Past & Present

Blending Maori, European, Pacific and Asian cultures, New Zealand’s rich multicultural identity and diverse artistic tradition, from Kiwiana kitsch to traditional Maori crafts and world-famous cinema, is well worth exploring.

New Zealand’s human history is short compared to that of other nations, but the mix of cultures that have influenced the course of this history has resulted in a colourful heritage in this South Pacific nation. There are many ways to discover New Zealand’s rich history, including museum visits, heritage trails and sites, historic buildings and cultural encounters. Maori are thought to have arrived over 1,000 years ago after travelling by canoe from a South Pacific homeland known as Hawaiki. They named their home Aotearoa – ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’. The Maori population may have been as high as 100,000 prior to European settlement. The first European to discover New Zealand was Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. On 13 December 1642 his ships sighted the Southern Alps and anchored in Golden Bay, near Nelson. More than 100 years later, Briton Captain James Cook, appointed to observe the transit of Venus, circumnavigated New Zealand after his cabin boy sighted land near Gisborne on 6 October 1769.

New Zealand became a popular base for explorers and navigators. Whalers, sealers and traders followed, and by 1839 there were about 2,000 Europeans in New Zealand. Lieutenant-Governor Captain William Hobson arrived in 1840, charged with acquiring the sovereignty of New Zealand through a treaty with Maori chiefs. On 6 February 1840, at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Although there are debates about the interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi, it is considered New Zealand’s founding document. British migration accelerated, and gold rushes during the 1860s attracted more migrants from around the world. Independence from Britain was formally proclaimed in 1947. In the 1970s many Pacific Island immigrants settled in New Zealand, followed by Asians in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, New Zealand has its own unique culture – a mix of those who have settled here.