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Early Maori Settlement -- There's more than one theory as to how New Zealand's first inhabitants settled here. The Maori legend tells of Kupe, who in A.D. 950 sailed from Hawaiiki, the traditional homeland of the Polynesians. The legend doesn't tell us exactly where Hawaiiki was located in the South Pacific, but present-day authorities believe it belonged to the Society Islands group that includes Tahiti.

It wasn't until the mid-14th century that Maori arrived in great numbers. These settlers found abundant supplies of seafood and berries, which they supplemented with tropical plants like taro, yams, and Kumara (sweet potato) that they'd brought along from Hawaiiki. Dogs and rats also made the voyage, and they were added to the protein source. The cultivation of these imported vegetables and animals gradually led to an agricultural society in which Maori lived in permanent villages based on a central marae (village common or courtyard) and whare runanga (meetinghouse). This is where the distinctive Maori art forms of woodcarving and tattooing evolved.

Abel Tasman & Dutch Discovery -- The first recorded sighting of New Zealand by Europeans occurred in December 1642. Abel Tasman, who was scouting territory for the Dutch East India Company, spied the west coast of the South Island, entered Golden Bay, and met the Maori before even reaching land. As his two ships anchored, several Maori war canoes entered the water and paddlers shouted hostile challenges. The next day, Maori attacked a cockboat, killing four sailors. Tasman fired at the retreating canoes and departed. Bad weather forced him to proceed up the west coast of the North Island. Failing to find a suitable landing spot, he sailed on to Tonga and Fiji, and Golden Bay was known as Murderer's Bay for many years to come.

Captain Cook -- When Captain James Cook left England in 1768 on the Endeavour, he carried orders from King George III to sail south in search of the "continent" reported by Abel Tasman. If he found it uninhabited, he was to plant the English flag and claim it for the king; if not, he was to take possession of "convenient situations," but only with the consent of the indigenous people.

On October 7, 1769, Nicholas Young, son of the ship's surgeon, spotted New Zealand from his perch in the mast. Naming the headland (in the Gisborne area) Young Nick's Head, Cook sailed into a crescent-shaped bay and anchored. With the help of a young Tahitian chief, Tupea, who had sailed with the crew as a guide and interpreter, Cook tried to make contact with the Maori, but to no avail. They remained hostile and would not accept Cook's gifts, nor let him take food and water to his men.

Disappointed, Cook claimed the country for King George, and named the bay Poverty Bay because, as he noted in his journal, "it afforded us not one thing we wanted." Sailing north, he rounded the tip of the North Island and went on to circumnavigate both islands. During the next 6 months, he accurately charted the country, and missed only the entrance to Milford Sound (which is virtually invisible from the open sea) and the fact that Stewart Island was not part of the mainland.

The British Arrive -- Sealers began arriving in 1792 and essentially stripped the South Island waters of its seal colonies. Whalers, too, discovered rich hunting grounds in New Zealand water. Oil vats soon dotted the Bay of Islands, which provided safe harbor.

Traders and merchants, attracted by the wealth of flax, the abundance of trees for shipbuilding, and the lucrative trading of muskets and other European goods with the Maori, were little better than the sealers and whalers in respecting the country's natural resources. Great forests were felled and luxuriant bushlands disappeared.

The immigration of Europeans, mostly from Great Britain, had a devastating impact on Maori culture. Most destructive was the introduction of liquor, muskets, and diseases against which the Maori had no immunity. Muskets intensified the fierce intertribal warfare, eventually becoming so common that no one tribe had superiority in terms of firepower. By 1830, Maori chiefs began to realize the weapon was destroying all their tribes.

Missionaries also began to come during this period. They were responsible for putting the Maori language in writing (largely for the purpose of translating and printing the Bible), establishing mission schools, and upgrading agricultural methods through the use of plows and windmills.

Lawlessness grew along with the number of British immigrants, and harm was inflicted on both Maori and the new settlers. The missionaries complained to the British government, which was by no means eager to recognize faraway New Zealand as a full-fledged colony, having already experienced problems with America and Canada. As an alternative, the Crown placed New Zealand under the jurisdiction of New South Wales in 1833, and dispatched James Busby as "British Resident" with full responsibilities to enforce law and order. Unfortunately, he was completely ineffective.

The Treaty of Waitangi -- Back in Britain, the newly formed New Zealand Company began sending ships to buy land from the Maori and establish permanent settlements. Their questionable methods caused increasing alarm in London. Between 1839 and 1843, the New Zealand Company sent out 57 ships carrying 19,000 settlers, the nucleus of the permanent British population.

In 1839, Captain William Hobson was sent by the government to sort out the concerns. By catering to the Maori sense of ceremony, he arranged an assembly of chiefs at the Busby residence in the Bay of Islands. There, on February 6, 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed after lengthy debate. The treaty guaranteed Maori "all the rights and privileges of British subjects" in exchange for their acknowledgment of British sovereignty, while granting the Crown exclusive rights to buy land from the Maori. Many of the chiefs did not understand what they had signed. Nevertheless, 45 of them ultimately signed the treaty, and when it was circulated around the country, another 500 signed as well.

Instead of easing tensions, though, the Treaty of Waitangi ushered in one of the bloodiest periods in New Zealand's history. The British were eager to exercise their right to purchase Maori land, and while some chiefs were eager to sell, others were not. As pressures forced them to sell, the Maori revolted, and when Chief Hone Heke (the first to sign the treaty) hacked down the British flagpole at Kororareka (Russell) in 1844, it signaled the beginning of some 20 years of fierce battles. The British finally emerged the victors, but the seizure of that Maori land continues to be the subject of debate today.

From Waitangi to the Present -- By the time the 1860s arrived, gold had been discovered on the South Island's West Coast. The Gold Rush opened up huge tracts of Central Otago, and Cobb & Co, a stagecoach company, extended their coaching operations to link the major towns from Christchurch south. They added to that in 1866, initiating a coach service across Arthur's Pass to the gold fields of Westland. By the end of the 1860s, Dunedin was by far the largest city in the country thanks to gold wealth. Advances in rail transport flourished during this period, and with waves of new immigrants keen to seek their golden fortune, New Zealand entered a period of lively economic activity that was to see it through the 1870s and 1880s.

Whaling, too, changed the face of New Zealand during this period. It was one of our first major industries and with the influx of international whalers came traders, missionaries, onshore whaling stations, and new housing settlements. Many whalers stayed on, leaving their ships to marry into Maori families - the fact that there are many Maori families today with Scandinavian names is part of that legacy.

In 1892, the introduction of the first refrigerated shipment of lamb to England heralded a new era in New Zealand beef and lamb exports. History was made in 1893 when New Zealand became the first country in the world to allow women to vote.

By 1914, thoughts had turned to war. One hundred thousand New Zealanders joined the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps to fight in World War I, and New Zealand lost more soldiers per capita than any other nation.

The 1930s were colored by the Great Depression, unemployment, riots, and, on a happier note, the beginning of air services across Cook Strait. Our soldiers returned to battle in 1939 with the advent of World War II, and in 1947 the Statute of Westminster was adopted by the government, giving New Zealand full independence from Britain.

For many, the 1950s were a golden era. The economy had long since settled, our men were back from war, and, for the first time, New Zealand's population hit two million. Life was easy in the '50s. Threats were few and achievements began piling up - Edmund Hillary became the first man to climb Mount Everest, we had our first royal visit when the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth arrived, and the Auckland Harbour Bridge heralded a new age of modernity when it opened in 1959.

It's hard to believe now, but New Zealand had to wait until the 1960s to get its first regional television - in Auckland. We didn't get color television until 1973, by which time the New Zealand population had hit three million and the Auckland International Airport had opened.

The country's economy has traditionally depended on the success of wool, dairy, and meat exports with protected, unlimited access to British markets. This changed when Britain entered the European Common Market in the 1970s. New Zealand was then forced to diversify and do business with many other countries. By the mid-1980s, meat, wool, and dairy products accounted for just under 50% of our export income.

The mid-1980s also heralded the complete deregulation of the domestic economy. It took a decade of struggle for many industries to come to terms with the changes. (This is the main reason our infamous sheep numbers dropped from 72 million in 1983 to the present low of around 44 million.) The stern belt-tightening ultimately bore fruit, however, and by 1993, the economy was flourishing. Today, forestry, horticulture, fishing, tourism, and manufacturing are the leading industries. Tourism is the country's largest single source of foreign exchange. Overall standards and the level of professionalism have improved tenfold in recent years, making New Zealand one of the ripest countries in the world for visitors.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.