Michael Hester, the first New Zealander to referee a match at the Fifa World Cup, has blown fulltime on his refereeing career.

Hester has refereed at the World Cup, Confederations Cup, Club World Cup, Under-17 World Cup and Olympic Games as well many 'A' internationals.

But the 39-year-old, whose partner is expecting their first child, has decided he can no longer balance the demands of refereeing and a fulltime career as a supply officer for the Royal New Zealand Navy.

"Refereeing is a hobby I've taken from council grounds to World Cup stadiums and it's been an amazing adventure," Hester said. "But the reality is that it's a hobby that you have to balance with your professional and personal demands.

"While I've been trying to find a way to stay involved and also work towards the next World Cup in Brazil, or certainly the campaign to be selected, some other challenges in my life mean it's no longer sustainable. I've had to prioritise and unfortunately refereeing has been the thing I've had to sacrifice."

New Zealand Football Chief Executive Grant McKavanagh paid tribute to a "football pioneer".

"Mike, along with Peter O'Leary, has flown the flag for refereeing in this country and his achievements have shown what is possible for aspiring Kiwi referees," McKavanagh said.

Hester took up the whistle in 2001 and rose rapidly through the ranks before making the international list in 2007.

Hester and O'Leary were selected among 30 referees for last year's World Cup, with fellow Kiwis Jan Hintz and Brent Best joining them as assistants in two Oceania trios. Hester refereed the Group B match between Korea Republic and Greece in Bloemfontein.

While the memory of that match will live on for Hester, he also lists his initial selection for the Fifa list, refereeing the Wellington Phoenix's match against David Beckham's LA Galaxy, the South Pacific Games final between Fiji and New Caledonia and five games at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup as career highlights.

But top of the list for Hester was a crucial 2009 Confederations Cup match between USA and Egypt, when Hester performed with distinction under intense pressure.

"That match was probably the most exciting and exhilarating game I've ever been involved in," he said. "There was so much on the line for both teams. Italy were playing Brazil at the same time in the group and it came down to goal difference as to who was going to go through.

"Even though USA had a 3-0 lead in the last few minutes, one goal for Egypt would have put them through so that match was the most intense I've been involved in."

"We showed that despite coming from a relatively amateur part the world we could still deliver on the big stage."

Hester acknowledges that the expanding use of technology could present a challenge for the Oceania region to keep pace.