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Legacy project

From being the first to split the atom to climbing Mt Everest, from entertaining millions with music and film to inspiring generations, New Zealanders have often helped to change the world for the better.

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Peter Gordon

Chef

Peter Gordon (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu) is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s culinary greats. A highly acclaimed chef, restaurateur, and author, he is widely known for his innovative fusion cuisine that blends flavours from different cultures. He has transformed the way many of us think about flavour and food.

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Richard Pearse

Inventor, Aviator

Richard Pearse was a New Zealand farmer, a renowned inventor, and a trailblazer among the world’s aviation pioneers. He is widely recognised as a leading candidate for the first person to have successfully flown a powered aircraft – although the precise timing of his achievement remains a topic of fierce debate. Richard Pearce’s legacy endures as a testament to his spirit of innovation and serves as an inspiration to all those who aspire to pursue their dreams.

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Sir William Hamilton

Engineer, Inventor

When someone once asked Bill Hamilton if he invented the jet boat, the self-taught engineer gave a typically laconic reply: “No, that was Archimedes, and he lived some time ago.”

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Sir Vaughan Jones

Mathematician

The Fields Medal is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of mathematics. It is awarded only once every four years to up to four mathematicians worldwide, under the age of 40, for significant contributions to the study of mathematics.

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Samuel Parnell

Carpenter

After completing his apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner in the 1830s, Samuel Duncan Parnell worked in a large joinery establishment in London. He regularly faced 12 to 14-hour workdays, and was known to debate vigorously with his colleagues about the length of time they spent at work:

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Sir Brian Barratt-Boyes

Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Sir Brian Barratt-Boyes was a New Zealand surgeon who played a crucial role in the development of open-heart surgery. His talent and use of ingenuity saw him overcome numerous challenges in the field and led to the development of techniques that have set the standard for others to follow. His work has saved countless lives and cemented him as one of New Zealand’s most inspiring pioneers.

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Colin Murdoch

Pharmacist

It’s hard to overstate the number of lives saved by Colin Murdoch – is it millions, tens of millions, hundreds? In 1952, inspired by the design of his fountain pen, this polyglot inventor scribbled down an idea for a cheap, disposable syringe that could deliver medicine, especially vaccines, to millions of people without the threat of cross-contamination.

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Billy Apple

Conceptual Artist

Celebrated artist Billy Apple has fronted two international art movements – pop and conceptual art. Born Barrie Bates in Auckland on New Year’s Eve 1935, he attended Mount Albert Grammar School until he was 15.

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David Lange

Politician

David Lange was the 32nd Prime Minister of New Zealand, serving from 1984 to 1989. He is widely considered to be a symbol of New Zealand’s peace, social justice, and independent thinking due to his leadership and commitment to principles.

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Sir Peter Blake

Sailor

If there was ever a life cut cruelly short, it was that of Peter Blake: sailor, adventurer, environmentalist, and national icon. Just 53 when he was shot and killed by Brazilian pirates in 2001, Peter won many of the ultimate prizes in ocean sailing, raced around the world five times and won the adoration of a nation.

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Bill Gallagher

Engineer, Inventor

One of New Zealand’s greatest contributions to the world of agriculture came with the combination of two quite different technologies – fencing and electricity. Imagine a fence that did not rely on sheer strength for its effectiveness. This allows the fence to be light, and therefore easily portable. And a portable fence, easily moved around the farm, opens the way to revolutionise agriculture with brand-new grazing practices.

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Ernest Rutherford

Nuclear Physicist

In about 400 BC, the Greeks conjectured that the world was made up of tiny particles, invisible to the eye. Different combinations of these particles gave rise to the vastly different materials that we see around us in the world. They called these particles ‘atoms’ – the Greek word for ‘indivisible’.

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Sir Harold Gillies, Sir Archibald McIndoe

Plastic Surgeons

For over 5,000 Allied soldiers in the fields of France, Belgium and other battlegrounds of World War I, luck was not on their side. Facial injuries – usually gunshot wounds – were all too common, and it fell to a young New Zealand-born surgeon to come up with a way to cope with the often-horrific results.

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Beatrice Tinsley

Astronomer

Beatrice Tinsley (née Hill) was born in Chester, England, in 1941, the middle of three daughters born to Jean Morton and Edward Hill. She moved with her family to Christchurch in 1946, after the war. After four years in the South Island, the family moved to New Plymouth in 1950, where her father worked as a clergyman before being elected mayor of New Plymouth from 1953–1956. He subsequently served a term on the New Plymouth Borough Council from 1956–1959.

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Jean Batten

Aviator

Jean Batten was a pioneering aviator who gained international recognition for her record-breaking long-distance flights during the early years of aviation. Her fearless determination and exceptional solo flying skills earned her a place among the most celebrated pilots of her time and saw her dubbed the ‘Greta Garbo of the skies’ – a reference to one of the era’s most popular and glamorous movie stars.

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Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby

Comedians

Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement (Ngāti Kahungunu) formed Flight of the Conchords in Wellington in 1998. They began working in the live comedy circuit around the country, where they quickly became (in their own words): “New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo.”

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Georgina Beyer

Politician

Georgina Beyer (Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Porou) was a world leader in so many ways. Born in Wellington on 17 September 1957, Georgie was assigned male at birth, and named after her paternal grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel George Bertrand, who was second in command in the Māori Battalion.

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Dr Joe Hawke

Activist

Since 1881, Ngāti Whātua had been at the forefront of action over tribal land loss, hosting an assembly of Māori chiefs at Kohimarama. By 1900, their land holdings had diminished to Ōkahu Bay in Ōrākei, and the government and Auckland City Council were determined to remove them from there, building a sewerage pipe across the front of the village, and refusing to connect them to the city’s fresh water supply. But Ngāti Whātua would not leave. This was their whenua (land).

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Katherine Mansfield

Writer

Internationally renowned writer Katherine Mansfield has been called one of the 20th century’s most fearless and funny writers. Her short stories, poetry, reviews, journals, and letters have been translated into more than 25 languages.

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Alan MacDiarmid

Chemist

Alan MacDiarmid’s ground-breaking work in the field of conductive polymers has had a profound impact on the electronics industry and wider society. His research, for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, has led to the development of a new class of materials with unique properties that are ubiquitous today in many modern technologies.

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Keri Hulme

Writer

Keri Hulme (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe) was born on 9 March 1947 in Christchurch. The eldest of six children, her father John’s family came to Aotearoa New Zealand from Lancashire, England, and her mother Mary’s family was of Orkney Scots and Māori heritage. Although she didn’t grow up immersed in Māori culture, Keri was drawn to it, creating a Māori dictionary from a very early age, and adding to it over the decades.

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Lisa Reihana

Artist

Lisa Reihana (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Tū) is a contemporary multimedia artist from Aotearoa New Zealand, known for her innovative approach to blending traditional Māori art and storytelling with modern technology, and prompting people to revisit and reframe both history and modern-day life. Her work has won her global recognition and cemented her status as one of New Zealand’s most important cultural figures.

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Lucy Lawless

Actor

Known for her break-out role in Xena: Warrior Princess (1995), you’d be forgiven for thinking Lucy Lawless hails from somewhere in North America, but Lucille Ryan was born in Auckland on 29 March 1968, the fifth of seven siblings, and the eldest girl to Frank and Julie Ryan.

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Graeme Bydder, Terry Peters

Emeritus Professors

For over 40 years, Graeme Bydder’s work has been at the forefront of clinical MRI, and has shaped the course of medical diagnosis and improved the lives of countless patients.

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Maurice Wilkins

Biophysicist

Maurice Wilkins was a renowned New Zealand scientist who made significant contributions to the field of molecular biology. Most notably, he was one of the key individuals involved in the discovery and verification of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the molecule that is the basis for heredity and life.

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Kiri Te Kanawa, Malvina Major, Donald McIntyre

Opera Singers

For decades Aotearoa New Zealand has been producing world-class opera singers who have opened the door for future generations to perform.

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Dame Miranda Harcourt, Thomasin McKenzie

Actors

Miranda Harcourt was born into a well-known New Zealand acting family in 1962. The daughter of Dame Kate Harcourt and her husband Peter, she grew up surrounded by actors, musicians, and writers at her parents’ parties, at recording sessions at Radio New Zealand, and at rehearsals at Downstage Theatre in Wellington.

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Sir Peter Jackson, Dame Fran Walsh

Filmmakers

Peter Jackson’s passion for filmmaking began as a child. At the age of five, his parents purchased their first TV, and he was introduced to the world of fantasy and stop-motion animation through Thunderbirds and King Kong. His interest deepened when his parents acquired a Super 8 movie camera, which Peter used to create short movies with his friends from his home in Wellington.

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Richard O’Brien

Actor

Richard O’Brien is a multi-talented writer, actor and musician, best known as the creator of the cult classic stage musical The Rocky Horror Show and its iconic film adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He has left an everlasting mark on the entertainment industry, inspiring generations of fans with his creativity, wit and vision.

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Rose Matafeo

Comedian

Rose Matafeo is making big waves in the comedy world. She has already amassed an impressive resumé of stand-up comedy performances, TV shows and films.

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Arthur Lydiard

Athletics Coach

In the world of running, there are few names as revered as Arthur Lydiard. Widely considered one of the greatest coaches in history, Arthur’s unconventional training methods and unique approach to coaching forever changed the sport of distance running.

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Dame Jacinda Ardern

Politician

Dame Jacinda Ardern, the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand, is a leader widely admired for her strength and compassion. Her leadership during times of crisis and astute handling of complex global issues earned her global recognition, despite New Zealand’s relatively small size and population.

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Kupe

Explorer

Kupe is the legendary Polynesian navigator who discovered Aotearoa New Zealand. A thousand years ago, he made an epic journey from the eastern Pacific across the ocean to a new land. Kupe is a figure integral to many Māori narratives and histories, and a significant cultural icon.

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Ruby Tui

Rugby Player

Ruby Tui burst onto the world stage at the 2012 Oceania Women’s Rugby Sevens Championship in Fiji. Selected through the high-performance programme Go 4 Gold, she’d only been playing rugby for two years, but Ruby was determined to succeed.

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Temuera Morrison

Actor

Actor Temuera Morrison (Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Rārua) was born into a family of performers on 26 December 1960. His grandmother Kahu had been singing professionally from the age of 16, and his father Laurie was a founding member of the Howard Morrison Quartet, a popular singing group set up by Howard Morrison (Temuera’s uncle) in 1956.

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Sir William Pickering

Aerospace Engineer

Another space pioneer from Aotearoa New Zealand is William Hayward Pickering, the original Rocket Man. His name graced the side of Rocket Lab’s fourth Electron rocket, and their first mission for NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites programme named: ‘This one’s for Pickering’.

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Fred Hollows

Ophthalmologist

New Zealander Fred Hollows was an internationally renowned eye surgeon and humanitarian who devoted his life to giving back the gift of vision to those who were needlessly blind. He believed that anyone should have the right to quality, affordable eye care and through his efforts, he restored sight to thousands of people around the world and trained other eye doctors to do the same.

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Sir Peter Beck

Entreprenuer

Breakthroughs in space travel are standard fare for Rocket Lab, the pioneering satellite-launch business started by New Zealand rocket enthusiast Peter Beck in 2006. In 2009, it became the Southern Hemisphere’s first private company to reach space.

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Dame Whina Cooper

Activist

Māori have a long history of activism against land confiscations at the hands of the Crown, which broke many promises of modern New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840. Two such protest movements are the Land March of 1975 and occupation of Takaparawhau Bastion Point during 1977 and 1978 – powerful events that forever changed the course of life in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Sir Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norgay

Mountaineers

The first successful summit of the world’s highest mountain, Mt Everest (or Chomolungma, as the Tibetans call her), inextricably linked two people: Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. The pair were brought together as part of the ninth British expedition to Everest, led by John Hunt.

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Te Awa Tupua

Natural Wonder

In 2017, a remarkable thing happened. A river in Aotearoa New Zealand was recognised as a legal person, Te Awa Tupua, to accord with the indigenous Māori understanding of the river as an ancestor, with defined values for care, use, and protection of the river stemming from te ao Māori, the Māori worldview.

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Kate Sheppard & Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia

Suffragists

Aotearoa New Zealand led the world in legislating for women to have the right to vote, but it was not an easy pathway. These two women made key Suffragists contributions to this fight.

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Helen Clark

Global Leader

Helen Clark was New Zealand’s 37th Prime Minister and went on to become the first woman to lead the United Nations Development Programme. In 2011, she was made a member of the Order of New Zealand, the country’s highest honour that is limited to just 20 living members. She is no stranger to breaking the glass ceiling and the gender barrier, and her achievements continue to be an inspiration to women all over the world.

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Taika Waititi

Filmmaker

Taika Waititi (Te Whānau-a-Apanui) is a New Zealand filmmaker, actor and comedian who gained international recognition for his idiosyncratic style of storytelling. Arguably our most globally successful contemporary film creator, his works demonstrate huge originality and sophisticated humour, while often proudly representing Aotearoa New Zealand and te ao Māori.

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Phil Keoghan

Television Presenter

Phil has been sharing stories in front of a TV camera for more than 30 years and is arguably the most travelled host on the planet. He hosts and is an executive producer of CBS’s multi-Emmy Award-winning reality series The Amazing Race – now in its 36th season – where international travel is a competitive sport, with pairs of contestants gradually eliminated from the competition if they’re too slow.

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Parris Goebel

Choreographer

Choreographing one Super Bowl halftime show is an achievement, but to design and choreograph two of these global prime time shows marks Parris Goebel as a creative talent at the top of her game.

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Melanie Lynskey

Actor

When people hear Melanie Lynskey speak in her regular voice, they’re often surprised to hear the soft sounds of a New Zealand accent.

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Dame Valerie Adams

Olympian

Shot put legend Dame Valerie Adams is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most successful athletes. Born in Rotorua on 6 October 1984 to a Tongan mother, Lilika Kimoana Ngauamo, and an English father, Sidney Barry Adams.

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Lydia Ko

Golfer

Bogyung Lydia Ko was five when she first picked up a golf club. She was visiting Sydney when her aunt, Insook Hyon, gave her a 7-iron and a putter to play with. “I must have liked it, because when you’re that young, if you don’t like something you just toss it,” she said.

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Les Mills

Fitness Innovator

From a small gym in a New Zealand garage to a global phenomenon, Les Mills has revolutionised the fitness industry. Its founder, Leslie ‘Les’ Mills, was a New Zealand athlete with a strong desire to share his passion for fitness with the community. With the help of his son and daughter-in-law, Phillip and Jackie, Les Mills International has become an internationally successful business and changed the face of exercise forever.

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Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Chris Amon

Race Car Drivers

Motorsport is at the leading edge of innovation, where cutting-edge technology, advanced materials and human capabilities are pushed to their absolute limits. There was a time in the 1960s when three exceptional New Zealanders simultaneously reached the pinnacle of the sport.

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Allan John ‘AJ’ Hackett

Entrepreneur

AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch are two adventurers that epitomise New Zealand’s spirit of innovation and eagerness to push the limits of what is possible. They achieved worldwide recognition by pioneering the world’s first commercial bungy jump operation in Queenstown, setting the stage for the town to become one of the world’s best adventure tourism destinations.