From the Old World to the New : Italian Immigration to New Zealand

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New Zealand has a mapped and written history since around 1700 when the great explorers started sailing to the South Pacific. Prior to that Maori have occupied this land, Aotearoa, for at least 700 years, quite possibly longer. That is still only a maximum of 1000 years or less of human occupation.


The built environment in New Zealand is incredibly young. Our oldest surviving building dates to around 1820…less than 200 years old!

stone house

The Stone House in Kerikeri, New Zealand.

In comparison, Monte d’Accoddi in Italy is around 5000-6000 years old, or you can stroll through Rome past the Pantheon, dating from 125 AD, nearly 2000 years old, and there are a number of existing churches throughout Italy built through the 300s AD.

monti d'accodi

So what would it be like to be an Italian and to move across to the other side of the world. To make a home away from all the history and beauty of Italy, away from family and familiar food, custom and culture. And why would anyone do that, especially an Italian.

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The site records Antonio Ponto, a seaman on Captain James Cook’s ship, the Endeavour, in 1770, as the first Italian to set foot on New Zealand soil.

The Club Garibaldi website trace their earliest Italian immigrant to Wellington to be a teenager from the volcanic island of Stromboli in the 1880s, Bartolo Russo. Others gradually followed in a chain migration pattern, most being fishermen and market gardeners. They were leaving a life of poverty and hardship and seeking la bella fortuna, emigrating to countries all over the world.

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The website lists the various settler groups that came, the region in Italy that they came from and where they settled in NZ:

  • Fishermen from the island of Stromboli and from Massa Lubrense, near Naples, came to Wellington, so that a part of Island Bay became informally known as Little Italy.
  • Tomato growers from Massa Lubrense and Potenza in southern Italy settled in Nelson.
  • Gold miners who had come from the Valtellina valley in Lombardy eventually became dairy farmers in Taranaki.
  • Market gardeners from Tuscany and the Veneto grew fruit and vegetables in the fertile Hutt Valley.
  • Coal miners from Belluno, Vicenza and Conco in the Veneto settled in West Coast mining towns.

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Much later, in the 1960s some Italians came to work on hydro electric projects and in forestry but recent arrivals are to Auckland and Wellington cities and work is within the professions. In the 2013 census 3795 permanant residents identified as being Italian. I am unable to find out how many Italians are here under other access visas.



It is not easy for Italians, (or any migrants) to live permanently in New Zealand.18-30 year olds can come and live and work for 12 months as long as they meet the criteria. Over 30 years old and it all gets a bit harder. There are requirements such as the need to be skilled or have an occupation that is in demand or even have a job offer. (Immigration NZ: Having said that, it can’t be too hard as many, many people emigrate from their own countries and come to NZ all the time, South Africans, Chinese, Indian, Australian, Phillipinos, English, Samoan, Fijian…

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And what is life like for them here? I can only go by what I hear from the few Italians I have met. It’s more expensive than they anticipated, they miss their family,… terribly, they find our loose family ties very strange, they find us a bit strange, smorgasbord meals where we mix all our foods together on one plate is not respectful to the food or the cook, our vague, indirect manner is confusing, there are cultural differences in communicating, we are overly positive and accepting when they want to honestly assess the situation, in fact they have to work hard at trying to be more sensitive as their directness can be interpreted as rude, at first it is exhausting having to speak and think in English all the time….

I’m sure there are many more experiences so I will write another post at some stage after canvassing further opinion.

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