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Geographic definitions

Area unit

Area units are aggregations of meshblocks. They are non-administrative areas that are in between meshblocks and territorial authorities in size. Area units must either define or aggregate to define: regional councils; territorial authorities; urban areas; and statistical areas.

Each area unit must be a single geographic entity with a unique name referring to a geographical feature. Area units of main or secondary urban areas generally coincide with suburbs or parts thereof.

Area units within urban areas normally contain a population of 3,000–5,000, though this can vary due to such things as industrial areas, port areas, and rural areas within the urban area boundaries.

In rural areas, the straddling of some territorial authorities over regional boundaries has resulted in a number of area units having only two or three meshblocks and a very low population count.

Refer also to ‘meshblock’, ‘territorial authority’, ‘regional council’, ‘urban area’, ‘main urban area’, ‘secondary urban area’ 'minor urban area' and ‘statistical area’.


A city, as defined in the Local Government Act 1974, must have a minimum population of 50,000, be predominantly urban in character, be a distinct entity and a major centre of activity within the region.

Community board

Provision to create community boards was set up at the time of the 1989 local government restructuring. Their purpose is to administer the affairs of communities with a population of not less than 1,500 within rural, urban or metropolitan districts of a territorial authority. A community board's functions, powers and duties are delegated at the discretion of its parent territorial authority and these may differ from community board to community board. The boundaries of community boards may be reviewed prior to each triennial local government election. The provisions for such a review are contained in the Local Electoral Act 2001.

Refer also to ‘territorial authority’.


Regional council constituencies were established in November 1989. They are subdivisions of regional council areas that are created on population-based criteria to be voting areas within regional councils.

Regional council constituencies are defined at meshblock level, and do not coincide with area units. Constituencies are required to reflect communities of interest and their boundaries, and, so far as is practicable, coincide with those of territorial authorities or wards.

The boundaries of regional council constituencies may be reviewed prior to each triennial local government election. The provisions for such a review are contained in the Local Electoral Act 2001.

Refer also to ‘regional council’, ‘meshblock’, ‘area unit’, ‘territorial authority’ and ‘ward’.


Refers to a territorial authority that is neither wholly urban nor wholly rural and which is under the jurisdiction of a district council.

Refer also to ‘territorial authority’.

Electoral boundaries

The Electoral Representation Commission is responsible for defining the boundaries of New Zealand's parliamentary electoral districts. The Government Statistician is required by section 35(6) of the Electoral Act 1993 to "... report the results of the census and his or her calculations of the Māori electoral population ...". The Government Statistician's report and maps prepared by the Surveyor-General are the basic material used by the Representation Commission in determining the revised boundaries of electoral districts.

Electoral district

After each five-yearly Census of Population and Dwellings, general and Māori electoral districts are constituted in terms of the Electoral Act 1993.

Electorate boundaries are defined at meshblock level.

The number of electoral districts and electoral populations for each electorate is controlled by the criteria specified in the Electoral Act. Within these criteria, when setting the boundaries, the Representation Commission must also consider existing boundaries, community of interest, facilities for communications, topographical features, and any projected variation in the electoral population of those districts during their life.

Refer also to ‘meshblock’.

Main urban area

Main urban areas are very large urban areas centred on a city or major urban centre. Main urban areas have a minimum population of 30,000.

Refer also to 'urban area'.


A meshblock is the smallest geographic unit for which statistical data is collected by Statistics New Zealand. Meshblocks vary in size from part of a city block to large areas of rural land. Each meshblock abuts another to cover all of New Zealand, extending out to the 200-mile economic zone (approximately 320 kilometres). Meshblocks aggregate to build larger geographic areas, such as area units, territorial authorities, and regional councils.

Minor urban area

Minor urban areas are urbanised settlements (outside main and secondary urban areas), centred around smaller towns with a population between 1,000 and 9,999. This complies with international definitions of 'urban' population, which include towns with over 1,000 people.

Refer also to 'urban area'.

New Zealand

For statistical purposes, the term ‘New Zealand’ refers to 'geographic New Zealand'. In addition to the North, South, Stewart and Chatham Islands, geographic New Zealand includes the following offshore islands: Kermadec Islands, Three Kings Islands, Mayor Island, Motiti Island, White Island, Moutohora Island, Bounty Islands, Snares Islands, Antipodes Islands, Auckland Islands and Campbell Island. The Taranaki and Southland oil rigs are also included in New Zealand. For the purposes of the 2006 Census, counts of the number of males and females at Ross Dependency are recorded, but questionnaires are not collected from these people. Geographic New Zealand does not include the Cook Islands, Niue or the Tokelau Islands.

Regional council

Regional councils were established in November 1989 after the abolition of the 22 local government regions. A total of 14 regional councils were defined by the local government commission. In 1992 this was increased to 16.

The Local Government Amendment Act (No. 3) 1988 requires the boundaries of regions to conform as far as possible to one or more water catchments. When determining regional boundaries, the Local Government Commission also gave consideration to regional communities of interest, natural resource management, land use planning and environmental matters.

Regional councils are defined at meshblock and area unit level. The seaward boundary of the regions is the 12-mile (19.3km) New Zealand territorial limit.

Regional councils cover every territorial authority in New Zealand, with the exception of the Chatham Islands Territory. Generally, regional councils contain complete territorial authorities. Where territorial authorities straddle regional council boundaries, the affected area has been statistically defined in complete area units. For 2006 boundaries, there are eight instances of territorial authority boundaries straddling regional council boundaries.

Refer also to ‘meshblock’, ‘area unit’ and ‘territorial authority’.

Rural area

The rural areas of New Zealand are those which are not specifically designated as 'urban'. They include rural centres, and district territories where these are not included in main, secondary or minor urban areas, and inlets, islands, inland waters and oceanic waters that are outside urban areas.

Refer also to 'urban area'.

Rural centre

Rural centres were established during the 1989 review of geostatistical boundaries. Rural centres have no administrative or legal status but are statistical units defined by complete area units. They have a population between 300 and 999. These are not termed 'urban' under standard international definitions, but identifying these settlements enables users to distinguish between rural dwellers living in true rural areas and those living in rural settlements or townships.

Refer also to ‘area unit’.

Secondary urban area

Secondary urban areas were established at the 1981 Census of Population and Dwellings. They have a population between 10,000 and 29,999 and are centred on the larger regional centres.

Refer also to 'urban area'.

Statistical area

These are broad geographic regions that do not conform to any legal or administrative boundaries or have any predetermined population size. There are 13 statistical areas, many of which conform to the old provincial districts. These areas include islands that are outside regions but are part of 'geographic New Zealand'.

The major importance of statistical areas is in historical comparability of data from these areas.

Territorial authority

There are a total of 73 territorial authorities (15 cities and 58 districts). This updated total reflects the merge of Banks Peninsula District Council with Christchurch City Council in 2006.

When defining the boundaries of territorial authorities in 1989, the Local Government Commission placed considerable weight on the 'community of interest'. While the size of the community was a factor, the relevance of the components of the community to each other, and the capacity of the unit to service the community in an efficient manner, were the factors on which the commission placed most emphasis.

Territorial authorities are defined at meshblock and area unit level.

Refer also to ‘meshblock’ and ‘area unit’.

Urban area

Urban areas are statistically defined areas with no administrative or legal basis. There is a three-part hierarchical subdivision of urban areas into:

  • main urban areas
  • secondary urban areas
  • minor urban areas.

Together, the populations in main, secondary and minor urban areas comprise the statistically defined 'urban' population of New Zealand. The urban area classification is designed to identify concentrated urban or semi-urban settlements without the distortions of administrative boundaries.

Refer also to 'main urban area', 'secondary urban area' and 'minor urban area'.


Territorial authorities may, for electoral purposes, be divided into wards.

The ward system was designed to allow for the recognition of communities within a district and to increase community involvement in the local government system.

The boundaries of wards and their parent territorial authorities may be reviewed in the year immediately preceding the triennial local government elections. The review is conducted by the territorial authority under provisions contained in the Local Electoral Act 2001.

Ward boundaries are defined at meshblock level, but are not area unit definable.

Refer also to ‘territorial authority’.

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