When going on a tour of any country it helps to know a least a little about the country’s history before the tour. Our guides will of course explain the story in greater detail, but if you are keen to do a bit of pre-tour reading the following article will give you the basic outline.

New Zealand has the shortest human history of any country on earth. Most academics agree that the first people to come to this land, arrived some time between 1000 to 1300 AD, making it the last major inhabitable land mass to be settled by humans. The first people to arrive sailed from somewhere further north in the Pacific Ocean, according to Māori legend it was from the island of Hawaiki. Not to be confused with Hawaii! Where is Hawaiki? Nobody really knows, perhaps its name has now changed or perhaps it is mythical, but it is said to be the place where Io, the supreme being created the earth and the first people of the earth.

The first settlers called the land Aotearoa, meaning ‘The land of the long white cloud’. The name Aotearoa is still used today as an alternative name for New Zealand. Very often both names are used together to refer to the country, i.e. ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ or ‘New Zealand Aotearoa’.

Māori people had no written language before the arrival of Europeans but instead relied on their oral tradition to transmit the stories of their ancestors and the legends of the land. Māori people also used wood carving and skin tattooing to record stories.

The first known European to come to New Zealand was a Dutchman called Abel Tasman in 1642. He is best remembered today as being the man after whom the Tasman Sea is named. This is the sea that separates New Zealand and Australia, also nicknamed ‘the ditch’. Tasman mapped part of the north-west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, around an area now known as the Farewell Spit. He referred to it as ‘Staten Landt’, as he thought that it was connected to an island off the eastern extremity of Argentina – named Staten Landt by another Dutch navigator some 26 years earlier. (Staten Landt, Isla de los Estados in Spanish, was named for the Dutch Staten-Generaal, or States General, which was the governing body of the United Provinces of the Netherlands between 1579 and 1795, not to be confused with the present parliament of the Netherlands of the same name).

Tasman was just a little bit out with his estimations (*sarcasm*) and when this was realised in the following year Dutch mapmakers decided to give it a new name. Holland and Zeeland were the two maritime provinces of the Netherlands. The Dutch were already referring to Australia as ‘New Holland’ so the decision was made to go with the name ‘Nieuw Zeeland’ – and it kinda caught on!

The next major European explorer on the scene was Britain’s Captain James Cook in 1769. He anglicized the name to New Zealand and successfully mapped the country and also wrote about the Māori people. Cook made two more successful voyages to New Zealand in the 1770s, each time mapping more of the country. His final ever port of call was in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, on 14 February 1779 where he was killed by the local inhabitants. Happy Valentines Day James!

Cook’s exploration of New Zealand paved the way for British colonisation. Not long after Cook’s voyages a number of French explorers also made journeys around the Pacific. The early 1800s saw not only European navigators and explorers coming to our shores but now also some who came hunting seals and whales, or to trade in timber and flax. Early missionaries also began to arrive, bringing the novel concept of the monotheistic religion of Christianity to the Māori people.

In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by representatives of the British Crown and more than 500 Māori chiefs. This became the founding document of New Zealand and marked the birth of a new nation. New Zealand became a British colony and Māori became British subjects. It is important to mention however that the Māori people and the British had different understandings and expectations of the treaty and disputes surrounding it still continue in the political spectrum today and occasionally in public protests.

For more detailed history of New Zealand check out this fantastic resource at teara.govt.nz


Member of: 


© Excursion New Zealand 


Main menu: Home / Tours / About us / About New Zealand / Français / Español / Português / Contact / FAQs