The “kiwi” is a small bird native to New Zealand as well as the universal nickname for those that call New Zealand home. Why? Let’s explore.
First, let’s learn a little about this unique bird. Scientifically named Apteryx australis meaning “southern bird with no wings,” the kiwi is in fact flightless. It is also classified as a ratite, meaning it has a flat sternum. Other ratite birds include the ostrich and the emu. These little round birds are 14-25 inches tall, fast, and feisty! Kiwis are equipped with strong legs that can be used to kick defensively, a useful addition to their small and non-flight producing wings.
Kiwis are burrowing birds instead of nest makers so they therefore live in forests and grassy areas. They emerge at night and rummage for tasty treats on the ground with their long pointy bills. This sneaky nature enables kiwis to live up to 50 years in the wild!
Now, why in the world are New Zealanders called Kiwis if Americans are not called Eagles? History has the answer.
The Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, made cloaks of kiwi feathers. In hunting for this burrow dweller, no doubt they became familiar with the sneaky nature of the kiwi. They referred to it as the hidden bird of the god of forests and birds. My, my, kiwi… you are leaving quite the impression.
When New Zealand became a British colony in 1841, British scientists were eager to learn as much as possible about this unfamiliar land. A zoologist of the British Museum was able to examine a kiwi skin and distribute the official title of Apteryx australis.
Towards the end of the century, New Zealand businesses realized the uniqueness of the feathered friend and began using its likeness as a part of their trademarks. It then appeared on the notes of the Bank of New Zealand and the rest is history. Well, this is all history!
In 1896, the kiwi was officially protected by the New Zealand government.
This is all very interesting, but why are the people of New Zealand referred to as Kiwis?
Naturally, it is because of political cartoons! In the early 1900s, cartoonists used the kiwi bird to depict New Zealanders and their position in world events such as rugby and international conferences.
Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back appeared in the form of Kiwi Shoe Polish. Following the trend of using the kiwi bird as a trademark, this shoe polish did just that. Turns out, it was also fantastic shoe polish. The company took off during World War I when soldiers in wet trenches were in desperate need of those kiwi adorned tins of waterproof relief. So Kiwi Shoe Polish became known worldwide. New Zealand soldiers fighting in World War I embraced the image and began using the kiwi as their very own badge.
“Who are those soldiers over there, Charles?”
“Why, can’t you see? The Kiwis of course!”
Ironically, the kiwi, who cannot fly, appears on the official emblem of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
What to do in New Zealand:
Mount Cook National Park – All types of nature lovers can appreciate the natural beauty here.
Bay of Islands – These 140 tropical islands are home to penguins, dolphins, and wales.
Fox Glacier and/or Franz Josef Glacier – Take a helicopter ride, hike, or go ice climbing.
Waiotapu/Rotorua – Experience geothermal wonders.
Queenstown – New Zealand’s adventure capital has something for everybody.
Mata Mata – This movie set is a great spot for Lord of the Rings fans.
Tongariro National Park – This is the oldest National Park in New Zealand.
Kaikoura – Sea creatures and sea lovers alike love this village.
Wellington – It may have beef, but it also has beaches and boardwalks.
Waitomo Caves – Try “caving” or tubing!
Abel Tasman National Park – This wilderness reserve great for hikers and kayakers.
Fiordland National Park / Milford Sound – Be blown away by beautiful dramatic landscapes and waterfalls.