The concentration in the north
More than half of New Zealanders live in the northern half of the North Island. The Auckland urban area is home to more than one million people, which exceeds the population of the entire South Island. About 90% of Māori live in the North Island. Close to half the population in the Gisborne region is Māori, making it more Māori than any other region.
About one-quarter of the population live in the southern North Island, and one-quarter in the South Island.
The South Island
Canterbury dominates the South Island, with more than half the South Island’s population living there. The region with the smallest population in the country – around 30,000 – is the South Island’s West Coast.
Urban and rural
Three out of four New Zealanders live in urban areas of 10,000 people or more. Half are concentrated in just four cities – Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch. (Although in the 19th century Dunedin was the nation’s most populous town, it is no longer, in terms of population, one of the country’s ‘four main centres’.) Only one in seven people live in rural areas.
People living in rural areas or in the South Island are less likely to be recent immigrants. The rural population is typically European and Māori, rather than Asian or Pacific Island. In 2001 in South Canterbury’s Waimate district, 98% of the residents were of European ethnicity, and in Southland only one out of 15 people were not born in New Zealand.
The most notable contrasts are between Auckland and the rest of the country. Auckland has more Asians and Pacific Islanders, and more people born overseas – one in three in 2001.
About half the resident population aged five or over moves house at least once every five years. The northern half of the North Island has been growing faster than the South Island. This is the result of immigration and higher Māori and Pacific Island birth rates, rather than of internal migration. Migration within the South Island has favoured Christchurch.