New Zealand national anthem lyrics and the composer behind ‘God Defend New Zealand’ revealed

15 July 2019, 15:22 | Updated: 15 July 2019, 15:26

By Helena Asprou

New Zealand - the land of bungee jumping, sheep and Hobbit film sets - also has a soaring national anthem.

For a country of just over 4 million, the Southern Hemisphere land of New Zealand dominates a lot of sporting competitions around the world. Is it all that outdoor adventure activity, the hakas, or the inspiration that comes from the hand of the heart moment when singing ‘God Defend New Zealand’?

Originally written as a poem by Thomas Bracken of Dunedin, the lyrics were later set to music by John Joseph Woods for a competition by The Saturday Advertiser, a popular tabloid newspaper.

Born and raised in Lawrence, New Zealand, Woods worked as a county clerk but was also a keen musician, playing 12 instruments in total and primarily the violin.

After hearing about the competition, he was driven to write the patriotic song in just one evening and won the competition in 1876, taking home a prize of ten guineas.

The first page of Woods’ original manuscript, setting Bracken’s poem to music
The first page of Woods’ original manuscript, setting Bracken’s poem to music. Picture: Auckland City Libraries

Writing to publisher Sir Alfred Hamish Reed in 1927, Woods explained: “I immediately felt like one inspired… I set to work instanter and never left my seat 'till the music was completely finished late on in the night.”

It was this sudden spark of inspiration that gave ‘God Defend New Zealand’ its enduring character and in 1977, it was named the country’s national anthem.

However, there is a second version of the song with Māori lyrics, titled ‘Aotearoa’, which was penned in 1878 by Thomas Henry Smith, a judge from Auckland. Typically at major sporting events, you would hear one verse sung in Māori, followed by one in English. (Here’s that first verse.)


E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;

Manaakitia mai
Aotearoa

‘God Defend New Zealand’ – full lyrics (English version)

1. God of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific's triple star
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand.

2. Men of every creed and race,
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.

3. Peace, not war, shall be our boast,
But, should foes assail our coast,
Make us then a mighty host,
God defend our free land.
Lord of battles in Thy might,
Put our enemies to flight,
Let our cause be just and right,
God defend New Zealand.

4. Let our love for Thee increase,
May Thy blessings never cease,
Give us plenty, give us peace,
God defend our free land.
From dishonour and from shame,
Guard our country's spotless name,
Crown her with immortal fame,
God defend New Zealand.

5. May our mountains ever be
Freedom's ramparts on the sea,
Make us faithful unto Thee,
God defend our free land.
Guide her in the nations' van,
Preaching love and truth to man,
Working out Thy glorious plan,
God defend New Zealand.

‘Aotearoa’ – full lyrics (Māori version)

1. E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;
Manaakitia mai
Aotearoa

2. Ōna mano tāngata
Kiri whero, kiri mā,
Iwi Māori, Pākehā,
Rūpeke katoa,
Nei ka tono ko ngā hē
Māu e whakaahu kē,
Kia ora mārire
Aotearoa

3. Tōna mana kia tū!
Tōna kaha kia ū;
Tōna rongo hei pakū
Ki te ao katoa
Aua rawa ngā whawhai
Ngā tutū e tata mai;
Kia tupu nui ai
Aotearoa

4. Waiho tona takiwā
Ko te ao mārama;
Kia whiti tōna rā
Taiāwhio noa.
Ko te hae me te ngangau
Meinga kia kore kau;
Waiho i te rongo mau
Aotearoa

5. Tōna pai me toitū
Tika rawa, pono pū;
Tōna noho, tāna tū;
Iwi nō Ihowā.
Kaua mōna whakamā;
Kia hau te ingoa;
Kia tū hei tauira;
Aotearoa