School teacher Tania Dawson has been crowned Miss Universe New Zealand on Saturday - with the victory proving almost too much to take.

The 23-year-old media studies and drama teacher edged 19 fellow finalists at a gala awards evening at Sky City Theatre - and the Aucklander was so overcome, organisers said she "had to have a moment" backstage.

"Just with all the lights and camera flashes, Tania was just feeling a bit overwhelmed and unwell. We had to take her backstage for a bit," Jack Yan, the event's general counsel, said. "It's the first time that has happened to us."

Eventually, Dawson was well enough to front the media.

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"I think it was just a bit of excitement and feeling a bit overwhelmed. It was a mental sort of feeling," Dawson told the Herald.

"I'm completely happy and feeling ecstatic. It hasn't even sunk in yet. I think when I'm lying in bed tonight it'll finally sink in that I won."

Dawson, who teaches at Southern Cross Campus, said she wants to use the victory to help make an impact on the education sector - and is looking forward to seeing how her pupils, and the staff room, react at school on Monday morning.

"This win means I have a huge platform, I really want to encourage young people to stay in school, get educated and follow their dreams," she said.

"It's going to be interesting when I go back to work on Monday."

A total of 246 women entered the pageant a year ago, before being whittled down on elimination days to 75 and then 20 for the grand finale.

Dawson, who wins a new car for a year, will now represent New Zealand at the international final in the Philippines in January.