Are New Zealanders living closer to the coast?


Sixty-five percent of New Zealanders lived within five kilometres of the coast in 2006, compared with 61 percent in 1981. The proportion living within 10 kilometres of the coast also increased, from 72 percent to 75 percent.

Figure 1

Graph, Percent of New Zealand Population Living Within 5, 10 and 50 km of the Coast.

Proximity to the coast differs substantially between regions. In Otago, the proportion of the population living within five kilometres of the coast has fallen since 1981 because of growth in the Queenstown Lakes District. (Queenstown residents live near lakes rather than sea.) In Bay of Plenty, the proportion has risen because of the growth of Tauranga.

Table 1

Percent of Population Within 5 km of the Coast
By New Zealand regions, 1981 and 2006 Censuses
Region 1981 2006
Nelson 100 99
Auckland 97 96
Gisborne 83 86
Wellington 74 76
West Coast 78 75
Northland 71 72
Taranaki 69 72
Tasman 71 72
Otago 69 64
Bay of Plenty 50 60
Southland 55 54
Hawke's Bay 43 42
Marlborough 41 40
Canterbury 36 36
Manawatu-Wanganui 22 22
Waikato 9 11


Regions where populations are more concentrated on the coast have tended to grow faster. On average, an extra 10 percentage points of population living near the coast in 1981 translated to an extra 3 percentage points of population growth over the next 25 years.

Figure 2

Graph, Population Growth V Distance to the Coast.

Information sources

1981 and 2006 Censuses of Population and Dwellings and 2006 Census digital boundaries.

Technical notes

The distribution of the population by distance to the coast was estimated from data on meshblock boundaries and data on the census usually-resident population. A meshblock is the smallest geographical unit in the census. The distance from the centre of a meshblock to the coast was calculated using GIS software. This distance was then assigned to everyone living in the meshblock.

Treating everyone as if they lived in the centre of their meshblock is obviously an approximation. However, it is a good approximation, because most meshblocks are small. Fifty percent of the New Zealand population lives in meshblocks that are 0.07 square kilometres or less, and 90 percent live in meshblocks that are 4.4 square kilometres or less. Moreover, meshblocks tend to be smaller, even for the same population size, the closer they are to the coast.

Electronic data on meshblock boundaries can be downloaded from the Statistics New Zealand website,

The following table presents the data from the figure 1.

Table 2

Percent of New Zealand Population Living Within 5, 10 and 50 km of the Coast
1981 and 2006 Censuses
1981 2006
Within 5 km 61.1 64.6
Within 10 km 72.1 75.0
Within 50 km 95.6 96.6

The labels in the second chart are centered on the percent of the population within five kilometres of the coast.

The estimate of 3 percentage points of extra growth was obtained by fitting a regression line to the data shown in the second chart, with weights equal to 1981 population sizes.


Please refer to Glossary.

Further information

This page is part of a web-based analytical report by Statistics New Zealand.

The report includes more than 10 topics. To see the other topics, go to the Internal Migration report introduction page.