History of New Zealand

"The Chinese Settlement" - built by Chinese Gold Miners in 1868 during the Gold Rush, this village near Queenstown on New Zealand
"The Chinese Settlement" - built by Chinese Gold Miners in 1868 during the Gold Rush, this village near Queenstown on New Zealand's South Island.

First settled almost eight hundred years ago and fought over by Europeans, Maori, and Polynesians alike, New Zealand's history is an interesting look into how multiple cultures conquered one of the latest islands to be inhabited by humans. With cultural sites spread throughout the country covering everything from Polynesian spirits to Scottish history, New Zealand really does have a cultural draw for everyone.

New Zealand was first settled in 1300AD, with Polynesians traveling to the island nation by boat over some of the roughest open seas in the world. For over three hundred years, the island country was untouched by European settlers, allowing a great degree of Polynesian culture to appear. Much of this culture remains important in New Zealand, albeit mixed with culture from other settlers.

The country was colonized in 1840 and became part of the British Empire – a decision that has been a key cause of disputes, particularly over coastal land, over the past few decades. Immigrants came to New Zealand from the British Isles, leading to the country's large immigrant population.

Most of this occurred in New Zealand's northern cape – an area known today as the Bay of Islands. Visitors can find constant reminders of the country's early development in this region, including the famous 'bullet church', where European settlers and Maori took part in a viscous gunfight. The well-known beach towns of Paihia and Russell are home to many of New Zealand's earliest landmarks.

New Zealand's European immigrants spread throughout the country, with different nations focusing on different areas of the island country. In the extreme south of the South Island, Scottish culture is felt, particularly in Dunedin. The small city is home to a university that celebrates its Scottish past, along with a number of whisky distilleries.

Move further north and you'll be in Canterbury, home of Akaroa, one of New Zealand's only major French settlements. Purchased by French Navy Captain Jean François L'Anglois in 1838, the small town is a popular resort destination in the area. Hector's Dolphins, once caught by early settlers, are an endangered species frequently seen in the bay, and dolphin watching tours are a major attraction.

Historic Maori meeting house at Invercargill's Anderson Park
Historic Maori meeting house at Invercargill's Anderson Park

Despite being New Zealand's capital city, few signs of the country's early history are found in Wellington. The chief reason for this is Wellington's relatively late settlement – the city itself remained unsettled until 1839, and wasn't the capital until 1865. Despite this, Wellington houses several museums focused on New Zealand's early history, which are found in the Parliament area.

The capital is also home to Te Papa, New Zealand's largest museum and a fantastic opportunity to look into the country's early history. From New Zealand's natural history – early mining operations and Maori jewelry history – to more recent economic developments and political history, it's a must see attraction for history buffs, and even visitors simply wishing to put their vacation in context.

Auckland's history is rather more recent. Used as an outpost against a growing Maori insurgency in the 19th century, the city was originally a settlement for British military guards. However, over time, its population grew and it transformed into the nation's largest city, and temporarily its capital. The last fifty years have been a boom for Auckland, with the city expanding into New Zealand's capital of business.

Despite its relatively late settlement, New Zealand's history is an interesting look into the British Empire's all-too-frequent clashes with earlier inhabitants, and their far-reaching influence into the daily life of a nation. With important natural historical attractions, interesting museums, and cities packed with historical buildings, it's never difficult to learn a little more about where you are when you're in New Zealand.