Population size and change

This section provides statistics on where people live in New Zealand and how this has changed over time.

You can also find information on how population size and growth can impact on the environment and our health.

New Zealand’s population hits 4.5 million

In 2013, there were 4.5 million people living in New Zealand.

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, with one in three people (33 percent) living there.  The major population centres in New Zealand are:

  • Auckland City (1,415,600 people)
  • Christchurch City (341,400 people)
  • Wellington City (191,000 people)
  • Hamilton City (141,600 people)
  • Dunedin City (120,200 people)
  • Tauranga City (114,700 people).

Overall, 76 percent of the New Zealand population lives on the North Island.

Population density is relatively low in New Zealand by international standards, at 16 people per square kilometre. Cities with the highest population densities include Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland.

Population growth highest in Auckland, Canterbury, Queenstown

Population growth in New Zealand has been slow and constant in the past few decades. In 2013, the New Zealand population was 4.5 million people, up from 4.1 million in 2006.

Regions with large population increases from 2006 to 2013 included Auckland, some areas of Canterbury, and Queenstown. The Canterbury region changes are partly due to people shifting from Christchurch to surrounding areas after the 2011 earthquake.

In terms of population numbers, Auckland had the largest gain since 2006 (110,600 people, an 8 percent increase).

Figure 1Population change by Territorial Authority (2006 to 2013) 

Population size and change can affect environmental health

Population growth can affect environmental health in both positive and negative ways.

An increase in population can have positive environmental health outcomes, through economic development and growth, and possibly increased funding for programmes related to environmental issues [1]. In areas with larger populations, services such as public transport, reticulated water supplies and good wastewater treatment plants can be more cost effective.

However, urban areas with larger populations can put pressure on the environment. For example, population growth and higher population density can lead to higher levels of air pollution, due to home heating, vehicles and industry.

Rapid or persistent population growth can also place heavy demands on the environment and ecosystems, and can put pressure on local infrastructure and services [2]. Negative effects of population growth can include waste and sanitation issues and poorer recreational water quality.

A decreasing population size can put pressure on essential services. Fewer ratepayers can make it difficult to maintain basic infrastructure.

Information about the data

Census usual resident population count and change
Source: Statistics New Zealand census data (2006 and 2013)


1. Kerr R. 1997. Population and immigration. Paper presented at the New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment Annual Conference, Auckland.

2. Briggs D. 1999. Environmental Health Indicators: Framework and methodologies. Geneva: World Health Organization.

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