Long-serving MP Jonathan Hunt heads the New Year Honours, announced this morning.

Mr Hunt, who entered Parliament in 1966 and has been Speaker since 1999, was appointed a Member of the Order of New Zealand.

The ONZ is the country's highest honour and can be held by no more than 20 people at any one time. Mr Hunt heads an honours list with an Olympic Games theme.

All six Olympic medallists, Paralympic team captain Peter Martin, Black Sticks hockey goalkeeper Helen Clarke and Athens opening ceremony music composer John Psathas were honoured.

Mr Hunt, to be the next New Zealand High Commissioner to London, is Parliament's longest-serving MP.

Mr Hunts plans to retire from Parliament in late February or early March to take up his London posting.

Affectionately known as the Minister of Wine and Cheese, Mr Hunt has a love of cricket and formal functions. He is an ardent defender of the traditions and standards of Parliament. He was the only person appointed an ONZ.

One woman and four men were made Distinguished Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Joy Drayton, MBE, of Tauranga was promoted to DCNZM from Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to education and local body affairs. Others honoured with a DCNZM were Professor Donald Beaven, CBE, of Christchurch, for services to people with diabetes, and Appeal Court judge Peter Blanchard of Auckland.

Aucklander Dr Alan Frampton was made a DCNZM for services to agriculture, and Tumu Te Heuheu of Taupo received the honour for his efforts to conserve Tongariro National Park.

Retired State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham was made a CNZM, as was Aucklander Gwen Bull, for her services to local government and the Auckland Regional Council.

Olympic Games gold medallists, rowers Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindell, cyclist Sarah Ulmer, and triathlete Hamish Carter were appointed Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit. John Psathas, from Wellington, was accorded the same honour for his role in the Athens Olympics, where he was the invited composer and arranger of music for the opening ceremony.

Athens silver medallists kayaker Ben Fouhy and triathlete Bevan Docherty became Members of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Long-serving women's hockey goalkeeper Helen Clarke, whose Athens appearance marked the end of an international career spanning 166 tests and 13 years, was made a MNZM.

Family Planning executive director Gillian Greer, SPCA director-secretary Bob Kerridge, lawn bowler Judy Howat, Paralympic team captain Martin and entertainer and NZ Idol judge Frankie Stevens were also made MNZM.