Direct observations of vertical movements of the earth's surface are now possible with space-based GPS networks, and have applications to resources, hazards and tectonics. Here we present data on vertical movements of the Earth's surface in New Zealand, computed from the processing of GPS data collected between 2000 and 2015 by 189 permanent GPS stations. We map the geographical variation in vertical rates and show how these variations are explicable within a tectonic framework of subduction, volcanic activity and slow slip earthquakes. Subsidence of >3 mm/yr is observed along southeastern North Island and is interpreted to be due to the locked segment of the Hikurangi subduction zone. Uplift of 1–3 mm/yr further north along the margin of the eastern North Island is interpreted as being due to the plate interface being unlocked and underplating of sediment on the subduction thrust. The Volcanic Plateau of the central North Island is being uplifted at about 1 mm/yr, which can be explained by basaltic melts being injected in the active mantle-wedge at a rate of ∼6 mm/yr. Within the Central Volcanic Region there is a 250 km2 area that subsided between 2005 and 2012 at a rate of up to 14 mm/yr. Time series from the stations located within and near the zone of subsidence show a strong link between subsidence, adjacent uplift and local earthquake swarms.