ZnO nanowires (NWs) with diameters of 50 to 250 nm and lengths of several micrometres have been grown by reactive vapour transport via the reaction of Zn with oxygen on 1 nm Au/Si(001) at 550°C under an inert flow of Ar. These exhibited clear peaks in the X-ray diffraction corresponding to the hexagonal wurtzite crystal structure of ZnO and a photoluminescence spectrum with a peak at 3.3 eV corresponding to band edge emission close to 3.2 eV determined from the abrupt onset in the absorption-transmission through ZnO NWs grown on 0.5 nm Au/quartz. We find that the post growth nitridation of ZnO NWs under a steady flow of NH3 at temperatures ≤600°C promotes the formation of a ZnO/Zn3N2 core-shell structure as suggested by the suppression of the peaks related to ZnO and the emergence of new ones corresponding to the cubic crystal structure of Zn3N2 while maintaining their integrity. Higher temperatures lead to the complete elimination of the ZnO NWs. We discuss the effect of nitridation time, flow of NH3, ramp rate and hydrogen on the conversion and propose a mechanism for the nitridation.