Photo NZ Herald
Who Are On New Zealand’s Money Of All Time. Photo NZ Herald

New Zealand currently uses the New Zealand Dollar but that only came into being in 1967 and before that NZ had New Zealand Pounds and even that had only been a thing since 1933, before that we were still a British colony and used British Pounds! Today the New Zealand dollar is one of the top ten most traded currencies in the world and makes up about 2% of the daily exchange market worldwide.


The world's Earliest Banknotes

Records exist of banking facilities in Babylon 4,000 years ago, and there is evidence that the Chinese, Greeks and Romans had banking facilities long before the Christian era.

The first true paper money appeared in China about 700 AD, but several centuries passed before paper was used in Europe.

In 1694, the Bank of England began issuing banknotes. These featured just a few lines of engraved text that promised to pay a specified sum at the bank's premises. The banknote also had spaces for a handwritten date, number, signature and the name of the payee. The banknotes showed the figure of Britannia, but had few other decorative features.

In New Zealand, paper money arrived with the Europeans. Before 1934, the six trading banks had produced the banknotes in common circulation. However, these banks were not obliged to accept each other’s banknotes. In 1924, the trading banks reached an agreement on a standard design.

Who are on New Zealand’s banknotes?

NZ$5 – Sir Edmund Hillary, mountaineer

Photo BBC
Photo BBC

Edmund Hillary, in full Sir Edmund Percival Hillary, (born July 20, 1919, Auckland, New Zealand—died January 11, 2008, Auckland), New Zealand mountain climber and Antarctic explorer who, with the Tibetan mountaineer Tenzing Norgay, was the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.

New Zealand’s five-dollar note has been named the banknote of the year for 2015, a “clear winner” among nearly 40 eligible designs from a record 20 countries.

The honour is awarded every year by the International Bank Note Society.

NZ$10 – Kate Sheppard, suffragette

Photo Banknote World
Photo Banknote World

In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote. The most prominent member of the Women's suffrage movement was Kate Sheppard who campaigned for many years to get women the vote and this had a dramatic impact on suffragette movements in many other countries! That is why you'll find her picture on the $10 bill.

On the reverse side you'll see the Whio, Blue Duck. This is another endemic species of New Zealand bird whose name is a reference to its call and pronounced 'fee-oh'. The species is another under threat from introduced species and their numbers have been in decline although there are a few well funded projects to mange these populations and increase their numbers.

READ MORE: 10 Unique Natural Wonders in New Zealand

NZ$20 – Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen

Photo rnz
Photo rnz

The 20 New Zealand dollar note front design features the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (Queen of the United Kingdom and 15 other commonwealth realms) on a background with a view of the two main buildings of the New Zealand Parliament, situated in Wellington. The design is completed with a holographic seal of New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea.

The reverse of the note illustrates the New Zealand Falcon or Kārearea, followed by a Marlborough rock dais, on a background with Mount Tapuaenuku, located in the south of the island. This note is part of the 2016 series, and its color is green, brown, and yellow multicolor.

NZ$50 – Apirana Ngata, Maori politician

Photo wikipedia
Photo wikipedia

Āpirana Ngata of Ngāti Porou was born at Te Araroa on the East Coast. He was the first Māori person to receive a University degree. Known for his work in Parliament and his tireless championing and protection of Māori culture and language. He strengthened Māori communities and worked in Parliament from 1905 to 1943. Sir Āpirania Turupa Ngata stands tall on New Zealand’s $50 note.

NZ$100 – Ernest Rutherford, physicist

Photo stuffcoNZ
Photo stuffcoNZ

Awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1908 due to his work on the disintegration of elements, Rutherford remains an enduring part of scientific history and a true Kiwi icon. He is worthy of a place on New Zealand’s highest value bill.

What are the Birds on the Back of the New Zealand Banknotes?
Photo Wikipedia
Photo Wikipedia

NZ$5 – Yellow-eyed Penguin / Hoiho

NZ$10 – Blue Duck / Whio

NZ$20 – New Zealand Falcon / Karearea

NZ$50 – Blue Wattled Crow / Kokako

NZ$100 – Yellowhead / Mohua

Who appears on New Zealand’s coins?

New Zealand’s head of state is the British monarch. This does not compromise the country’s independence because they do not exercise any powers in New Zealand as King or Queen of the United Kingdom. As New Zealand’s sovereign, the head of Queen Elizabeth II appeared on the country’s coins for 70 years. The youthful image on the commemorative coin issued at the time of the Queen’s coronation in 1953 (top left) contrasts with the mature depiction on the 50-cent coin issued in 2001 (bottom).

Photo teara
Photo teara

New Zealand coins are split into five different sizes and each coin has its own unique engraving. All the coins show Queens Elizabeth II, similar to the $20 this is a remnant of New Zealand's colonial past however the front of the coins depict all things New Zealand.


The $2 coin shows an image of the Great White Egret known in New Zealand as a Kotuku. It is a common bird in Australia and in other areas of the Asia-Pacific but in New Zealand it is only found on the West Coast and its breeding ground is centered around the small lagoon of Okarito. We visit the small town of Okarito as we make our way up the South Island's West Coast and it is possible to see the Kotuku however it is still quite rare even though this its only breeding area.

The $1 coin has the most famous New Zealand birds, the Kiwi! The fuzzy, flightless bird has become world famous and an international icon for New Zealand and so we have it pride of place on the dollar coin!

The 50c coin shows an image the ship, The Endeavour. The HMS Endeavour was the ship that Captain James Cook commanded during his voyage of discovery between 1769-1771 where came across Australia and New Zealand.

The 20c depicts a well-known Maori carving of Chief Pukaki and the 10c coin has a carved Maori head known as a Koruru.

Where coins are minted

New Zealand’s $1 and $2 coins are minted by the Royal Mint in the United Kingdom. The 10 cent, 20 cent and 50 cent coins are minted by the Royal Canadian Mint.

Other mints we have used over time include the Royal Australian Mint, Norwegian Mint and the South African Mint Company.

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