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Before the arrival of man, New Zealand had lived in total isolation for around 80 million years, since its separation from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. This land mass of modern New Zealand which separated from Gondwana was known as the Rangitata land mass.

The separation period continued, and by 60 million years ago the Tasman Sea, separating Australia from New Zealand, had arrived at its full width. By 26 million years ago, there were two main features which dominated the New Zealand land mass area : the Challenger Rift system off the western coast, and which had begun forming around 60 million years ago, and the plate boundary running along the line of the Alpine Fault and the Hikurangi Trench, off the lower North Island and upper South Island coastal areas.

It was five million years ago that the shape of the two main islands of New Zealand today began to form.

Seven thousand years ago most of New Zealand's land area was covered by rainforest. The surrounding seas protected New Zealand's unique fauna and flora from marauding mammals, and because of this there were many species of flightless birds evolving in safety at ground level.

It was a beautiful time, when the Moa ran free in the Land of the Long White Cloud (or "Aotearoa" - Māori name for New Zealand)

The Moa, large flightless bird of whom there were originally 24 species, ranged in size from that of a turkey - the anomalopteryx specie - to the 3.7 metre high Dinornis maximus specie, was mainly to be found in the lowlands of New Zealand. Some species, however, also inhabited the mountain areas. The Moa lived on twigs, shrubs, leaves, and tree fruits.

The flightless Kiwi had also adapted perfectly to the safe New Zealand forest environment. The kiwi's main diet consisted of earthworms and larvae. There are four species of the Kiwi : the North Island Brown Kiwi, the Okarito Brown Kiwi, the Great Spotted Kiwi, and the Little Spotted Kiwi. All are protected today.

The Haast Eagle, largest and strongest eagle in the world, with a wing span of sometimes up to 3 meters, was mainly to be found in the forest areas of the South Island. The Haast Eagle, now extinct, preyed on large birds, including the Moa, and could fly at up to 80km per hour.

Maori The Polynesians
"A distant land, cloud capped, with plenty of moisture and a sweet scented soil."

Up until relatively recently, New Zealand was thought to have been settled by Polynesians between 950 and 1130 AD, arriving in a number of twin hulled or outrigger canoes. The first group of canoes was known as “The Great Fleet”, thought to be the first mass arrival of Polynesian settlers. The Great Fleet would have been made up of seven canoes : the "Te Arawa", the "Tainui", the Mataatua", the Tokomaru", the "Kurahaupo", the "Takitimu" and the "Aotea".

Historians today question the exactitude not only of the above time period, but also of The Great Fleet theory itself. (Not being a historian I will not go further into this subject. I do not possess enough knowledge on early Polynesian arrival in New Zealand. For further information, some links and reference books are listed below.)

 Oral tradition, also referred to as canoe tradition :

Māori oral, or canoe tradition, tells us of Kupe, one of the great Polynesian navigators, who set sail from the mythical Māori homeland Hawaiiki in his waka (pirogue) "Matawhaorua". He would have arrived in New Zealand waters, sailing first into the modern Wellington area.

After studying Māori oral tradition, ethnologists in the 19th and early 20th centuries have estimated that Kupe would have arrived in New Zealand in the year 925.

 ("The Dictionary of New Zealand English", H.W. Orsman, OUP, Auckland 1998, lists Aotearoa as being a translation of the Māori name for New Zealand, although it is also suggested, in earlier accounts, that this name may have applied uniquely to the North Island. According to Orsman, the more accurate translation of Aotearoa would be either "Land of the Long Day", "Land of the Long Dawn" or "Land of the Long Twilight"). The name Aotearoa can also mean "long bright world".

At first there was no Māori name which referred to the whole of New Zealand. Specific or individual areas, a river or a mountain had a name for the Māori, but as the first European explorers noted, no name existed for New Zealand as a whole. The Māori name "Aotearoa" came into use much later, after the arrival of Europeans.

According to legend, Kupe disturbed a giant octopus, which eventually led him to discover modern Cook Strait.

After spending some time in New Zealand, Kupe would have returned to Hawaiiki, describing the land he had just discovered as "a distant land, cloud-capped, with plenty of moisture, and a sweet-scented soil". He would have left instructions on how to find New Zealand, after leaving Hokianga with the words "Ka hoki nei au, e kore au e hoki anganui mai" (I now depart and I shall never return).

On Kupe’s return to Hawaiki, the "Matawhaorua" needed to undergo repairs, due to damage inflicted from the heavy seas during the return voyage. Once the repairs were terminated, the "Matawhaorua" was renamed “Ngatokimatawhaorua”, as the repair work had been accomplished by adzes – “Nga toki”.

Kupe then entrusted the canoe to his nephew Nukutawhiti, who captained the canoe on its return voyage to Aotearoa. Nukutawhiti anchored the “Ngatokimatawhaorua” in Hokianga harbour, (in the far north of New Zealand). It is here, in the region of Northland, where all the Ngapuhi sub tribes settled.

At approximately the same time as the arrival of the first Polynesians, the Moriori people, ancestors of the Māori, (sometimes known as "Tchakat Moriori" ) were thought to be settling in Rekohu off the coast of New Zealand, although it appears that this also is the subject of much debate by historians.

Rekohu is known in english as the Chatham Islands.

There are several theories as to exactly where the Māori Hawaiiki may have been. According to James Belich in his book "Making Peoples" (Penguin Press) it is possible that Hawaiiki may have been the Bismarck Islands.
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Related Links
The Supercontinent of Gondwana
The story of Gondwana
Finding New Zealand Excellent New Zealand history site, researched by Brian Hooker
Polynesian migrations
Polynesian history and origin
From Hawaiiki to Hawaiiki - The Journey to Aotearoa
Further reading
  • "Making Peoples" - James Belich (The Penguin Press)
  • "The Penguin History of New Zealand" - Michael King
  • "The Quest for Origins - Who First Discovered and Settled New Zealand and the Pacific Islands?" - Kerry Howe. Auckland: Penguin Books, 2003.
  • "Nature, Culture and History. The 'Knowing' of Oceania" - Kerry Howe. University of Hawaii Press, 2000.
  • "The New Zealand historical Atlas" - Bateman


 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.