NZD: Explaining New Zealand's Currency

New Zealand dollars Kari Baron / Flickr
New Zealand dollars Kari Baron / Flickr
Joe Coates

Money, they say, makes the world go round. So it’s handy to know as much about the ins and outs of it as possible. With that in mind, take a peak at our guide to the New Zealand dollar; where it came from, the story behind individual notes and what given amounts will buy you.

A brief history

New Zealand hasn’t always been on the dollar. As you might expect, the original currency used on this island nation was the New Zealand pound. The change over took place in 1967, and it must have come as some relief. Up until then the pound was divided into twenty shillings, and each shilling was was divided into twelve pence. It can’t have been much fun working the change out down at the shop. The 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, and 50c coins were initially brought out, and up until about 1970 the ten cent coin bore the legend, ‘One Shilling’ on it.

Pretty Money

The notes

New Zealand’s currency fits well with the Kiwi mentality in that it depicts that which makes NZ great: its nature. Money is one of those interesting things that we use every day, and yet when we scrutinize it closely, we really don’t know that much about it. For instance, the New Zealand notes also have the faces of prominent Kiwis who have helped shape not just their country, but also the world – but if you had to name them you’d probably draw a blank. Let’s take a closer look.

$5 Note

This is the note on which you’d be most likely to recognise the person. It’s the one and only Sir Edmund Hillary, who is famous for being the first man ever to scale Mount Everest. You’d have to wonder what would get your mug onto a bank note, if being the first human in history to stand on top of the world’s tallest mountain doesn’t merit it.

On the reverse side is the noble and majestic Yellow-eyed Penguin.

NZ $5 Note

$10 Note

Kate Sheppard sits proudly on the ten-dollar note, as she should. This pioneering woman claimed this spot by being at the forefront of the women’s rights in New Zealand. In fact, through her efforts in the name of equality, New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Fittingly, on the reverse side of this blue note is the New Zealand Blue Duck.

Kate Sheppard

$20 Note

These bright green notes have the dear old queen on. Obviously, this harks back to when New Zealand was a far-flung offshoot of the British Empire. The other side of the twenty-dollar note has a rather diffident looking bird on. This is the New Zealand Falcon. They aren’t a rare bird, but they are certainly something to see when you catch a glimpse of them. They frequently cruise over the highways looking for roadkill, and the bigger ones have been known to carry off newborn lambs.

NZ Falcon

$50 Note
Āpirana Ngata, the gentleman who sits on the fifty-dollar note was a prominent politician and lawyer. Many regard him as the most effective Maori politician to ever be part of parliament. He was tireless in his efforts to preserve all aspects of Maori culture. On the flip-side of this purple note is the Blue-wattled Crow.

NZ $50 Note

$100 Note

It’s not every day that you hold a nice crisp one hundred-dollar note in your hand, so when you do it’s perhaps fitting that you know a thing or two about it. The person chosen to represent New Zealand’s most valuable note is Lord Rutherford of Nelson, also known down the pub as Ernest Rutherford. This New Zealander basically led the charge when it came to our ideas of modern chemistry. He lived a very notable (sorry) life, but is most famous for his work with the atom. Specifically, it was Rutherford who discovered that the atom was mostly empty and built around a solid, central nucleus. He shares his note with the South Island Lichen Moth.

NZ $100 Note

So, What’s It Worth?

What it all boils down to in the end, of course, is what and how much of it you can get for your money. So, next time you’re in New Zealand and you have a wallet full to bursting with all the different notes, refer back to our guide to see the sorts of things you can purchase.


A fiver is always handy as it’ll get you a coffee or, if you’re in the right spot at the right time, a beer. It’ll also mean that you can legally acquire a pie from a bakery or gas station.


A tenner will pick you up a cheap breakfast at a cafe, but if you want put on breakfast for the family it’ll also get you a small packet of bacon, a dozen eggs, an avocado and some bread and milk. You might also be able to find a campsite for ten bucks a night too.


Twenty bucks will get you twelve ice-cold beers from the supermarket… when they’re on special. It’ll also get you about ten litres of petrol which means you’ll be able to drive to your ten-dollar a night campsite to enjoy your beverages.


If you’re in Auckland a crisp fifty will get you a Skyline Gondola for two. It’ll also get you a couple of mains at a restaurant or into the glow-worm caves at Waitomo.


For one hundred of your hard-earned dollars you can expect to be able to afford a two-person camper for the night, which is a great way to explore this beautiful country. Also, you can buy a basic smartphone!

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