01.01.02. Key geographical and demographic characteristics | New Zealand

01.01.02. Key geographical and demographic characteristics | New Zealand

13 Sep 2022

New Zealand comprises ~600 islands with a total land mass of  ~265,000km2. Almost all the population reside on the two main islands – North and South – with a smattering of other inhabited smaller islands including Stewart Island, Waiheke Island, and the Chatham & Pitt islands. New Zealand’s population density is relatively low at ~18 people per square kilometre but there is considerable variation (Statistics NZ, 2021) with a higher density in the main metropolitan areas. The North Island accounts for 77% of the population and is growing at 2.2% per year, faster than the national average of 1.4% per year. The median centre of the population (defined as the point of intersection of two lines: one equally dividing the population north and south, the other equally dividing the population east and west) is shifting further North toward Auckland, New Zealand’s centre of trade and most populous city at ~1.4 million inhabitants (figure 3). Auckland is home to close to two-thirds of the Pacific and Asian ethnic group populations (63.9 and 62.6 percent, respectively) and 51% of MELAA ethnic groups usually live there.

Urbanisation is ~86%, with most of the population living in or around a major city (World Population Review, 2021).

From the 2018 census (Environmental Health Intelligence New Zealand, 2018):

  • 51.2% of the population lived in the 7 major urban areas (population 100,000+) of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton, Tauranga, Dunedin, and Lower Hutt;
  • 14.1% lived in 13 large urban areas (population 30,000-99,999) such as Rotorua, Whanganui, and Invercargill;
  • 8.4% lived in 22 medium urban areas (population 10,000-29,999) such as Cambridge, Te Awamutu, and Rolleston;
  • 10.0% lived in 136 small urban areas (population 1,000-9,999) such as Thames, Stratford, and Gore;
  • 16.3% of New Zealanders lived in rural areas (population <1,000).

A higher proportion of the Māori population lives in small urban areas (14.7%) and rural areas (18.0%), compared with the total population (10.0% and 16.3% respectively). Most Pacific peoples in New Zealand live in major urban areas (75.7%) or large urban areas (11.6%).


Environmental Health Intelligence New Zealand. (2018). Urban–rural profile. Massey University. Available from: https://ehinz.ac.nz/indicators/population-vulnerability/urbanrural-profile/.

Statistics NZ. (2021). Subnational Population Estimates: At 30 June 2021 (provisional). New Zealand Government Website. Available from: http://archive.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/population/estimates_and_projections/SubnationalPopulationEstimates_AtJun17_MR3.aspx#gsc.tab=0.

World Population Review. (n.d.). New Zealand population. World Population Review website. Available from: https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/new-zealand-population.