New Zealand’s multi-cultural heritage: The Dalmatians

Over one hundred and fifty languages are spoken in Auckland, making it one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities.  The 2018 census reveals that 41.6% of Aucklanders were born overseas, most commonly in Asia and the Pacific Islands.

One of the earliest non-British waves of migrants was from Dalmatia, a region along the Adriatic coast of present day Croatia. Dalmatians (known then as “Austrians” as Dalmatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time) began arriving in New Zealand from as early as the 1860s, with most settling in Northland, where they worked digging gum from native Kauri trees for what was then a major export commodity for New Zealand. Kauri gum was primarily used as an ingredient in varnish. The Dalmatians succeeded in this backbreaking work by working collaboratively and developing efficient methods to extract the gum. Many then earned enough money to buy land and start farming in Northland. There was significant intermarriage with local Maori women, and today, when visiting Kaitaia, a town in New Zealand’s far north, you will see that the welcome sign is in Maori, Croatian and English.

Many Dalmatians eventually moved further south to Auckland, where a significant number settled in the west of the city, establishing orchards and, importantly, New Zealand’s wine industry. Today tens of thousands of Aucklanders have Croatian ancestry, including more recent immigrants and their descendants who made New Zealand their home following the ethnic conflicts in their homeland in the 1990s.

Eve Thajudeen 


Ryken  and Associates