teams of all time, they are known for their fierce haka (see below), which they perform before each international match.


This Maori name for New Zealand is commonly translated as Land of the Long White Cloud.


If you get invited to someone’s bach (pronounced batch), be sure to go. It’s a Kiwi version of a beach shack – it may not be a palace but it’ll give you a true taste of NZ, with beautiful scenery to boot.

A beachside hut, or bach, in New Zealand. A bach by the sea - what more could you need? Picture: Getty Images


Your bro is your mate and your mate is your bro. And they can get a bit sweaty, if this lyric in Air New Zealand’s Christmas campaign is anything to go by: “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the lane, your bro is glistening.” Now you know.



Chilly bin

To Aussies, it’s an Esky, mate. But to New Zealanders it’s a chillybin and it does exactly what the name implies.


Choice is all kinds of good, from cool, to great, to excellent to awesome.


Similar to ‘choice’, chur can also be used to mean thank you.

Cuzzie or Cuz

See ‘bro’.


No, it’s not a place for cows. It’s a small convenience store, like a corner shop.


This is used at the end of a sentence when you’re not really asking a question, but rather providing a statement, as in: “It’s really hot today, eh.”

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The Haka is a rather terrifying Maori war dance dating from ancient times, when it was a display of pride, strength and unity. It is still used in Maori ceremonies and other events, such as before rugby matches.




If you ever get invited to a hangi, you should go! It’s basically a feast cooked in the ground. Food is wrapped in leaves or more modern accoutrements like foil and wire baskets, placed on hot stones in a hole, covered with wet cloth and earth – and cooked for several hours. It might be fish, chicken, pork, lamb or vegies. Yum!

A feast cooked in a hangi in New Zealand A feast cooked in an earth oven. Picture: Getty Images


Not to be confused with a hangi, the hongi is a traditional Maori greeting, in the order of a handshake, except you press foreheads and noses together instead.


If you’re thinking double-pluggers, you’re in the right ballpark. Jandals are what we Aussies like to call thongs, and double-pluggers are, of course, the best. Some say jandals can also mean rubber sandals.

Jandals - thongs - on the beach in New Zealand. Jandals and sand make for a very Kiwi Christmas. Picture: Getty Images


Kai means food, and New Zealand is blessed with great produce, from green-lipped mussels in Marlborough to West Coast whitebait (Kiwis take their whitebait seriously); roast lamb (they do have a lot of sheep, after all); and favourite Kiwi treats like Chocolate Fish and Pineapple Lumps.

Sheep dot a New Zealand hillside. New Zealand is blessed with abundant sheep. Picture: Getty Images

Kia ora

Kia ora is a simple hello in the Maori tongue.


A marae is a traditional meeting place for the Maori people. It is usually a complex of carved buildings and grounds belonging to a particular tribe or family. You may see marae as you travel throughout New Zealand, but you cannot enter without a formal welcome.

A carved detail in a Maori marae. Picture: Getty Images A carved detail in a Maori marae. Picture: Getty Images

Sweet as

This means something is great, awesome, cruisy, cool. Often combined with ‘bro’ (above).


To go on a Tiki-tour means to take the scenic route (ie get completely lost).

Tu meke



The middle of nowhere.

Yeah nah

To be honest, I’m not sure if this means yes, or no. You’ll have to work it out from the context!

* Featured image: Getty Images

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Renae Spinks

Travel for me is about conversations and connections. There’s nothing like setting foot in a new land and meeting people a world apart. From talking to North Sea fishermen in Norway’s Lofoten Islands to breakfast chat at a B&B in my own back yard, there’s always a story to share and a tale to tell.