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New Zealand passports | Uruwhenua Aotearoa

The Department of Internal Affairs | Te Tari Taiwhenua


Passport design story

The ‘Navigation’ theme

It is accepted that New Zealanders are prolific travellers, sometimes even referred to as ‘the world’s greatest travellers’. For a nation framed by water, international travel is never a simple drive over a border. For New Zealanders, this means a ‘journey’ must be undertaken. Looking back in time, all New Zealanders, or their ancestors, journeyed here from somewhere else.

The passport’s new design evolved from the concept of navigation and our evolution from a place of discovery, to a place of destination and follows the journeys of the earliest explorers of New Zealand through to the journeys made by Kiwis today. Themes of arrival and departure, navigation and time are represented figuratively and metaphorically throughout the passport.

The journey begins at sea, with New Zealand below the horizon, representing the leap into the unknown made by early Polynesian explorers who speculated on the existence of land to the south based on the patterns of migratory birds. Travelling towards New Zealand, the land appears and the viewpoint moves closer. As the coastline is reached, the view moves towards a harbour, travels up a river and into the mountains, representing the waves of exploration that penetrated New Zealand’s hinterlands.

Finally the journey ‘launches’ from the summit of Aoraki Mount Cook, representing the modern aerial explorations and journeys made today. In addition, a progressive journey is also made from north to south to reflect the general geographic pattern of exploration and settlement.

Description of design images

Constant images

There are a number of images that form a constant pattern throughout the passport’s design:

  • the ocean pattern – reflecting the maritime traditions of New Zealand, immigration, economy and sustenance, and border
  • the cloud pattern – a reference to the story of Aotearoa and the convection clouds that build up during the day over large islands, which was a navigational indication used by both Polynesian and European explorers
  • the kōwhaiwhai border – derived from a known ocean pattern of Tangaroa, representing the framing of the country by oceans.


Elements that progress throughout the document

A number of elements progress through the passport’s design from front to back:

  • the Southern Cross travels from right to left, representing the movement of the constellation through the sky during the calendar year
  • the perspective shifts from the horizon to an aerial view. The view moves towards the country at sea level and progressively moves onto, and then over, the land. This represents the discovery of New Zealand to how we see it today, from aircraft and on maps
  • the colour moves from purple to orange to green to blue, representing a day’s journey from dawn to twilight
  • images of navigational techniques move from traditional to contemporary, and natural to technological.

Design elements by page


The passports are bound in black with silver foil print. The front and back covers have silver ferns embossed on the outside edge. The Coat of Arms and e-Passport logo are on the front cover and a map of New Zealand is on the back cover.

Inside front cover

The Southern Cross and celestial chart begin the theme of navigation and perspective view by looking towards the sky.

Pages 1 – 2

These pages are polycarbonate and contain the e-Passport chip and the passport holder’s personal details. They feature the cloud and ocean pattern, which is constant throughout the passport. 

Pages 3 – 5

The cloud and oceanic images are in the background and the kōwhaiwhai is introduced.

Pages 6 – 7

The Southern Cross begins its journey from the right side of page seven and no land is visible. 

Pages 8 – 9

Images depicting navigational techniques begin to appear. The frigate bird signals land as it flies up to 100km out to sea to feed at dawn. The magnetic declination in the background represents how birds navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. Cape Reinga becomes visible. 

Pages 10 – 11

The tern signals land as it flies up to 50km out to sea to feed at dawn. The magnetic declination remains in the background. Cape Reinga appears closer.

Pages 12 – 13

Whales migrate to and from Antarctica, tending to swim in calmer oceans closer to land masses. Because they travel slowly they are relatively easy to follow. Their travel south, in November and December, coincides with the appearance of stars and planets, which are used for navigation. The land view shifts south along the west coast towards the Hokianga Harbour.

Pages 14 – 15

The Māori star wheel, or planisphere, is a map of the stars using the universal Māori names. The journey moves south to Hokianga Harbour, or Te Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe, the ‘returning place of Kupe’. Kupe is said to be the first Polynesian to discover the islands of New Zealand.

Pages 16 – 17

Page 17 shows a waka (canoe) and how it was used as a compass. The horizon around the waka is divided up and marked on the railings. Navigators knew the arcs of the sun and stars across the sky at different heights, depending on the time of year. The viewpoint moves closer to the Hokianga Harbour.

Pages 18 – 19

The planisphere star chart contains the brightest stars, constellations and deep-sky objects (astronomical objects beyond our solar system), visible from certain locations on Earth. A planisphere would be designed for a band around the Earth, centred on a certain latitude within the northern or southern hemisphere. The viewpoint continues to move toward the Hokianga Harbour.

Pages 20 – 21

The astrolabe and chart – the astrolabe is an astronomical instrument used by astronomers, navigators, and astrologers. Its many uses included: locating and predicting the positions of the sun, moon, planets and stars; determining local time using local longitude and vice-versa; surveying and triangulation. The land viewpoint moves to Mercury Bay in the Coromandel, noted for visits by Kupe in 950 and Captain Cook in 1769.

Pages 22 – 23

The titi (muttonbird) travels non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand, then departs from the Coromandel and returns via the east coast of China to breed. The land viewpoint moves closer to Mercury Bay.

Pages 24 – 25

The fixed sundial is a device used to measure time by the position of the sun. As the sun moves across the sky, the shadow-edge progressively aligns with different hour-lines on the plate. Such designs rely on the style (a thin rod or a sharp, straight edge), being aligned with the axis of the Earth's rotation. This means if such a sundial is to tell the correct time, the style must point towards true north (not magnetic north), and the style's angle with the horizon must equal the sundial's geographic latitude. The viewpoint continues to move into Mercury Bay.

Pages 26 – 27

These pages depict Abel Tasman’s ships, the ‘Heemskerck’ and the ‘Zeehaen’ as well as a coastal map of New Zealand. The landmass in the background is Separation Point in Golden Bay, where Tasman anchored.

Pages 28 – 29

These pages depict James Cook’s ship ‘Endeavour’ and a coastal map of New Zealand. The land viewpoint moves to Young Nick’s Head, Cook’s first landfall.

Pages 30 – 31

The Harrison H1 clock – inventor John Harrison believed there was a mechanical answer to the longitude problem (how a ship could identify how far west or east it had sailed from its home port), and after 40 years of work, in 1764 proved that a clock could be used to locate a ship's position at sea with extraordinary accuracy. Further developments led to the H4 clock, which was copied by Larcum Kendall and used by Cook on his voyages. The land mass is Tory Channel.

Pages 32 – 33

The sextant allows celestial objects to be measured relative to the horizon, rather than relative to the instrument, ensuring precision. It also allows direct observations of stars. The journey now begins to move inland and moves up the Haast and Landsborough rivers.

Pages 34 – 37

The journey from the north to the south of the country rises above sea level, scaling Aoraki Mount Cook. Supporting graphics show altitude and topography contours.

Pages 38 – 39

The view moves to an aerial position over Aoraki Mount Cook, looking south over the Southern Alps. The hand compass is a navigational device used to determine direction on the Earth while allowing for sighting a target and viewing a bearing at the same time. Hand compasses are useful tools for map reading, scale calculations and orienting. Supporting graphics include orienteering markers.

Pages 40 – 41

These pages show an aerial view over the Southern Alps with topographic contours overlaid. The orientation of the sea and sky pattern changes to reflect the perspective of looking down from an aerial position.

Pages 42 – 43

These pages show an aerial view of the Clutha River emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The journey now departs the New Zealand coast. Modern town planning designs are overlaid to represent the journeys made by New Zealanders today.

Pages 44 – 45

Radar uses electromagnetic waves to identify the range, altitude, direction or speed of both moving and fixed objects such as aircraft, ships, motor vehicles, weather formations and terrain. Modern day travel is represented by aircraft.

Pages 46 – 47

Satellite imagery of New Zealand and online map graphics represent how we see our country today.

Pages 48 – 49

Satellite imagery of New Zealand and global positioning system (GPS) graphics represent how we see our country today. Using a constellation of at least 24 Medium Earth Orbit satellites transmitting precise microwave signals enables a GPS receiver to determine its location, speed, direction and time.

Page 50

The perspective theme finishes by looking down from the stars.

 Inside back cover

The inside back cover shows a map emphasising New Zealand’s mountain ranges.