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Help children improve their knowledge about New Zealand Post with our resources for children – from sorting the mail, how mail is transported to facts about stamps.

How New Zealand Post began

Before 1987

A giant government organisation called the New Zealand Post Office ran all postal services, plus the telephone system and a bank. Almost every local community had a Post Office.

1987

On 1 April 1987 New Zealand Post was created when the old Post Office was turned into a State Owned Enterprise (SOE). This meant New Zealand Post had to work as a business and make a profit. The banking and telephone services were turned into other SOEs.

1998

On 1 April 1998 a law was passed allowing other companies to deliver letters. For the first time in over 150 years the postal industry had full competition!

Today and into the future

To deliver the best service, New Zealand Post uses high-tech equipment. In the future, there will be many more advances to the ways we do business.

It's a fact!

Around 9300 people work for New Zealand Post. Before 1987, over 40,000 people worked for the New Zealand Post Office.

Many people around the world rate New Zealand Post as one of the most efficient and inexpensive postal services.

Sorting the mail

Wherever you post a letter, it's collected by a CourierPost driver and taken by truck or van to the nearest Mail Service Centre.

Most mail is sorted at night, and the Mail Service Centre is BUSY! Trucks and vans come and go, machines whirr and buzz, and people sort and check letters and parcels at an awesome speed.

At each Mail Service Centre there are two kinds of sorting:

  1. Outward mail: this is mail going to other places around New Zealand and overseas. Mostly, this mail is sorted by machine. Once sorted, it's delivered to the other Mail Service Centres for more sorting.
  2. Inward mail: this is mail coming in from other Mail Service Centres to be delivered locally. It is sorted by people who know all the local streets and suburbs, then sent to the Local Delivery Branch or private box lobby.

At the Local Delivery Branch, Posties sort the mail into the precise order they'll deliver it - by streets and house numbers.

New technology

Over the next few years New Zealand Post will be introducing exciting new machines in six of its biggest Mail Service Centres. These machines will process the mail for every address in New Zealand. At the moment there are three different machines used to process the mail.

The Culler Facer Canceller 'sees' the stamp, flips the envelopes around the same way, and cancels the stamps with an ink postmark.

At the Mail Service Centre, the reads all addresses that are clearly printed or typed. If an address is unclear it appears on a video screen for the operator to read. The operator keys in the destination code by hand, sending the item to the right sorting area without slowing the machine down.

The fastest and smartest machine of all is the integrated mail processor (IMP). This is a Culler Face Canceller, Optical Character Reader, and letter sorter - all in one! The IMP sorts all the letters into different destination slots.

Speed wizard!

The IMP can process up to 35,000 letters each hour, is powered by seven computers, takes 90 seconds to finish with a letter, and carries letters at three metres a second!

People power

Even machines can't do everything, and some outward mail is sorted by people: FastPost mail, large envelopes, packets and parcels, items without the correct stamp, and mail going overseas. Overseas mail is sorted into countries and sent to New Zealand Post's International Mail Centre in Auckland for posting overseas.

Keeping track

Tracking keeps track of mail to its destination. All mail bags, trays and containers have a barcode. As they are taken to or from the Mail Service Centre, the barcode is recorded with a special hand-held scanner.

Good questions!

Q. Why is mail cancelled with a postmark over the stamp?

A. To stop stamps being used again.

Q. What happens to an item that can't be delivered and has no return address?

A. It's sent to the Returned Letter Office where staff are allowed to open it to see if the contents give any clues about the return address. If they don't, it's kept for 3-6 months then destroyed. Any money or goods are given to a charity. That's why it's very important that you clearly print a return address!

Q. What if a package contains a dangerous item?

A. It will not be sent through any part of the mail system. The sender is contacted and asked to collect the item.

Q. What is dangerous?

A. Things like fireworks, perfume, matches, petrol, paint and arsenic (which is poisonous).

Address it right

Sometimes people forget to write the street number, suburb, city or town on their mail. Or sometimes their writing is so messy it can't be read. Occasionally they even forget to write the address altogether!

When you type or clearly print the address, our machines can read the address and sort it faster.

So, to make sure your mail gets delivered to the right place on time, here's how to address the envelope:

  1. Write the return address in small letters (on one line) or on the back of the envelope
  2. If you want to put the name of a person or business, put this at the top (on the top line)
  3. The stamp goes into the top right-hand corner
  4. Print clearly
  5. Write the address in this order
    1. Receiver (person or business)
    2. Delivery address
    3. Suburb
    4. Town/city postcode
  6. Don't squash the letters up. Put a space between each letter
  7. Use a light-coloured envelope made of firm paper or card
  8. Line the address up on the left hand side

Transporting the mail

New Zealand Post has a fleet of around 80 trucks, 110 vans and eight planes. Day and night, mail is transported all over New Zealand.

On the road

Night-time is the busiest time for the truck drivers, as they move mail that's been processed by the Mail Service Centres.

The trucks are owned by drivers who contract to New Zealand Post. There are big truck-and-trailer units which can carry 20 tonnes of mail, down to trucks which can carry seven tonnes.

Most trucks have curtain slider sides to make loading easier. They also have tail lifts so each truck's back can be lowered to the right height for loading goods. Drivers load the containers of mail into their trucks using forklifts.

The smaller trucks move mail from Mail Service Centres to transport depots and airports. The larger trucks do long trips between cities and towns. On some long trips, like between Auckland and Wellington, two drivers are used.

In the air

New Zealand Post has planes that fly as AirPost. They include Fokker F27s, which can carry 5.5 tonnes of mail, and Metroliners which can hold up to two tonnes. There's a chartered Boeing 737-200QC which flies from Auckland to Christchurch and back four nights a week. To cover smaller areas, planes are chartered from airlines like Air Napier and Soundsair.

Transport planning

To work out the best way mail should travel, a computer programme called PLANZ is used. PLANZ shows drivers the best ways to get somewhere, and can even help if roads or airports are closed.

It's a fact!

  • Altogether, New Zealand Post truck drivers travel about 11 million kilometres each year and use over three million litres of diesel
  • One truck can travel 1400 kilometres a day, with two people splitting the driving
  • More than 10,000 truck and trailer loads of mail are moved each year - that equals 40 loads every day!
  • If you fly on a plane, chances are there's mail in the hold!

Delivering the mail – Posties

Over 2000 New Zealand Post Posties deliver mail to over 1.5 million home and business addresses around the country, mostly six days a week. A team of Rural Post people deliver mail to rural and outlying areas (see sheet six about Rural Post). Mail is also delivered to businesses and private boxes.

Most Posties first sort the mail at their Local Delivery Branch, starting work early in the morning. Their day is usually around six hours. Posties deliver addressed letters, advertising circulars, packets and 'large flats' (large envelopes).

A day in the life of a Postie

Jeannette Bell is a Postie in Palmerston North. Her round covers the city centre, with shops, businesses and a few houses. She works every day except Sunday.

7am - Jeannette Bell is a Postie in Palmerston North. Her round covers the city centre, with shops, businesses and a few houses. She works every day except Sunday.

8am - Jeannette puts rubber bands around letters to make bundles she can hold. Usually there are 20-25 bundles.

9am - Jeannette checks letters with no numbers or wrong numbers to see if she can work out the correct addresses. If people have moved she adds a redirection sticker with the new address, and sends the mail on to them.

9.15am - Sorting is complete - she's ready to go! Jeannette puts the private box mail and big packets together, for the van driver to pick up. She puts on her helmet, and a jacket and gloves if it's cold or wet. Then she loads her bike and heads out the door.

9.30am - Jeannette cycles along, delivering to letterboxes and getting off her bike to go into businesses. She has to watch out for cars backing out of driveways.

11am - Her bike round is finished. She's covered 15 kilometres. At the PostShop, Jeannette stops for a short morning tea break.

11.15am - She's off again. This time she's on foot, with her walking bag. Her eight kilometre route takes her around the shops and malls delivering mail to counters. Sometimes she takes a lift or walks up the stairs to deliver to customers. Along her route, customers often ask questions about postage and parcels, and people on the street ask her for directions.

1.15pm - All the mail is delivered. The mail bags are empty. Jeannette takes her gear back to the Delivery Branch - she has finished for the day.

It's a fact!

  • Most Posties ride bikes, around 10% walk, and a few ride motorcycles.
  • Posties who sort mail spend just under half their time sorting, the rest delivering.

Delivering the mail – rural areas

People who live in rural areas or on the outskirts of a town have mail delivered to their gate by Rural Post. It would be too hard for a Postie to get to these areas.

Rural Post people mostly use cars and vans. Sometimes they use buses, trucks and even boats. As well as delivering, they collect mail and CourierPost items from customers' Rural Post letterboxes, which open at the front.

Customers can buy stamps and other products such as envelopes from Rural Post drivers. Drivers also deliver newspapers, advertising circulars and even bread and milk for customers who live in remote areas.

Rural Post boxes

Rural Post letterboxes all have a front flap which the Rural Post driver can open from their vehicle. On the side of the box is a flag. When a customer has mail for collection, they put it in the letterbox and raise the flag. The driver sees the flag and stops to pick up the mail.

Rural Delivery numbers

When you send a letter to someone in a rural area, the address has a special number after the street name, such as RD3. This is the Rural Delivery number.

It's a fact!

  • There are more than 191,000 Rural Post customers around New Zealand.
  • Between them, Rural Post drivers cover more than 28 million kilometres a year.
  • Four delivery routes are covered by boats. Two of these are the Bay of Islands 'Cream Trip' and Pelorus Sound in the Marlborough Sounds.
  • Rural Post customers include farmers, lifestyle block owners, tourism operators, retired people, horticulturists and agricultural service operators.

In the PostShop

You can go to a PostShop to buy cards, magazines, packaging, courier bags, stationery and more. Some PostShops offer Poste Restante where overseas visitors can collect mail while they're travelling.

Behind the box lobby

Most PostShops have a box lobby - a wall covered by small red doors with numbers on them. These are for companies, or anyone who wants mail delivered to a private box instead of a letterbox.

Behind the box lobby is a room where staff sort incoming mail, and put it into private boxes behind the red doors. Each box has a label so staff know a little about the customer. A green label means no advertising circulars, white means a business customer, yellow means a residential customer, and pink means a farmer.

When mail won't fit into a private box, a yellow card is put in the box so the customer can pick up the mail from the counter. A white card in the box means there's a registered or courier item to pick up, and pink means there's a short paid item (not enough stamps have been used).

Giving the best service with PostLink

PostShop staff use a 'point-of-sale' computer system called PostLink. The system includes weighing scales, printers, computer screens, Internet phone lines and scanners all linked together. Staff can use PostLink to help quickly with:

  • selling products like stamps, HandiBags, phonecards, magazines and courier bags
  • weighing parcels and working out postage
  • printing postage labels
  • selling tickets for events like rugby matches
  • accepting customers' bills using the BillPay system
  • New Zealand Post money orders
  • motor vehicle re-licensing and road user charges
  • accepting customers' bank deposits
  • balancing the money at the end of the day.

It's a fact!

  • Private box holders each have an individual key to open their box.
  • With PostLink, staff can go online, for example to organise tickets.
  • When you send a parcel or courier item, the barcode is scanned into PostLink so the item can be tracked on every step of its journey.
  • Three PostShops in Manners Street - Wellington, Downtown - Auckland and Cathedral Square - Christchurch offer a Philatelic Service where you can choose from the full range of stamps for collecting.

Express delivery by CourierPost

When you need something delivered very quickly, you can use CourierPost, an associated company of New Zealand Post.

CourierPost people mostly drive vans and work one local area. They do pick-ups and deliveries for both regular and one-off customers. They usually take the items they collect to the depot, then pick up items for delivery in their local area.

Parcels and letters being sent to places further away are taken by truck or plane to their destination area, then sorted and picked up by another courier driver for delivery.

Each courier has an MDT unit. This is like a small on-board computer and allows the courier and depot to communicate, using words on a screen. The MDT shows exactly what's wanted where and when.

A day in the life of a CourierPost driver

Colin Lowe has a courier run in Auckland. Here's a typical day.

5am - Colin is at the Carbine Road depot in Auckland. With 50 other drivers he loads his van with parcels and packets. As he packs, Colin uses his handset scanner to record items into our Tracking service. He is careful to pack the van in the right order for his route. Some businesses don't open until 9am so he puts their deliveries out of the way of packages to be delivered earlier.

6am - Colin checks his MDT unit before heading out to the central city depot from where he'll work during the day. He will return to this depot 6 times today to drop off and pick up new packages and parcels.

7.30am - Colin is making deliveries. Sometimes he uses keys provided by businesses to deliver mail before staff are at work.

8.30am - Colin starts delivering packages to customers at work. Usually the deliveries and pick-ups go smoothly except when parcels have been badly addressed. If he can't work out who it's for the parcel is returned to the depot for customer services to get the correct address.

Colin delivers a lot of computer parts and software. But he also has to handle fragile items like glassware and flowers. He knows most of his customers by name. Often it is tricky to find somewhere to park and Colin makes the most of any available space.

9.20am - Colin finishes his first cycle of deliveries and pick-ups. He returns to the central city depot to pick up a second load. His busiest times are early morning and mid-morning because overnight packages within Auckland have to be delivered by 9am.

12.10pm - The morning rush of business deliveries is over and Colin begins delivering to houses.

6.30pm - Colin heads off home. It's been a busy day but he'll be back at 5am tomorrow morning.

Wow - the technology

CourierPost has high-tech systems so customers can get information about their deliveries at any time.

Tracking lets customers check where their parcels are. When the courier picks up an item they use a hand-held scanner to scan the barcode. This records the pick-up time. The item is scanned again whenever it changes hands, keeping track of its location all the way to its destination. Customers can see this information at CourierPost's web-site.

FactsBack provides the customer with proof of delivery if the item has been sent with the 'signature required' option. The signature of the person receiving the item is recorded on the driver's scanner screen. It is then transmitted to CourierPost's computer system directly from the courier van.

It's a fact!

  • CourierPost has over 600 couriers around New Zealand.
  • Every CourierPost van has a hand-held scanner to record pick-up and drop-off times and signatures.
  • CourierPost delivers to more than 180 cities and towns.
  • Find out more at CourierPostOpens in a new window.

International mail

When you write to a friend in another country or someone sends you a letter from overseas, it is processed by New Zealand Post's International Mail Centre at Auckland Airport. The Centre is open seven days a week and works from 1am to 8pm most days. Mail is received from international flights every day.

Staff make sure illegal goods such as drugs, guns or plants are not sent through the mail into New Zealand. All inbound mail passes through special x-ray machines which help people from Customs or Ministry of Primary Industries identify items for checking.

Trained sniffer dogs work at the Centre patrolling the processing area with their handlers, to smell anything illegal like drugs. They have highly sensitive noses to detect smells through many layers of packaging.

For the dogs it is like a game! The words 'good girl' or 'good boy' are heard throughout the day as dogs are praised and rewarded for discovering items in the mail.

It's a fact!

One sniffer dog has been sniffing for five years.

Facts about stamps

Stamps have been used to pay for the delivery of mail for over 160 years. Before stamps, people wrote letters on large pages of paper. They folded the pages several times and wrote the name and address on the outside. The more pages used, and the further they were sent, the more the letter cost.

Postage stamps were invented in Great Britain in 1840. The first stamp was the Penny Black and showed the head of Queen Victoria. New Zealand's first stamps were designed in Great Britain and issued in 1855. The first New Zealand-designed stamps were issued in 1873 and also showed Queen Victoria.

Until about 60 years ago, most New Zealand stamps still had a picture of the King's or Queen's head. Except for the colour and price of the stamp, they all looked the same. Today, New Zealand stamps are all very different - showing animals, cars, ships, flowers, birds, pretty scenes, famous people, and more.

Because they don't cost very much, and are bright and attractive, New Zealand stamps are popular with collectors around the world.

New Zealand's clever stamp ideas

New Zealand was also the first country in the world to use advertising messages on the back (sticky side) of gummed stamps. This was printed using a food-based ink.

New Zealand was one of the first countries to have a penny universal stamp - from 1 January 1900. The idea of this stamp was for all countries to charge the same amount for postage, making it easier to send letters from one country to another.

New Zealand was one of the first countries to put pictures of the countryside, birds and animals on stamps.

Traditional favourites

Some stamps have been issued every year in New Zealand for a long time. They've become a tradition.

Health stamps have been issued each year since 1929. Some of the money from the sale of these stamps goes to the Children's Health camps around New Zealand.

Most years from 1972 New Zealand Post has issued a scenic or tourist set of stamps.

Since 1960 New Zealand Post has had special Christmas stamps. These have featured Christmas scenes, churches, the pohutukawa, the words of Christmas carols, and the ways New Zealanders celebrate Christmas Day such as picnics and surfing. Since 1997 there have been stamps to celebrate the Chinese lunar year.

The most popular stamp issues were The Lord of the Rings series released in 2001, 2002 and 2003 to celebrate the movie trilogy directed by New Zealand director Peter Jackson.

Good questions!

Q. What happens if I don't put a stamp on a letter?

A. It is called a 'short-paid item'. The Postie puts a small card in the letterbox of the person receiving the letter, asking them to come to the local PostShop and collect your letter. They have to pay for the postage.

Q. When don't I need to use a stamp?

A. When there's a FreePost address the company you're sending the letter to will pay for it.

Q. What do you call a stamp collector?

A. A philatelist, pronounced fill-at-ell-ist.

Join the club

To become a stamp collector, write to New Zealand Post (it's a FreePost address so you don't need a stamp):

Stamp Hunters
FreePost No 1
New Zealand Post Limited
Private Bag 3001
Wanganui
New Zealand

Or visit the New Zealand Post Stamps websiteOpens in a new window. .

The story of a stamp

How does a stamp become a stamp? And how does New Zealand Post decide what to show on a stamp? Here's what happens…

  1. The topic is decided - Every year people around New Zealand and the world write to New Zealand Post with ideas. New Zealand Post has people who use the ideas - and their own research - to decide topics. They consider popular themes, subjects of general interest, anniversaries and occasions of national significance. Every year a wide variety of topics are featured.
  2. The designer is selected - Two or three designers are usually invited to produce a concept of the stamp. The concept is 2-4 times larger than the actual stamp size. The designers write a summary that explains their design.
  3. The artwork is developed - The successful designer produces colour artwork of the stamp. The artwork is a painting, drawing, photo or computer illustration. It includes the value of the stamp, the country of origin (New Zealand) and often a short description.
  4. The printer is picked - Printing a stamp takes special equipment, a lot of checking and very high standards. This means there are only a few stamp printers in the world. The designer's artwork is much larger than the stamp so the printer reduces its size. The design is then copied so many stamps can be printed on one sheet of paper.
  5. Proofs are produced - For each stamp, a full colour proof is produced so New Zealand Post can check for errors before printing.
  6. The printing process - Stamps are printed on paper that is pre-gummed or self-adhesive. The paper is mixed or coated with phosphor to allow the Culler Facer Cancellor and letter sorter machines in the Mail Service Centres to detect the stamps.
  7. Perforations are added - Perforations (the small holes punched around each stamp) are added to the printed sheets of gummed stamps. Perforations help the stamps to be pulled apart. For self-adhesive stamps a perforated shape is cut using a special knife.
  8. The finished stamps- There are many shapes and sizes of stamps including round and triangular stamps. There are also hologram stamps, 'scratch and win' stamps, greeting stamps… the list is endless. With so much variety, the hobby of stamp collecting has become even more exciting. Maybe you could start a stamp collection!