NZ FAQ Series: Sports and Recreation

Kiwis are renowned for their love of sport, and the country’s magnificent landscapes provide a perfect setting for a range of both adrenaline fuelled and more contemplative recreational activities.

New Zealanders are both enthusiastic participants and spectators when it comes to sport. As might be expected given its history, most of the major sporting codes in New Zealand are of British origin. Golf, netball, tennis and cricket are the four top participatory sports. Soccer is the most popular among young people and rugby union attracts the most spectators.


Cricket is played in backyards, beaches and, more formally, ovals throughout New Zealand during the summer months. While it doesn’t quite generate the passion rugby does, it has the fourth- highest participation rate and is widely watched, especially when the national team (the Black Caps) is playing.


Netball is by far the most popular sport for Kiwi women, both in terms of participation and public interest. The national team (the Silver Ferns) has enjoyed considerable success on the world stage.

Rugby union/Rugby league

Rugby union is not so much New Zealand’s national sport as its national religion, though it’s more watched than played.

Rugby is the fifth-most-popular sport for men, with 11 per cent of kiwi males playing. Players from New Zealand’s Maori and Pacific Islander communities are well-represented in the national team (the All Blacks) and current or past star players, such as Jonah Lomu and Richie McCaw, are feted as national heroes. Rugby league, which spun off from rugby union about a century ago, is also played and watched by some New Zealanders.


Though it’s been a long time since a New Zealander has made the final rounds at Wimbledon, tennis is the second most popular sport for men and the third most popular for women.


While people tend to think of rugby when New Zealand is mentioned, golf is the sport closest to Kiwi’s hearts, with one in four of them playing the game. Golf is the most popular participation sport for men and the second most popular (after netball) for women. There are 400 golf courses scattered throughout New Zealand, the highest per capita in the world.

Other sports

Soccer, hockey and basketball have won some converts from more traditional sports in recent decades, though they remain minority interest. Water sports, such as yachting, rowing and windsurfing, are popular and local competitors have frequently proven themselves world-beaters. In terms of Olympic sports, New Zealand has enjoyed a lot of success in middle- distance running as well as winning medals in rowing, windsurfing, yachting, equestrianism and cycling.

If you’re interested in abseiling, bungee jumping, caving, cycling, fishing, jet skiing, hang gliding, horse riding, hunting, mountain climbing, rafting, scuba diving, snorkelling, swimming or skiing, you’ll find New Zealand has plenty to offer.

To discover your eligibility of living and working in New Zealand, complete our free initial visa evaluation form today.