Who Are on the New Zealand Dollar Notes?

Currency, beyond being a medium of exchange, serves as a canvas that reflects a nation’s history, culture, and identity. The New Zealand Dollar (NZD), adorned with the faces of prominent figures, is no exception. In this article, we explore the individuals featured on New Zealand Dollar notes, delving into their contributions, historical significance, and the broader narrative they contribute to the country’s rich tapestry.

Sir Edmund Hillary – $5 Note:

The $5 New Zealand Dollar note features Sir Edmund Hillary, a name synonymous with courage and exploration. Born in 1919, Hillary, along with Tenzing Norgay, achieved the seemingly impossible by becoming the first climbers confirmed to reach the summit of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953. Beyond his mountaineering exploits, Sir Edmund Hillary dedicated his life to philanthropy, particularly in the Sherpa communities of Nepal. His presence on the $5 note symbolizes the Kiwi spirit of adventure and a commitment to making a positive impact globally.

Kate Sheppard – $10 Note:

On the $10 note, New Zealand proudly commemorates Kate Sheppard, a pioneering figure in the fight for women’s suffrage. Born in 1847, Sheppard was a key advocate for women’s rights and played a pivotal role in New Zealand becoming the first self-governing country to grant women the right to vote in 1893. The inclusion of Kate Sheppard on the $10 note serves as a tribute to her unwavering dedication to social justice and the advancement of women’s rights.

Sir Apirana Ngata – $50 Note:

Sir Apirana Ngata, a significant figure in New Zealand’s history, is featured on the $50 note. Born in 1874, Ngata was a prominent Māori politician, scholar, and leader. His contributions to the promotion of Māori culture, language, and education are enduring. Ngata played a vital role in the revitalization of traditional Māori arts and crafts, recognizing the importance of preserving and celebrating New Zealand’s indigenous heritage. The $50 note pays homage to his legacy and the enduring significance of Māori culture in New Zealand.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Ernest Rutherford – $20 Note:

The $20 note showcases the collaborative efforts of two distinguished New Zealanders – Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Ernest Rutherford. Sir Rutherford, born in 1871, was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, often referred to as the “father of nuclear physics.” His groundbreaking contributions to atomic science and the understanding of the atom left an indelible mark on the scientific community. The joint representation of Hillary and Rutherford on the $20 note highlights the diversity of New Zealand’s achievements, spanning both exploration and scientific innovation.

Lord Rutherford of Nelson – $100 Note:

The $100 note features Lord Rutherford of Nelson, another tribute to the renowned physicist Sir Ernest Rutherford. His exceptional contributions to science, including the discovery of the nucleus and groundbreaking experiments in radioactivity, are etched in the annals of scientific history. The $100 note honors Rutherford’s profound impact on physics and positions him as an enduring symbol of New Zealand’s contributions to global scientific knowledge.

Beyond the Notable Figures:

The imagery on New Zealand Dollar notes doesn’t solely revolve around historical personalities. The notes also incorporate iconic representations of the country’s flora, fauna, and cultural symbols.

The Queen – Common Feature:

Queen Elizabeth II, as the constitutional monarch, is a common feature on New Zealand currency. Her image signifies New Zealand’s status as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth. The inclusion of Queen Elizabeth II serves as a nod to the nation’s historical ties with the British Crown.

Whio (Blue Duck) – Various Notes:

The $10, $50, and $100 notes feature the Whio, or Blue Duck, a native New Zealand bird. This inclusion highlights the country’s commitment to preserving its unique biodiversity and showcases the importance of environmental conservation.

Sir Apirana Ngata’s Woven Tukutuku Panel – $50 Note:

The $50 note uniquely incorporates a representation of a traditional woven tukutuku panel associated with Sir Apirana Ngata. This artistic addition pays homage to Māori culture and craftsmanship, underlining the significance of indigenous art in New Zealand’s national identity.

Significance of Representation on Currency:

The choice of individuals featured on New Zealand Dollar notes goes beyond mere symbolism; it reflects the nation’s values, achievements, and ongoing commitment to progress. The diverse representation spanning exploration, women’s rights, science, Māori culture, and environmental conservation captures the multifaceted essence of New Zealand’s identity.

Cultural Symbolism and Design:

The design of New Zealand Dollar notes extends beyond the portraits and incorporates various security features, cultural symbols, and elements inspired by the country’s natural beauty. From native plants like the kōwhai to the depiction of iconic landscapes, each element contributes to a narrative that is uniquely Kiwi.

See Also: New Zealand Dollar (NZD) Currency: History, Symbol, Codes & Denominations


The individuals and symbols adorning New Zealand Dollar notes collectively tell a compelling story of a nation that values exploration, equality, cultural heritage, and scientific innovation. From the towering peaks of Mount Everest to the lush landscapes of Aotearoa, each note serves as a canvas, inviting individuals to explore the rich tapestry of New Zealand’s history and identity.

As the world continues to evolve, the faces on New Zealand Dollar notes serve as a reminder of the nation’s past triumphs, ongoing challenges, and the enduring spirit that defines the Kiwi way of life. The diversity of representation reflects a commitment to inclusivity and recognition of the myriad contributions that have shaped New Zealand into the vibrant and dynamic nation it is today.

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