2018 in review: What made the news in New Zealand

12:55 pm on 31 December 2018

As 2018 draws to an end, we take a look back at the stories that made people care, cry, laugh or learn.

Thirty-first day of the calendar. Shallow depth of field.

2018 has been a busy year. As we count down to 2019, we look at the stories that mattered. Photo: 123RF


Ah, the sea! With even Dunedin basking in record mid-30s temperatures, all anyone wanted to do for the first few weeks of 2018 was throw themselves in the ocean, which was experiencing a marine heatwave of its own.

But the ocean is a very dangerous place! Forget about sharks: Poo was the biggest fear playing on Aucklanders' minds, thanks to the launch of the the city's charming new safe-swimming poo-tracker, while Wellington was plagued by jellyfish. Even sticking to swimming pools didn't guarantee safety: one punter at Auckland's Parnell Baths was struck by a flounder plummeting from the sky.

Rocket Lab electron rocket

Rocket Lab's electron rocket launches from the Mahia peninsula. Photo: Youtube / Rocket Lab screenshot

Actually, crazy things were going on in the sky too. Mahia-based Rocket Lab finally got its first rocket into orbit, and on the last day of the month people stood out in backyards all over the country to witness the super blue blood moon.

By far the biggest news of the month, though, was PM Jacinda Ardern's announcement she was pregnant. More on that later.


What did the super blue blood moon auger? Two cyclones, maybe. After tearing a swathe through the Pacific, Fehi and Gita turned up to wreak havoc in the South Island, stranding tourists, flooding West Coast settlements and cutting off Golden Bay for days.

Still reeling from the summer storms, Papua New Guinea was struck by a massive quake, which killed 125 people and displaced thousands more.

Back at Parliament, defeated National Party leader Bill English resigned and was replaced by Simon Bridges. High-profile law firm Russell McVeagh was rocked by sexual harassment allegations. And the once-high-flying Fletcher Building posted a $660m loss, prompting the resignation of its chair and a huge hit to its share price.

Simon Bridges stands in the atrium of the National Party offices.

Simon Bridges became the National Party leader, replacing Bill English. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

One bright spot in an otherwise awful month: 16-year-old winter sport wonders Nico Porteous and Zoe Sadowski-Synott won New Zealand's first Winter Olympics medals since 1992.


For a nation whose favourite pastime is asking overseas celebrities what they think of us, March was a huge month. Not only did Barack Obama visit, making good on a promise while he was US president, but Ed Sheeran's three Dunedin concerts over Easter weekend got the southern city in such a lather that it painted a three-metre-high mural of him on a wall.

Far fewer were enthused about the Census - accessible online for the first time - or even seemed to know it was happening. Missing online codes and difficulty accessing paper copies meant some people missed out - and the problems have now delayed the release of results.

Maybe Stats NZ could've enlisted Cambridge Analytica to help them: turns out the US data analysis company harvested 50 million Facebook users' profiles without their knowledge, via an innocuous personality quiz.

Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Jacinda Adern.

Former US President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Jacinda Adern in March. Photo: Supplied / www.bwmedia.co.nz/Dept of Internal Affairs

From the 'never forget the underarm incident' files: the Aussie cricket team literally got caught with their hands down their pants in a ball-tampering scandal.

From the 'all right then' files: someone climbed Mt Maunganui 38 times in a day.


We won a bunch of medals at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games but everyone was much more interested in losers and scandals: the hard-luck Silver Ferns were defeated by hitherto-unknown netball force Malawi on their way to a dismal fourth placing, and gold-medal cyclist Sam Gaze managed to turn his moment of glory into a major self-own when he castigated his teammate in the minutes after his victory.

In another magnificent display of self-awareness, keyboard warriors across the nation took umbrage at Taika Waititi calling New Zealand "racist as f***".

Taika Waititi at the 2015 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

Taika Waititi caused a stir when he labelled the country "racist as f***". Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

A now heavily pregnant Jacinda Ardern went to CHOGM. The leaders of the two Koreas met for the first time in the demilitarised zone and pledged to officially end the Korean War by the end of the year (still waiting on that one).

And if you live in Auckland, chances are you spent a few days in April cooking on the barbeque and not showering after a huge storm cut power to 180,000 people in the city.


Once we'd all finished arguing about Laurel v Yanny, the issue taking up the most disproportionate amount of bandwidth in May was Girl Guiding NZ's decision to axe its iconic biscuits.

But then royal wedding fever hit, with the biggest question ahead of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's nuptials not what the bride would wear but who would walk her down the aisle, after her father staged paparazzi photos of himself and then pulled out of the ceremony at the eleventh hour.


Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex kisses his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex as they leave from the West Door of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, in Windsor, on May 19, 2018 after their wedding ceremony. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / POOL / AFP)

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex kisses his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex after their wedding ceremony. Photo: AFP

In the end, that was all leavened by the glitzy guest list, the dour expressions of royals during the fire-and-brimstone sermon from Chicago bishop Michael Curry, and renditions of Ben E. King and Etta James songs during the wedding ceremony.


The 'that's not news' brigade had more to complain about come June, when attention turned to Baby-Watch 2018. Jacinda Ardern's due date was 17 June, but baby Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford kept everyone waiting a few extra days before deciding it was time to make her grand entrance into the world.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford with their daughter Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford with their daughter Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford with their daughter Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford.

Sandwiched between a royal wedding and a prime ministerial baby, National hung on to the Northcote electorate in a by-election triggered by Jonathan Coleman's resignation from Parliament.


Free speech or hate speech? The impending visits of two Canadian alt-right speakers exercised a lot of people, particularly when Auckland Council decided not to hire out any of its venues to the pair. The ensuing debate snowballed well into August, with protests, protests about the protests, and the inevitable spectre of Don Brash.

Want to feel better about the world? This was also the month that divers pulled off a miraculous rescue of a group of kids trapped in a cave in Thailand (although, sadly, one of their rescuers died). And a whale, dubbed Matariki, launched a thousand smug social media posts from Wellingtonians after it frolicked in the capital's harbour for days.

Thai soldiers working to rescue the boys from deep in a cave in July.

Thai soldiers working to rescue the boys - all from a football team - who were trapped deep in a cave in July. Photo: AFP

France won the Football World Cup and the government launched its signature KiwiBuild scheme.


After six weeks of dubious calls, like getting mad at Air New Zealand for introducing a meatless burger, Winston Peters' reign as acting prime minister came to an end when Jacinda Ardern returned from maternity leave.

Straight back into it, her government announced a phase-out of plastic bags but then had to contend with the first of a series of one-day teachers' strikes.

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The government announced single-use plastic bags would be phased out by mid 2019. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Happy: New Zealand comedian Rose Matafeo won the Edinburgh Festival best comedy show award. Very sad: Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin died.


Barely three months old, Neve Gayford made her first appearance at the UN on her dad's lap, complete with a specially made ID card.

Just a few days before, New Zealand marked the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage with celebrations at Parliament - but also reminders that when it comes to gender equality, we've still got a long way to go.

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Needles were found in punnets of strawberries in New Zealand after the same happened in Australia. Photo: Facebook / Angela Stevenson

And while her trip to New York might have been a roaring success, it was otherwise a torrid month for PM Ardern and her government, with two ministers, Clare Curran and Meka Whaitiri, stripped of their ministerial portfolios.

From the freaky-but-awesome files: this 300-metre long spiderweb on the Greek coast. From the just-plain-freaky files: some people found needles in their punnets of strawberries.


National's glee at two ministerial sackings in a month turned sour in October, as the biggest political drama of the year (maybe the decade?) unfolded over several deeply uncomfortable days. After some expertly timed, marathon press conferences, an overnight road journey to Wellington, and finally, not much of a smoking gun, former National Party young gun Jami-Lee Ross - who was repeatedly asked if he was okay as events unfolded - was briefly admitted to a mental health facility.

Jami-Lee Ross speaks to media after filing a complaint against National leader Simon Bridges.

former National Party MP Jami-Lee Ross resigned from his party and accused Simon Bridges of electoral fraud. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A visit from newly-wed royals Harry and Meghan provided some reprieve. The people of Auckland and Christchurch were torn over the arrival of fleets of e-scooters in their cities, but everyone could agree that the guy who broke Wellington's Len Lye sculpture by swinging on it was just an idiot.

Overseas, the CIA concluded that Saudi Arabia's crown prince likely had something to do with the brutal kidnapping and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


A truly bumper news month. Never before has New Zealand taken as much (or, in fact, any) notice of the US mid-term elections. Republicans hung onto the Senate but the Democrats won back the House - ensuring a rocky second half of Donald Trump's presidential term.

Back home, the government announced it would widen the state abuse inquiry to include religious institutions. In another long-running saga, the government also confirmed an attempt to re-enter the Pike River mine will go ahead in 2019.

Another month, another minister on shaky ground. Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway found himself almost unwaveringly in the firing line over his handling of the Karel Sroubek case. At time of writing he still has his job - just.

Karel Sroubek placed caveat on Auckland home

Czech drug-smuggler Karel Sroubek. Photo: RNZ / YouTube

Remember back in April when all those people got mad at Taika Waititi for calling New Zealand racist? Guess they meant New Zealand totally isn't racist, except for the time the Hawera mayor awarded a prize to a blackface float in the Taranaki town's Christmas parade.

Racist Christmas not enough for you? Try sexist Christmas on for size! people got hella mad when Auckland's Christmas parade Santa got temporarily sacked for saying Santa could only be a dude.

Speaking of controversial parades, Auckland Pride Board's decision to ban uniformed police from marching in the Pride Parade triggered debate within the LGBTQI community and wider society.


After many months of the opposition blaming the government and the government blaming petrol companies, the Commerce Commission announced an investigation into petrol prices.

Apparently we weren't done with Christmas parade controversy just yet. In Nelson, people were upset when organisers decided to install a Māori Santa in a korowai atop the final float.

Grace Millane's death and the subsequent charging of a 26-year-old man with murder caused national - and international - outrage. Thousands of people attended vigils around the nation for slain British backpacker and other victims of violence. Many people spoke out about violence against women and toxic masculinity in the wake of her death.

Grace Millane

Grace Millane's death and the subsequent charging of a 26-year-old man with murder caused national - and international - outrage. Photo: Supplied / Facebook

In some lighter end-of-year news, inmates at the country's toughest jail have been sprucing up bikes for needy children for Christmas and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National Leader Simon Bridges - as well as other politicians - wished the nation well for the festive season.