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New ZealandNew Zealand History

New Zealand | Regional Information | Activity Highlights | Scenic Highlights | History

With over a thousand years of human settlement, New Zealand has a colourful and dramatic history, dominated by the relationship between Maori and Europeans.

New Zealand History Overview

While New Zealand is a relatively young country, it has a rich and fascinating history, reflecting both our Maori and European heritage. Amazing Maori historic sites and taonga (treasures), some dating back almost a thousand years, are a contrast to many beautiful colonial buildings. A walk around any New Zealand city today shows what a culturally diverse and fascinating country we have become.

Early Settlement

Image Source: Tourism New Zealand, Ceremonial Waka, New Zealand
Ceremonial Waka
Photographer: Fay Looney
(www.faylooney.com)

According to Maori, the first explorer to reach New Zealand was Kupe. Using the stars and ocean currents as his navigational guides, he ventured across the Pacific on his waka hourua (voyaging canoe) from his ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. It is thought that Kupe made landfall at the Hokianga Harbour in Northland, around 1,000 years ago.

Maori were expert hunters and fishermen. As mostly coastal dwellers, fishing was vitally important to them. It also played a part in their mythology—the god, Maui, was believed to have 'fished up' the North Island. Maori wove fishing nets from harakeke (flax), and carved fishhooks from bone and stone. Maori considered whales as kaitiaki (guardians), and used their flesh for food and their hard, strong bones for weapons. A Maori tradition that remains today is to throw back the first fish caught. This is a way of thanking Tangaroa, god of the sea, for his bounty.

Moriori

While Maori lived throughout the North and South Islands, the Moriori, another Polynesian tribe, lived on the Chatham Islands, nearly 900 kilometres east of Christchurch. Moriori are believed to have migrated to the Chathams from the South Island of New Zealand. In the late 18th century there were about 2,000 Moriori living on the Chathams. However, disease and attacks from Maori saw the numbers of this peace-loving tribe become severely depleted. The last full-blooded Moriori is believed to have died in 1933.

Colonisation

Image Source: Tourism New Zealand. Captain Cook Statue, Gisborne, Eastland, New Zealand.
Captain Cook Statue, Gisborne
Eastland
Photographer: Ian Trafford
(www.iantraffordphotos.com)

The first European to sight New Zealand was Dutch explorer named Abel Tasman. He was on an expedition to discover a great Southern continent, 'Great South Land', that was believed to be rich in minerals. In 1642, while searching for this continent, Tasman sighted a 'large high-lying land' off the West Coast of the South Island.

In 1769 Captain James Cook sighted New Zealand and successfully circumnavigated and mapped the country. Early settlers were mainly whalers, sealers, and missionaries who came to New Zealand. These settlers had considerable contact with Maori, especially in coastal areas. Maori and Pakeha (Europeans) traded extensively, and some Europeans lived among Maori.

With growing numbers of British migrants, and a dwindling and largely landless Maori population, British culture dominated New Zealand life throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. However, since World War II, New Zealand has moved towards its own unique national identity and place in the world.

Treaty of Waitangi

Image Source: Tourism New Zealand, Maori Marae, Waitangi, New Zealand
Maori Marae, Waitangi
Photographer: Ben Crawford
(www.bencrawford.co.nz)

In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was drawn up, an agreement between the British Crown and Maori. It established British law in New Zealand, while at the same time guaranteeing Maori authority over their land and culture. The Treaty is considered New Zealand's founding document.

After a day of debate, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840, at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. Forty-three Northland chiefs signed the treaty on that day. Over 500 Maori Chiefs signed it as it was taken around the country during the next eight months.

In 1975, the government established the Waitangi Tribunal. This tribunal was established to honour the treaty as a relevant and living document. Since then, the Waitangi Tribunal has ruled on a number of claims brought by Maori iwi (tribes). In many cases, compensation, often in the form of financial payments and land, has been granted. In the last ten years, some particularly large settlements have been made between the Government and major iwi, including Tainui of the Waikato, and Ngai Tahu of the South Island. Much of the compensation has been invested in order to provide educational and health services for members of the iwi.

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Featured

 
Mainstay New Zealand Hotels

Mainstay NZ Hotels

Large collection of independent hotels.

Choice Hotels

Choice Hotels

Holiday packages for any occasion.

Distinction Hotels

Distinction Hotels

Great hotels in great NZ wide locations.