Triplefin fishes (Family Tripterygiidae) dominate the New Zealand temperate coastal fish fauna in diversity (26 endemic species, 14 genera). Most species appear to have evolved as a local radiation and mostly occupy sympatric distributions throughout New Zealand. To investigate the forces driving current gene-flow patterns and past evolutionary histories, we searched for common patterns of population genetic subdivision within eight species sampled throughout their distributions [mitchochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region, n = 1086]. We hypothesised that common phylogeographical and population differentiation patterns would reveal past or ongoing physical processes, with differences reflecting stochastic or species-specific processes. Striking differences between species were apparent, with strong phylogeographical structure detected in Grahamina capito and the estuarine species G. nigripenne. G. capito fell into three distinct geographically restricted lineages. G. nigripenne largely separated into northern and southern lineages (ΦST 0.834). Strong population structuring and isolation by distance was evident in Bellapiscis medius, B. lesleyae and Forsterygion lapillum (ΦST 0.686, 0.436 and 0.115, respectively). High gene flow was apparent in G. gymnota and Ruanoho whero, and F. varium. However, for the latter species, isolation was apparent with samples collected from the offshore Three Kings Islands. Overall, a strong relationship was found between habitat depth and population structure among species, and species inhabiting shallower water habitats showed lower genetic diversity with higher levels of population subdivision. High-latitude populations generally showed low haplotype and nucleotide diversity. These data suggest that processes resulting from intraspecific differences in habitat preference, climatic histories and/or larval ecologies have subdivided populations of shallow water triplefin species.