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Auckland Council The Auckland Plan

Pacific Auckland

Who are Pacific people?

'Pacific people' is a term used to describe a dynamic and diverse group of people living in New Zealand who migrated from the Pacific islands or who identify with the Pacific islands because of ancestry or heritage.

These island countries and territories have distinct populations with diverse political structures, history, socio-economic status, language and culture.

Even within each island group there is great variation in terms of:

  • demographic characteristics
  • migratory experiences
  • socio-cultural belief systems and practices (Auckland Council, 2015).

The 2013 Census recorded a total of 295,941 people from 57 distinct Pacific groups living in New Zealand. The majority (194,958 people or 66 per cent) lived in Auckland.

There has been steady growth in this group over several decades. For example, the 1961 Census recorded just over 9000 people with one or more Pacific ethnicities living in Auckland.

By 1971, there were 28,630 Pacific people living in Auckland and in 2013, the number had grown by nearly seven times to reach 194,958.

Pacific people in Auckland and New Zealand are a rapidly growing and changing population. From a small immigrant community, the Pacific population has grown, through migration and natural increase, into a population of considerable size and social significance. 

​Pacific groups​Population in Auckland 2013​Population in rest of New Zealand 2013​Population in the islands
​Samoa​95,916 ​48,222​190,757
​Cook Island Māori​36,546​24,531​17,767
​Fijian​8493 ​5952​879,715
​Tokelauan​1959 ​5217​1187
​Other Pacific Islands​6243​5685​n/a
​Pacific people​194,958​100,983​n/a


Note: Auckland and New Zealand Pacific populations from 2013 Census and Pacific islands populations accessed (22/09/2017). For more information see Worldometers website.


Pacific migration to Auckland

People of Pacific ethnicities have a long history of settlement in New Zealand, with migration from various parts of the Pacific throughout the last 150 years.

Close family linkages, employment opportunities and population pressure on some islands led many Pacific people to migrate here.

Many also migrated out of necessity and duty to families at home, whom they either supported with remittances or funded to join them in New Zealand.

Pacific people, like many immigrants, faced the challenges of adapting to and establishing themselves in a new country, a new language and a new social and economic environment.

The first Pacific groups to settle in Auckland were mainly from Polynesian islands that have strong historical links with New Zealand, such as Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands and Niue.

More recently there has been an increasing tendency for people from Micronesia and Melanesia to migrate to Auckland for work and study.

Some island countries now have more people living in Auckland and New Zealand than in the island countries themselves.


Number and proportion of Pacific people in Auckland and New Zealand, 1961 to 2013 (census), 2038 (projections)

Graph shows the number and proportion of Pacific people in Auckland and New Zealand, 1961 to 2013 and the 2038 projections.

Data source: Stats NZ census, ethnic population projections (2017)

Note: The 1961, 1971 and 1981 censuses identified Polynesians, Fijians, Melanesians and Micronesians separately. These groups are combined in the graph to make up Pacific people. The Auckland area may also differ in the earlier census.

Waves of immigration from the Pacific islands

There have been two significant waves of migration from the Pacific islands to Auckland.

The first was in the 1960s in response to the demand for labour (Ongley,1991; Dunsford et al., 2011). Young men predominantly came here as agricultural and forestry workers, and young women as domestic workers.

In addition there were also push factors such as the tropical cyclones which damaged Tokelau and Niue in the 1960s.

The second wave of migration met the acute labour shortage in the manufacturing industry in the early 1970s (Fraenkel, 2012).

However, the oil crisis and economic recession of the 1970s resulted in the loss of many manufacturing jobs and Pacific people who had overstayed the time allowed by their visas were targeted for removal from New Zealand.

The first Pacific Auckland

Most early Pacific migrants to New Zealand settled in Auckland, where the job opportunities were and where Pacific communities were starting to form.

Auckland's first Pacific community was in the inner city suburbs of Ponsonby, Newton and Grey Lynn, as well as Freemans Bay and Parnell (Figure 3).

By 2013, Pacific people had settled throughout Auckland with high concentrations particularly in the south and in some areas in west and central Auckland.

The largest Pacific populations currently live in the local board areas of Māngere-Ōtāhuhu (39,045 persons) followed by Ōtara-Papatoetoe (31,671 people) and Manurewa (25,020 persons)

Pacific populations across Auckland, 1971 and 2013

Heat map of Auckland showing the density of Pacific population across the region in 1971 and in 2013.

Data source: Stats NZ, Census


Today's Pacific Auckland

Today's Pacific Auckland population is mostly New Zealand-born, predominantly young, and highly urbanised. Pacific people are now the third largest ethnic group, making up 15 per cent of the Auckland population in 2013.

Migration from the Pacific now contributes less to the growth of the Pacific population in New Zealand than growth through natural increase (Tanielu & Johnson, 2014).

Although many Pacific people still have strong and proud connections to the islands, for many others New Zealand is where they were born and call home.

The Pacific population is youthful and younger than all of the other main ethnic groups, with a median age of 22.6 years. In 2013, about one in four children in Auckland (24 per cent) had at least one Pacific ethnic identity.

The younger age structure of the Pacific population provides momentum for future growth. Other components of population change such as death rates, migration patterns and changes in ethnic identity will play a smaller role in population changes.

Auckland's Pacific population is predominantly made up of people who identify as Samoan (one in two), Tongan (one in four), Cook Islands Māori (two in ten) and Niuean (one in ten).

These groups are not necessarily exclusive, as people may have identified with more than one ethnicity. Ethnic intermarriages are increasing and in 2006, 70 per cent of Pacific people identified as Pacific only (Stats NZ & Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, 2010).


Socio-economic issues

Pacific people are over represented among the unemployed, lower-skilled workers and low-income earners.

In 2013, the reported personal incomes of Pacific peoples in Auckland were generally lower than for the rest of Auckland ($18,900 median personal income compared with $29,600 for Auckland).

Pacific peoples were also more likely to rent than to own their own home. In 2013, 68 per cent did not own their usual place of residence.

Some improvement was recorded in some of these indicators in recent years.  Further improvements in education and skill levels will be required if disparities in employment, income and living standards are to be reduced. For more information, see Outcome: Opportunity and prosperity.


Socio-economic indicators for Pacific people aged 15 years and over in Auckland, 2006 to 2013 (census) and 2014 to 2015 (HLFS)

Graph of the socio-economic indicators for Pacific people aged 15 and over.

Source: Stats NZ, Census and Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS)


The Pacific population within Auckland is anticipated to continue to grow through migration and natural increase, and to blend with the wider New Zealand population.

This will result in shifts and changes to traditional ethnic and cultural identity among Pacific groups.

Medium ethnic projections by Stats NZ indicate that people of Pacific ethnicities could make up 17 per cent of the Auckland population by 2038.

The future impact of climate change on Pacific nations is not fully known. Depending on the severity of these impacts, and how New Zealand approaches this issue, migration may exceed current projections.

Still, Pacific people play an important role in the social and economic landscape of Auckland and will continue to do so.


Auckland Council (2015). Exploring Pacific economies: wealth practices and debt management (PDF 408KB). Auckland Council working report, WR2015/002.

Dunsford, D., Park, JK., Littleton, J., Friesen, W., Herda, P., Neuwelt, P., Hand, J., Blackmore, P., Malua, S., Grant, J., Kearns, R., Bryder, L. and Underhill-Sem, Y. (2011). Better lives: the struggle for health of transnational Pacific peoples in New Zealand, 1950-2000. Research in Anthropology and Linguistics, 9. University of Auckland. Auckland.

Fraenkel, J. (2012). Pacific Islands and New Zealand - Immigration and aid. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13 July 2012. Available at

Ongley, P. (1991). Pacific Islands' migration and the New Zealand labour market in P. Spoonley, D. Pearson and C. Macpherson (eds.) Nga take: ethnic relations and racism in Aotearoa/New Zealand, pp.17-36, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North.

Stats NZ and Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs (2010). Demographics of New Zealand's Pacific population.

Tanielu, R., and Johnson, A. (2014). This is home. An update on the state of Pasifika people in New Zealand (PDF 1.30MB). The Salvation Army Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit, Auckland. May 2014.