New Zealand holds a unique position in the world in that it officially has two national anthems of equal standing – “God Defend New Zealand” and “God Save The Queen”. (The lone other example in the world is Denmark, where the royal and national anthems have equal status in the country.)
“God Defend New Zealand” was written by Irish-born poet and New Zealand citizen Thomas Bracken in 1870, and the music composed by John Joseph Woods as a result of a newspaper contest in 1876. (Woods actually composed the music in one sitting, starting as soon as he read about the contest and not resting until he was finished.) Gaining popularity in the first half of the twentieth century, it was adopted as New Zealand’s national song in 1940 (New Zealand’s centennial year), but “God Save the Queen” remained the sole national anthem. A petition in 1976 prompted the government to seek royal assent to make “God Defend New Zealand” as a national anthem on equal status with “God Save the Queen”. This was signed into law by the Queen on November 21, 1977.
The Māori words, officially translated numerous times, are made to fit the melody. As such, they don’t translate exactly to the English lyrics. A translation of the official Māori lyrics is provided on the right hand side of this page. The anthem is commonly sung lately with the first verse in Māori followed by the first verse in English.
God Save the Queen has been New Zealand’s official anthem since 1840, when it became a British colony. The second verse, which is in a more militaristic vein, and the third verse, have been replaced in New Zealand with a “Commonwealth verse“, usually used when more than one stanza is needed. Despite being declared an “official anthem” by the New Zealand government, along with “God Defend New Zealand”, “God Save the Queen” is rarely sung in the country, it is used in the capacity that a royal anthem would be used (that is, when a member of the royal family is present, or their representative, or allegiance to the crown is to be demonstrated by the performance). As such, “God Defend New Zealand” is much more commonly heard.