New Zealand’s unique culture, environment and ‘can-do’ attitude has created some of the most inspiring people of the 20th century. To really understand the culture of New Zealand and what we’re about, learning more about these kiwi greats will shed a great deal of light on what it means to be a New Zealander. From adventurers to sporting greats and passionate environmentalists, here’s a list of our top 5 greatest New Zealanders.

Sir Edmund Hillary

Recognised as embodying the ‘spirit and essence’ of what it means to be a New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary surmounted one of the greatest challenges known to man – he was the first person to successfully summit Mount Everest. His determination, down-to-earth outlook and modest reaction to his achievement endeared him to the world – perhaps embodied in Sir Ed’s first words upon descending to base camp and being questioned by the rest of his expedition as to the status of his attempt. “We knocked the bastard off,” he said in true kiwi fashion.

But it wasn’t only this monumental achievement that makes Sir Ed one of the greatest New Zealanders. Following his Everest summit, he dedicated his life to the building of schools and medical clinics in the Himalayas, with local Nepalis naming him Burra Sahib – literally translated as ‘big heart’. This career of service and high endeavour personifies New Zealand’s ideal character; brave, down-to-earth, and – above all – modest.

Our MoaTrek Kakapo 23-day small group tour of New Zealand includes time to explore the beautiful landscapes around Mount Cook – the place where Sir Edmund Hillary spent much of his time training before leaving for Everest.

Sir Peter Blake

Renowned yachtsman, environmentalist and all-round top kiwi bloke, Sir Peter Blake is most famous for leading New Zealand to successive victories in the America’s Cup in 1995 and 2000. Before this, he won the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World yacht race and set the fastest time around the world as co-skipper of Enza New Zealand between 1994 – 1997. But it wasn’t only his sailing accolades that made him great. After he retired from America’s Cup racing in 2000, he dedicated his time to the environment, leading expeditions to Antarctica and the Amazon monitoring climate change and filming documentaries for his company Blakeexpeditions.

When he was shot and killed by Amazon pirates in December 2001, the nation of New Zealand went into shock. As an outstanding sailor and great leader, he had brought fame and honour to New Zealand, and his environmental work had gone on to make Sir Peter a living legend.

The first day of our MoaTrek Kakapo 23-day tour of New Zealand is spent in Auckland, exploring the viaduct. The viaduct is where Peter Blake and Team New Zealand were based to successfully defend the America’s Cup, and his legacy lives on here. 

Kate Sheppard

Kiwi Kate Sheppard led the campaign that earned New Zealand recognition as the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in the National elections of 1893. Her political skill, boundless energy and passion for the creation of an equal society made her a New Zealander to be proud of. She gave speeches, wrote pamphlets and newsletters and assembled an army of 600 like-minded women to fight for the political rights of women in New Zealand.

In achieving a great victory for women in New Zealand, Kate created a beacon for women all over the world. Today, women in New Zealand are leaders in politics, business and everyday life – we live in a more equal society that Kate Sheppard played a part in creating.

Richie McCaw

All Blacks Great and inspirational New Zealander Richie McCaw lead New Zealand to victory against France in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. His inspirational captaincy and leadership kept the All Blacks calm under immense pressure from a talented French side, eventually winning 8-7. The victory lifted New Zealand out of what had been a dark few years – it came on the heels of a global financial crisis and the devastating Christchurch earthquake, endearing Captain Richie McCaw as a hero to the entire nation. He also repeated the feat in 2015, making the All Blacks the first team to defend their world title, and also the only to win the championship 3 times.

But it’s not only his spectacular captaincy and playing abilities that gives him this hero status. His quiet modesty and down-to-earth nature earnt Richie personality comparisons with other Kiwi greats like Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Peter Blake.  Kiwis love a hardworking, pragmatic hero – and Richie is just that.

New Zealand is rugby-mad, and everywhere you visit you’re likely to see strong evidence of this. From world-class stadiums to locals yarning about the most recent game, it’s a part of our culture that kiwis are strongly passionate about.

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Dame Whina Cooper

A thousand-kilometre march from the Far North to New Zealand’s capital in Wellington embodied the passion and struggles that Dame Whina Cooper endured to bring Maori life and concerns back into the centre of New Zealand politics. The march was a silent protest against the confiscation of Maori land, and served to make European New Zealanders realise how deeply Maori felt about their land and history.

The march was Dame Whina’s most famous achievement in a long line of leadership and service. One of the most indelible images on the landscape of New Zealand history is of an old lady – Dame Whina Cooper – walking down a dusty road, holding hands with her granddaughter.

The far North is a fascinating place to learn more about the history, politics and culture of the Maori people. MoaTrek’s Kakapo 23-day small group tour includes 4 days exploring Northern New Zealand, incorporating visits to the Waitangi Treaty House as well as a spiritual tour of the world’s largest Kauri Tree and the forest it lives in.

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