From extreme weather to a ponytail-pulling Prime Minister, it's been an eventful year in New Zealand. We've celebrated sporting success, mourned the loss of prominent Kiwis, commemorated the Anzac centenary, and come together in shock and sorrow when tragedy struck. Matthew Backhouse looks back on the year in news.

When John Key reflects on 2015, there will be plenty he can feel proud of. His mate Richie took home the cup. His favourite flag design came out on top. And his Government signed a landmark trade deal despite bitter opposition.

But the public's recollection of Mr Key's year may be less flattering. Many will recall the revelation that he repeatedly pulled the ponytail of waitress Amanda Bailey, despite her protestations.

His opponents condemned his actions as an abuse of power, and the incident made headlines around the world.

Other cringeworthy moments followed - Mr Key admitted on air that he'd peed in the shower, and he later took part in a radio stunt which, unbeknown to him, included a crude reference to prison rape.

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The All Blacks convincingly defeated the Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup final.
The All Blacks convincingly defeated the Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup final.

The timing could not have been worse. The incident came at the end of a year in which it emerged inmates were taking part in "fight clubs" at the privately run Mt Eden prison.

That revelation led to extreme damage control; Corrections took over day-to-day management of the prison, Serco's contract was not renewed, and Mr Key plucked Judith Collins from exile to return her as Corrections Minister.

Secretive talks over the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal also sparked heated opposition. But Mr Key can count the deal among the year's successes, after last-minute agreement was reached.

The Government also reacted swiftly to a threat to spike NZ's infant formula with 1080 poison. An exhaustive investigation ended in October with the arrest of an Auckland businessman.

X Factor NZ judges Willy Moon and Natalia Kills became the hate figures for many New Zealand viewers.
X Factor NZ judges Willy Moon and Natalia Kills became the hate figures for many New Zealand viewers.

The first of two flag referendums, initiated by Mr Key, was also a success for the Prime Minister.

His preferred alternative design - the black, blue and white silver fern by Kyle Lockwood - came out on top, and will go head to head with the current flag next year.

The flag debate came in a year of national reflection, as New Zealand commemorated the centenary of the Anzac campaign in World War I.

The nation also came together to celebrate sporting success. We co-hosted the Cricket World Cup and cheered on as the Black Caps put in a nail-biting semifinal performance against South Africa. We were ultimately beaten by Australia, but our humility in defeat drew praise.

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Our turn came next, however, as the All Blacks convincingly defeated the Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup final. And golfer Lydia Ko climbed to the top of the LPGA, became player of the year and took home $4.1 million.

But three of our greatest sporting legends chose to end their New Zealand careers. All Blacks captain Richie McCaw announced his retirement; Dan Carter began his contract with a French club; and Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum announced this summer would be his last.

Sporting greats also retired permanently this year, with two relatively young former All Blacks among those who died.

Jerry Collins, 34, and his wife Alana Madill were killed in a June car crash in France. And in November, legendary winger Jonah Lomu died suddenly, aged 40.

Extreme weather lashed the country this year with floods, fires, thunderstorms and even tornadoes. Among the storms was ex-Cyclone Pam in March, which caused 9m waves and forced 100 people to evacuate.

A number of high-profile court cases captured the public imagination this year.

Among the most debated was the High Court case brought by the Herald's New Zealander of the Year, Lecretia Seales. Suffering from terminal brain cancer, the Wellington lawyer had sought a ruling that would let her doctor help her to die without criminal prosecution.

A petition sparked by her case prompted the Government to launch an inquiry into voluntary euthanasia.

And there was, of course, plenty of celebrity news. Willy Moon and Natalia Kills were sacked from X Factor for bullying a contestant.

Two contestants on the first series of The Bachelor NZ turned out out to be married - and one turned to be a convicted fraudster.

And New Zealand had visits from Prince Harry, Oprah and pop star Taylor Swift.

It was, without doubt, a big year. Perhaps John Key will be hoping for less news - or at least, less bad news - next year.