The 14 Most Important New Zealanders

sir edmund hillary
sir edmund hillary

For a little country in the middle of the pacific, New Zealand does punch above its weight. Our beutiful little nation has produced some of the world leading scientists, athletes and accomplished many world firsts.

Below is the list of New Zealanders who are voted the most important Icons of today. Some you will love and some you will hate, but let’s face it, these people are true Kiwi Icons.

Did we miss any? Feel free to discuss more below.

14. Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe, NZ Cinema Icon – image copyright expatclaptrap

1964 – Present
This guy, why Russell Crowe? you may ask. Let’s face it, Russell Crowe is a kiwi icon, he was born here and we should be proud of this. This is what the people voted for after all. Russell Ira Crowe was born in Wellington, New Zealand. His family moved to Australia when he was a small child, settling in Sydney, and Russell got the acting bug early in life.

He came to international attention for his role as the Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius in the epic film Gladiator, for which Crowe won an Academy Award for Best Actor, a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, an Empire Award for Best Actor and a London Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and 10 further nominations for best actor.


13. Robert Muldoon

Robert Muldoon
Robert Muldoon, NZ Political icon – image copyright douglaslloydjenkins

1921 – 1992
If you remember Robert Muldoon, he may not be considered a positive influence or a true New Zealand icon. However, his leadership and political influence shaped the country we have today, makeing him a very important part of NZ history.

Muldoon came to power promising to lead “a Government of the ordinary bloke.” He appointed himself Minister of Finance. His tenure as Prime Minister was plagued by an economic pattern of stagnation, high inflation, growing unemployment, and high external debts and borrowing.

In 1984, he was only the second Prime Minister to receive a knighthood while still in office. Muldoon was a polarising figure and has been variously described as a “bully”, an “enigma,”, and “a strong believer in the battler, the little man, the ordinary citizen and his or her rights.”


12. John Walker

John Walker
John Walker, New Zealand Sport Icon – image copyright

1952 – Present
John Walker, the third of New Zealand’s triumvirate of great milers, was very much a man of his times. He was a track and field rock star. He was bigger than most of his rivals and cut an impressive figure as he burnt up the tracks of Europe, his long, flaxen hair trailing behind him.

But the style and the image would have counted for little if he hadn’t also been a champion athlete, and he was one of the best. His international career spanned nearly 20 years – extraordinary durability for a runner – and his string of achievements is mind-boggling.


11. Bill Hamilton

Bill Hamilton
Bill Hamilton, NZ Jet Boat icon – image copyright jetboatpokomatsu

1899 – 1978
Was a New Zealand engineer who developed the modern jetboat. Hamilton never claimed to have invented the jet boat. He once said “I do not claim to have invented marine jet propulsion. The honour belongs to a gentleman named Archimedes, who lived some years ago.” What he did was refine the design enough to produce the first useful modern jet boat.

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10. A J Hackett

A J Hackett
A J Hackett, Bungy Jump icon – image copyright theedge

1958 – Present
Putting New Zealand on the map by inventing the commercial bungy jump, A J Hackett will forever be a kiwi Icon. Alan John “A.J.” Hackett ONZM is a New Zealand entrepreneur who popularised the extreme sport of bungy jumping. He made a bungy jump from the Eiffel Tower in 1987 and founded the first commercial bungy site in 1988.


9. Sir Ernest Rutherford

Sir Ernest Rutherford
Sir Ernest Rutherford, New Zealands Science icon – image copyright Atomic Model Timeliner

1871 – 1937
Lord Ernest Rutherford – New Zealand’s greatest scientist and the man behind the face that adorns the NZ $100 dollar bill – was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1908, recognising his contributions to nuclear science. Rutherford became the first person to identify the structure of the atom and to successfully ‘split the atom’. The official citation for his prize reads “for investigations into the disintegration of the elements and the chemistry of radioactive substances”.


8. Te Rauparaha

Te Rauparaha
Te Rauparaha, Aotearoa Maori icon – image copyright Tiki Rau

1760s –1849
Not many people know of this New Zealand icon, but historically he is one of the most important icons New Zealand must remember. Te Rauparaha was a Māori rangatira and war leader of the Ngāti Toa tribe who took a leading part in the Musket Wars. He was influential in the original sale of land to the New Zealand Company and was a participant in the Wairau Affray in Marlborough.

It is generally considered that Te Rauparaha was born in 1768, in Te Taharou near Kawhia, the year before Captain Cook’s arrival in New Zealand. Te Rauparaha’s father was Werawera, a chief of the Ngati Toarangatira tribe. Te Rauparaha’s mother was Parekohatu, from the Ngati Ruakawa tribe.


7. Jonah Lomu

Jonah Lomu, NZ’s rugby icon – image copyright

1975 – 2015
Jonah Lomu was a New Zealand rugby union player. He became the youngest ever All Black when he played his first international in 1994 at the age of 19 years and 45 days. Playing on the wing Lomu finished his international career with 63 caps and 37 tries. He is regarded as the first true global superstar of rugby.

Lomu burst onto the international rugby scene during the 1994 Hong Kong Sevens tournament, the same year he made his fifteen-a-side debut. He was widely acknowledged as the top player at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa even though New Zealand lost the final to the host South Africa. His performance at the Rugby World Cup established him as “rugby union’s biggest drawcard”.


6. Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson New Zealand’s entertainment icon – image copyright Senses of Cinema

1961 – Present
Film director, screenwriter, and film producer. He is best known as the director, writer, and producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy.

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His career began with the splatstick horror comedy Bad Taste and the black comedy Meet the Feebles before filming the zombie comedy Braindead. He shared a nomination for Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with his partner Fran Walsh for Heavenly Creatures, which brought him to mainstream prominence in the film industry.


5. Billy T. James
Billy T James, New Zealand Comedy Icon

1948 – 1991
Billy T James ranks as a key figure in the development of Kiwi comedy. Billy honed his talents as a singer and comedian on stages worldwide, then brought them to a local TV audience on throwback show Radio Times. His self-titled comedy show was a major ratings hit.


4. Peter Blake

Peter Blake
Peter Blake, NZ Sporting Icon – Image copyright

1948 – 2001
Peter Blake was a New Zealand yachtsman who won the 1989–1990 Whitbread Round the World Race, held the Jules Verne Trophy from 1994 to 1997 by setting the fastest time around the world as co-skipper of ENZA New Zealand, and led his country to successive victories in the America’s Cup.

Blake was shot and killed by pirates while monitoring environmental change on the Amazon River on 5 December 2001. He was 53 years old.


3. Hōne Heke

Hōne Heke
Hone Heke, Aotearoa icon – image copyright Te Ara

1807 –1850
Ngāpuhi chief Hōne Heke was an influential northern Māori voice in favour of the Treaty of Waitangi. However, he later became a leading opponent of British rule in New Zealand.

Heke was probably born around 1808. He came under the influence of missionaries as a teenage student at the Kerikeri Mission School. He was baptised a Christian in 1835 and took on the name Hone.


2. Kate Sheppard

Kate Sheppard
Kate Sheppard, Women Rights – image copyright

1848 –1934
Through her skilful writing and persuasive public speaking, Kate successfully advocated women’s suffrage. She organised petitions and public meetings, by writing letters to the press, and by developing contacts with politicians. She was the editor of The White Ribbon, the first woman-operated newspaper in New Zealand.

Her pamphlets Ten Reasons Why the Women of New Zealand Should Vote and Should Women Vote? Contributed to the cause. This work culminated in a petition with 30,000 signatures calling for women’s suffrage that was presented to parliament, and the successful extension of the franchise to women in 1893. As a result, New Zealand became the first country to establish universal suffrage.


1, Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary, New Zealand Exploring Icon – image copyright Academy of Achievement

1919 – 2008
Sir Edmund Hillary was New Zealand’s greatest hero. The tall, gangly beekeeper seized world headlines when he and his Sherpa companion Tenzing Norgay, on May 29, 1953, became the first to scale the summit of Mount Everest.

He died on January 11, 2008, aged 88 and never forgot that he reached the summit with Tenzing, he devoted the rest of his life to fundraising to improve the health, education and environment of the Sherpa people of Nepal.