Is New Zealand a part of Australia?
Separated by a small stretch of sea, The Tasman, Australia and New Zealand both share a space ‘down under’. We have rather confusingly similar flags and, to the untrained ear, we may even sound the same. So are New Zealand and Australia a part of the same country? The short answer is no, but as it turns out, we have quite a lot in common.
There are a number of ways to look at this question, from a geographical, a political and a cultural perspective. We’ll start by answering the easy question, “where is New Zealand in relation to Australia?” and then we’ll move on to trickier subjects.
Along the way we’ll share some fun and interesting facts about the relationship between Australia and New Zealand, or what comedian John Oliver refers to as “Australia’s Australia”.
A map of Australia and New Zealand
Around 60 – 85 million years ago, New Zealand and Australia were connected, until a large section of the continental crust broke away and submerged. Today this large landmass covers some 4,920,000 km² (1,900,000 miles²). Only around 7% of it is visible above the surface of the Pacific Ocean, and that includes New Zealand and the islands of New Caledonia to the north.
How far is New Zealand from Australia?
New Zealand is not physically a part of Australia but separated from Australia by the Tasman Sea. The distance between Australia and New Zealand is approximately 1,500km (932 miles) at the closest point between the Australian island state of Tasmania and New Zealand’s South Island.
That’s rather a long way to swim but as it turns out, it can be paddled. In fact, intrepid adventurers have been rowing across the Tasman since 1977, not always successfully we might add. The first person to successfully solo kayak between the two countries was kiwi adventurer, Scott Donaldson who, on his second attempt, became the first person to kayak solo across the Tasman in 2018. He spent 62 days at sea and covered 2,200 km (1,367 miles) paddling from Coffs Harbour on Australia’s east coast to Taranaki on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. You can read more about his epic adventure here.
For the rest of us, flying is probably a better way to go, and flights between Australia and New Zealand are between 2 hours 30 minutes and 7 hours depending on which coast of Australia you’re flying to or from. You can find out more in our guide to flights and flight times to New Zealand.
Was New Zealand ever part of the country of Australia?
We’ve already established that New Zealand was physically a part of the Australian continent millions of years ago but in more recent times, was New Zealand ever part of the country of Australia? The short answer is no, New Zealand has never been a part of the country of Australia or what’s formally referred to as the Commonwealth of Australia.
We can see why this is a common question, but to better understand the answer, you first need to understand a little about the history and formation of Australia.
Australia and New Zealand were both colonised by Britain. Australia was originally made up of six self-governing British colonies, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. Constitutionally, New Zealand began as an extension of the colony of New South Wales and that’s how it remained right up until 1 July 1841 when New Zealand became a separate British colony.
The country of Australia as we know it today, the Commonwealth of Australia, was formed in 1901 following an agreement between the six self-governing colonies which formed the basis of today’s Australian states. Since, at that time, New Zealand was no longer constitutionally bound to New South Wales, New Zealand did not automatically become part of the Australian Commonwealth. New Zealand was of course invited to be part of the Australian federation process, but chose to remain independent. In short, New Zealand has never been a part of the country of Australia.
But could New Zealand at some point still become a state of Australia? While that’s unlikely, it seems that the original Australian constitution left the door open. Section 6 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act still to this day states the following:
“The States shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called a State.”
The great Australia vs New Zealand flag race
Now that you have a better understanding of the relationship between New Zealand and Australia, you’ll begin to understand why our flags are so similar. Below are our respective flags with New Zealand on the left and Australia on the right.
It’s a little bit confusing right? Don’t worry, even Australians can get a little confused at times as you can see from this Australian news broadcast talking about… Australia Day. Spot the flags in the background.
So an obvious question is whose flag was first? The Australian flag was designed and first flown on the 3rd of September 1901. A competition had been held to come up with the design and of the 32,823 entries, five near-identical entries were awarded equal first place. Interestingly, one of the design entries came from a first officer with the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand.
New Zealand’s current flag was officially approved in 1902 which means that technically, Australia’s flag was first. However the origins of the New Zealand flag go back as far as 1867. In 1900 a bill for the current New Zealand flag was introduced but as a result of political dithering, it was only passed in November 1901 and approved by Britain’s King Edward VII on the 24th of March 1902. Score 1-0 Australia!
Finally, it’s not like we haven’t tried to change our flag since 1902. In 2014 then Prime Minister John Key announced a two-stage referendum process to determine whether or not New Zealanders actually wanted a new national flag. The end result of this lengthy and very costly process was that New Zealanders narrowly chose to keep the current flag.
In the process we did have some robust debate and, in typical kiwi fashion, we produced a few ‘interesting’ designs that certainly captured attention around the globe.
What else do New Zealand and Australia have in common?
Flags designs aren’t the only things we appear to have in common. Here are a few other things that Australia and New Zealand share although often not without some sibling-like rivalry.
The origin of the humble pavlova, a fruit and meringue-based dessert loved by Australian and kiwi families alike, has long been a topic of much debate. Named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited both countries in the 1920s, the Oxford English Dictionary claims that the first recorded pavlova recipe appeared in New Zealand in 1927. Who are we to argue.
Without a doubt, Russell Crowe has to be the world’s most Australian non-Australian. He may have made a name for himself while in Australia and Australia may have given him an award for “service to Australian society and Australian film production” (possibly as a way to distract everyone from his true origins) but Russell was born in little old Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city.
Other celebrities that at some point or another have been wrongly labeled as Australians include supermodel Rachel Hunter, singer-songwriter Lorde and singer-songwriter Keith Urban. And yes, we know that Urban moved to Australia when he was just two but still, he’s got kiwi blood in him.
Finally there’s the band Crowded House which, if we really have to be honest, is Australian. Yes, founding member and frontman Neil Finn, is a kiwi but the other two-thirds of the original band members were Australian and the band was formed in Australia. Still though, we just see this as an example of what happens when Kiwis and Australians play nice together.
King Charles III
As former British colonies and members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, both New Zealand and Australia have King Charles III as the sovereign head of state, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on the 8th of September 2022. However, despite both countries having the same head of state, as independent parliamentary democracies, New Zealand and Australia are not the same country.
While there has been talk over the years on both sides of the ditch about breaking away and becoming a republic, it doesn’t look like the role of the monarchy will be changing any time soon.