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History of New Zealand - Maori statue

History of New Zealand

The history of New Zealand is fascinating. It is not an old country; the first people to arrive in New Zealand only did so around 700 to 800 years ago. However, despite its youth, it has forged a strong identity of its own thanks to its twin histories of European settlement and the Maori.

Enchanting Travels New Zealand Tours maori marae
A traditional Maori Marae – a communal or sacred place
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Enchanting Travels New Zealand tours Art Deco street lamp posts in historic Napier rebuilt after 1931 earthquake, New Zealand

A Meeting of Cultures

For four hundred years, the Maori, who came to New Zealand from Polynesia (though interestingly, nobody knows exactly where from), flourished in New Zealand, forging a culture that was similar yet distinct from other Polynesian groups with new forms of art, music, dance and culture. Even new religious traditions formed, which described how the earth-mother Papatūānuku (or, simply: “papa”) and the sky-father Ranginui (or “Rangi”) created the world.

All this changed in 1642 when European explorers arrived, with the Dutch captain, Abel Tasman, being the first to set foot on the islands. The beautiful Abel Tasman National Park is located relatively close to where the first Europeans arrived.

Europeans didn’t actually settle in New Zealand for another 127 years – until the late 1700s – after expeditions to the island led by French and English explorers (some led by the famous James Cook). Over the following few decades, more and more settlements, many of them home to both Europeans and Maori, began to appear across the country. The first of these, Kororareka (the modern town of Russell) was so popular with partying sailors and whalers that visiting missionaries used to refer to it as “the hellhole of the pacific”. Its debauched history is a thing of the past though. Today the city is extremely peaceful and beautiful, flanked by two sandy beaches leading to the bright blue water of the Pacific Ocean.

Unlike many countries, the meeting of Europeans and indigenous populations didn’t immediately lead to severe violence. While during the 1800s there were occasional clashes between the Maori and European settlers, these tended to be sporadic, and lasted a few years each. As such, the history of New Zealand is comparatively peaceful.

In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, signifying a union between the British and the Maori. The British gave the Maori the same rights and freedoms as British subjects, including the right to buy or sell land as they wanted, as well as full rights of ownership of their land, water, and forests. In addition, the two groups agreed to form a new nation albeit one absolutely loyal to the Empire. Today the Treaty is considered the foundation document of New Zealand, much like the Declaration of Independence in the United States (however, notably, New Zealand didn’t become largely independent from the British Empire until around 1907).

Enchanting Travels New Zealand tours Auckland war memorial

Social Progress

Despite its size, New Zealand has often led the world in social change. In 1893, it became the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote. In addition to this, it was the first country to offer its workers state pensions and housing.

Today, New Zealand stands quite proudly as a land that is peaceful and welcoming to all. 

From its vibrant cities and stunning outdoors, to a unique blend of European and Maori cultures, discover New Zealand in depth on your tailor-made tour with us.

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