Behind the New Zealand Currency

Posted by:
25 Sep 2014

New Zealand used to follow the same “pound” currency system as the United Kingdom. It wasn’t until late 1967 that we aligned with the Australian dollar, followed by the US dollar in 1971.

New Zealand uses the dollar sign ($) and has 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5 dollar banknotes along with 2 and one dollar coins and 50, 20 and 10 cent coins. Between July and October 2006, the 50, 20 and 10-cent coins changed to become lighter and more easily recognisable and the previously used 5-cent coin was removed from circulation.

We’re going to give you a tour of our currency, showing milestones and important people in our history, as well as some of the beautiful landscapes and birds you’ll find on our colourful and interesting currency.


The current notes were introduced in 1992 and each features a prominent New Zealander and a native New Zealand bird and scenery. In 1999, more durable and water resistant polymer notes replaced the paper notes. Only 11 countries around the world use these polymer notes and since water is everywhere in New Zealand, we’re very lucky to have waterproof notes!

$5 note

5 dollar NZ note

An orange/brown colour, the $5 note is the most widely used and popular note. The front features Sir Edmund Hillary, a native New Zealander who was the first person in the world to reach the summit of Mt Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Behind him is Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain.

A scene from Campbell Island lies on the back of the note, along with the Hoiho (Yellow Eyed Penguin).

$10 note

10 dollar nz note

A distinctive blue colour, this note features Kate Sheppard, a prominent member of the New Zealand Women’s Suffrage movement. New Zealand went on to become the first nation to let women vote. Beside her is a map of New Zealand and a Camellia flower, a symbol for universal suffrage in New Zealand.

The rear of the note shows a Whio (blue Duck) which is an endangered species in New Zealand.

$20 note

20 dollar nz note

This green coloured note proudly displays the New Zealand Parliament Buildings alongside a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, taken in 1986. She remains as New Zealand’s Head of State.

Mt Tapuaenuku lies on the back of the note along with the Karerea (New Zealand falcon).

$50 note

50 dollar nz note

This note’s colour is a mix between purple and maroon. Adorning the front is Sir Apirana Ngata, a prominent Maori politician and lawyer. Beside him lies the Porourangi Meeting House at Waiomatatini Marae.

On the back, in the background, is Pureora Forest Park, recognised as one of the finest rainforests in the world. The featured bird is the Kokako (Blue Wattled Cow).

$100 note

100 dollar nz note

With a red/maroon colour, this note shows off Lord Rutherford of Nelson, widely known as the father of nuclear physics, and the first person to split the atom. To the left of him is the Nobel Prize he won in 1908.

Eglinton valley in Fiordland National Park lies on the back, along with the Mohua (yellowhead).


The back of all coins feature a right-facing portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Because of this, this is usually referred to as the “heads” side when flipping a coin (often used to make decisions – choose heads or tails).

NZ coin tailsNZ coin heads

10-cent coin

Made of copper-plated steel, this coin is a copper colour featuring a Maori carved head (koruru) and Maori rafter patterns.

20-cent coin

This silver coloured coin is made of nickel-plated steel with a representation of a carving of the famous Maori Chief Pukaki. Notice the 5 unique indentations on the edges.

50-cent coin

Also a silver colour, the 50 cent coin is made of cupro-nickel. The front bears the Endeavour, the ship Captain Cook commanded on his first voyage to Australia and New Zealand in 1770. Behind the ship Mt Taranaki, which was originally named Mt Egmont by Cook.

$1 coin

Aluminium bronze gives this coin its gold colour, and features New Zealand’s symbols – the Kiwi bird and silver fern.

$2 coin

The same gold colour as the dollar coin, this coin is also made of aluminium bronze. The Kotuku (Eastern Great Egret) flies across it, ringed by Maori koru symbols. The Kotuku is one of the rarest birds in New Zealand and is highly regarded in Maori mythology.


We hope this has given you a great insight into New Zealand currency. For more information, feel free to leave a question in the comments area below – or head to your local library for more information.

All images courtesy of NZ Bank