Residents of two districts of South Auckland, New Zealand with a high proportion of Maori and Pacific Islands people were visited door to door to ascertain the prevalence of known diabetes and its tissue damage. The household survey canvassed 55,518 residents in 12,770 (91%) of 14,002 residences. Diabetes interviews were available for 176,214 (82%) Europeans, 286,336 (85%) Maori and 495,585 (85%) Pacific Islands diabetic patients. Europeans were older than Maori and Pacific Islands patients currently and at diagnosis. When compared with Europeans, Maori and Pacific Islands patients had a higher chance of having had their diabetes diagnosed in pregnancy, were least likely to be receiving antihypertensive or insulin therapy, were more likely to be blind, and were more likely to have received retinal photocoagulation. There were no ethnic differences in either the proportion of those receiving no ongoing care or in the proportion seen at least once by the diabetes services. Maori people were most likely to be current smokers, were most likely to have defaulted from the diabetic diet and to be dissatisfied with the diabetes service. Pacific Islands people were least likely to have neuropathic symptoms in their feet or to report a known myocardial infarction. Significant ethnic differences in diabetes and its care exist in South Auckland.