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History in New Zealand


New Zealand has a long and rich history, which all started with the first humans arriving on the New Zealand archipelago around 700 years ago. The first inhabitants of the islands were to become the Maori people, who sailed from the eastern skirts of modern-day Polynesia. The Polynesian people were avid sailors and spent a lot of their time at sea on specially crafted canoes, large enough to take a decent crew of people out for extended periods of time in search for new lands. Polynesia, of course, consists of a large number of islands, big and small, and the people inhabiting these islands travelled frequently between them trading and learning from one another. The canoes that the Polynesians used to sail around were built with ingenuity and knowledge of the ocean. They were designed like a catamaran, two single wooden vessels on either side conjoined with timber, and with dual masts. The catamaran-like design enabled the sailors to stay at sea for extended periods of time while avoiding capsizing, the design itself was unique and has been adopted by modern shipbuilders. 

The Polynesians settled on New Zealand, previously uninhabited by people, and were isolated. They developed their own Maori culture and distinct way of life. In Maori legend, the Chief Kupe sailed from the mythical homeland of Polynesian people, Hawaiki, which is widely agreed to be Raiatea, the second largest of the Society Islands after Tahiti, to New Zealand. Upon arriving in New Zealand, the chief described the islands as looking like a ‘long white cloud’, and so he named the archipelago ‘Aotearoa’, which means ‘long white cloud’. Initially, the term was used only to describe the North Island but has since come to encompass both islands. The canoes of ‘the great fleet’ sailed to Aotearoa around 1350 when the archipelago became officially populated. The Maori settled mostly on the eastern coast of the North Island, where the subtropical climate is most temperate. The Maori people ate a diet consisting mostly of fish, eggs, root vegetables, and they hunted extensively the large flightless bird known as the Moa. When the Moa bird, which stood more than 3m tall, was hunted to extinction, the giant Haast’s eagle also went extinct. The Maori also conducted many skirmishes between tribes and fought wars, usually overland. They’re well-known for performing the Haka war dance and continue to do so now as a display of their culture. 

Contact with Europeans

Europeans first made contact in 1642, when the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first made a record of sighting New Zealand, however, he wasn’t able to land. They dropped anchor at the shore and were greeted by two canoes full of Maoris, who upon approaching the large sail ships blew their horns. The Dutch explorers followed suit by blowing their horns and firing upon the canoes with their cannon. The canoes returned to Aotearoa and later came back with more armed Maoris. A conflict ensued in which four sailors died. The Dutch left and it wouldn’t be for around another hundred years before Europeans would approach New Zealand. From 1769 to 1779, the British made extensive progress circumnavigating and exploring the land. Soon after the land would be colonized by Europeans. A large number of arrivals caused inevitable conflict with the Maori people, and many skirmishes and wars were fought over land. In 1840, the treaty of Waitangi was signed by Maori chiefs, which gave sovereignty of various areas in New Zealand to the British. Much confusion ensued over the meaning of the treaty, and war/s continued for the next 40 odd years. The Maori population would decline heavily from war and disease; however, their population thankfully increased after health improvements. Today, there are more than 730,000 Maori people living in New Zealand. 


The pre-war period saw the start of party politics, following the constitutional monarchy system, like Australia’s and England’s. The Liberal Government was established, and New Zealand was effectively ruled by wealthy landowners. Maori’s sold their land initially to settlers, the sales of which were made void, the government resold the land to sheep farmers, who effectively became the New Zealand gentry. The Liberals would buy up land in an attempt to create a party solely supported by landowners, and in the early 20th century they were so politically dominant that they had no real opposition in parliament. It wasn’t until 1909 that Maori’s would be able to sell land to private landowners. 


New Zealand was a loyal and enthusiastic subject of the British Empire, and when war broke out in 1914, around 100,000 troops served overseas, with 18,000 dying and 41,000 were wounded. New Zealand troops served especially alongside Australian troops and formed the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). The ANZAC group operated during the battle of Gallipoli, where more than 2700 New Zealanders died. 

The rise of the Labor Party

The Labor Party rose to prominence after WW1, winning 25% of the vote. As it expanded its principle to favour socialism, the party received a jump in support, to 35%. Support would peak in 1938, just after the party was to be elected to government for the first time ever in 1935. The great depression helped swing more support Labor’s way, who set about implementing a number of social and economic reforms that helped the country. 


New Zealand supported Britain during the second world war and sent around 120,000 troops to aid the allied forces. Of the 135,000 who served abroad, 10,100 lost their lives. 


Today New Zealand enjoys a high-quality of living, low crime rates, and a stable economy. They can look to their history of social and economic reforms as a measure for today’s good wealth. Though New Zealand’s a very safe country, it’s always good to purchase travel insurance when you head out on an international trip. 

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