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Christchurch, New ZealandChristchurch History

Christchurch | Regional Information | Activity Highlights | Scenic Highlights | History

The history of Christchurch, New Zealand dates back to the 1st century AD when the area was traditionally known to be settled by Moa Hunters.

Christchurch History Overview

The original settlers of the Christchurch region were Moa Hunters who hunted the moa out of existence by the 1500s.

Over 1300 - 1500 fires lit in the region destroyed much of the forestation of the region, changing the landscape.

After the Maori tribes, aided by firearms traded by whalers, fought each other to near disappearance in the Christchurch region, European pilgrims began settling the area in the 1800s.

Early Settlement

Image Source: Tourism New Zealand. Christchurch Gardens, Christchurch, New Zealand
Christchurch Gardens
New Zealand
Photographer: Hiroshi Nameda
(hnamechan@hotmail.com)

In 1876 archeological evidence was discovered in a cave at Redcliffs that indicated that the first settlers in the Christchurch area were moa hunting tribes about 1250. Maori history puts the settlement at the time of the year 1000.

Around the 1300s to the 1500s fires that were lit by the Moa Hunters destroyed much of the original vegetation replacing it with open tussock grassland. A few isolated patches of bush survived such as those at Riccarton and Papanui.

Erosion denuded the foothills, and the rivers spread across the plains. This buried all traces of the original forests.

The moa were hunted out of existence by the 1500s. And around this time Maori tradition records that the Waitaha tribe migrated from the east coast of the North Island.

Following tribal warfare, the Waitaha were dispossessed by the Ngati Mamoe tribe. They were in turn subjugated by the Ngai Tahu tribe, who remained in control until the arrival of European settlers.

Maori History

Image Source: Tourism New Zealand. Maori Carving with Moko, New Zealand
Maori Carving with Moko
New Zealand
Photographer: Ian Trafford
(www.iantraffordphotos.com)

Around 1825 - 1828 there was civil war among the Ngai Tahu peoples. The villages at Ripapa Island, Tai Tapu and Birdlings Flat were destroyed. The fighting reduced the Maori population in Canterbury to about 2,500.

In 1831 Barque "Vittoria" visited Lyttelton Harbour and Akaroa. Muskets and gunpowder were traded for flax.

Newly armed with muskets, the Ngati Toa led by Te Rauparaha captured Kaiapohia Pa. Of the 1,000 Ngai Tahu inhabitants of the village, only 200 escaped the massacre.

The Ngati Toa then attacked Te Rauparah on the Akaroa Harbour, massacring all inhabitants.

These massacres reduced the Maori population in Canterbury to only about 500 people.

British Settlement

On February 16th, 1770, Captain James Cook in the "Endeavour" sighted Banks "Island" Peninsula.

On 16th December, 1850, the first 792 pilgrims arrived in Lyttelton Harbour. Prior to their arrival the city's name was decided by the Association's first meeting on 27th March, 1848.

The Canterbury Association's Chief Surveyor, Captain Thomas, commissioned the construction of a road from Port Cooper, later Lyttelton, to Christchurch via Sumner in December 1849.

In 1863 New Zealand's first public railway line, the Ferrymead railway, was opened from Ferrymead to Christchurch. A railway tunnel was bored through the Port Hills to Lyttelton in 1867 due to the difficulties in travelling over the Port Hills and the dangers associated with shipping navigating the Sumner bar.

On 31st, July 1856 Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter. This makes Christchurch the oldest city in New Zealand. Many of the city's fine Gothic buildings by the architect Benjamin Mountfort date from this period.

In 1947, New Zealand's worst fire disaster occurred at Ballantyne's Department Store in the inner city. 41 people died in a blaze which razed the rambling collection of buildings.

Useful Christchurch Links

To help plan your Christchurch holiday choose from the main categories below:


Christchurch Region Information


Christchurch Tourism Operators

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