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New Zealand - Subdivisions and Dependencies

Last modified: 2023-02-02 by ian macdonald
Keywords: new zealand | province | regions | unitary authorities |
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Traditional provinces (12)

Originally, New Zealand was divided into three provinces, New Ulster, New Munster and New Leinster, which were under the control of the colonial government of New South Wales.
James Dignan, 12 September 1996

Traditional provinces were of short duration, originating with a decision by Royal Charter in 1840 to divide the country into three — New Ulster (North Island), New Munster (South Island) and New Leinster (Stewart Island) but these were never given political effect.

In 1846 another Royal Charter divided the country into two based on a line drawn across from the mouth of the Patea River (just south of the Taranaki border) with the north being New Ulster and the south New Munster. Although political powers were envisaged they never became fully implemented and were overtaken by the N.Z. Constitution Act of 1852.

This established a semi-federal system of government dividing the country into six provinces — Auckland, New Plymouth, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury and Otago. They were responsible for local government but could be over ruled by the general assembly. In 1858 New Plymouth was renamed Taranaki while four more provinces were established — Hawke's Bay (1858), Marlborough (1859), Southland (1861) and Westland (1873) though in 1870 Southland was reabsorbed by Otago. Petitions were made by Northland, North Otago, Buller, South Canterbury and Gisborne for provincial status but the Abolition of Provinces Act of 1875 ended all provincial organisation.

The old provincial areas were accorded the legal status of provincial districts. These have never had any administrative functions. They correspond broadly to areas of community interest and have sentimental and historical associations.
Neale Rosanoski, 3 October 1999

The New Zealand provinces are provinces in name alone, no longer having any form of self government the way that the Canadian provinces do. They did have for a period during the 1850s-1870s and each had its own arms, but I am unaware of any flags.
James Dignan, 12 September 1996

Current divisions

Regions, cities, boroughs, counties and districts

Counties, as far as I know, do not have their own flags (although they probably have Coats of Arms or at least logos). It’s all pretty confusing — they have changed around a little over the years, and I’m not fully sure I understand how the hierarchy works. From memory (and probably incorrect!) New Zealand was divided up into cities, boroughs, counties and districts, I think late last century. Counties tended to be rural areas centred around a town, and had their headquarters in that town (even though the town was quite often a borough with its own separate council. Districts operated pretty much like counties, but they tended not to have a town at the centre. In all, there would have been about 80 counties across New Zealand, plus about ten districts, and most towns of above about 1000 people would have been boroughs. Cities (by New Zealand definitions) have 20,000 people or more. In about 1985, this all changed, with the amalgamating of many boroughs and counties into new district councils, of which there would be about 60.

To make it even more confusing, groups of districts are governed by a higher local government organisation, the region. This is a little bit more like the old provinces, but with far less power (they operate much like English county councils). These tend to cover all areas except the larger cities.
James Dignan, 30 July 1999

Counties haven’t existed since 1989. The 80-odd City/District Councils operate independently from the Regional Councils, which cover the whole country (including all cities), except for some rural areas where the district council is the unitary authority.
Michael Mellor, 1 October 2000

Offshore territories and dependencies

  • Cook Islands: self-governing since 1965, in free association with New Zealand
  • Niue: self-governing since 1974, in free association with New Zealand Neither of those can really be considered NZ territory any more, although they have a special relationship with us which I guess is similar to that of the Marshall Islands and the United States.
  • Ross Dependency: New Zealand territorial claim in Antarctica
  • Tokelau: officially NZ territory; a chain of three tiny islands some 3000 km to the northwest of NZ. Population about 2000.
Most of the others off shore territories are either uninhabited or manned only by meteorology stations and the like:
  • The Kermadecs, to the north of NZ — a weather station on Raoul Island is the only habitation. No flag.
  • South of New Zealand are the sub-Antarctic islands — Campbell, (again, a weather station is the only habitation), The Snares islands, the Bounty islands, the Auckland islands, the Antipodes islands, and — much further south — the Balleny islands (these considered as part of Ross Dependency). All of these are regarded simply as “distant offshore islands”, in much the same way that the Chatham Islands are. None of them has flags.

James Dignan, 17 August 1999

Lesser near islands

There are also a large number of offshore islands much closer in to the mainland (within about 20 km of the coast). The main ones, shown in bold type those with a permanent population of more than a hundred or so people, are:

  • (clockwise around the Northern Island from the northernmost point):
    • Three Kings
    • Hen and Chickens
    • Kawau
    • Little Barrier
    • Great Barrier
    • Rangitoto
    • Waiheke
    • Mayor
    • White
    • Mana
    • Kapiti
  • (clockwise round the Southern Island from the northernmost point):
    • Rabbit
    • D’Urville
    • Arapawa
    • Ruapuke
    • Stewart
    • Resolution
    • Secretary

These are naturally considered to be part of the nearest “mainland” civil division(s).
James Dignan, 17 August 1999