Early New Zealand and Maori History
The Maori people were New Zealand's first settlers. They made an epic journey from legendary Hawaiiki somewhere in the Polynesian area to the north of New Zealand about 800 years ago. The great explorer Kupe, who Maori legend says first discovered New Zealand, named the new land 'Aotearoa' - Land of the Long White Cloud.
The first documented European to discover New Zealand was Dutch navigator Abel Tasman who came here in 1642 in search of the fabled great southern continent. Over a century later, Captain James Cook claimed it for Britain in 1769 and produced the first map of New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand's founding historical document and established the country as a nation. It was signed in 1840 between leading Maori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown. The location at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, is now one of the country's most significant historic sites. The signing of the treaty began on 6 February 1840, and is now New Zealand's national day known as 'Waitangi Day'. New Zealand's first settlers, the Maori, named the kiwi bird for the sound of its chirp - kiwi, kiwi, kiwi! This flightless bird, about the size of a domestic hen, has an extremely long beak and plumage more like hair than feathers. New Zealanders have adopted this nocturnal, flightless and endearing creature as their national emblem. Referring to New Zealanders as Kiwis probably dates back to the First World War, when New Zealand soldiers acquired this nickname.
New Zealand is a modern country with a well-developed economy and a government structure based on the British parliamentary system. New Zealand has long been a sovereign nation in its own right, with only tenuous ties to Britain through New Zealand's membership of the British Commonwealth. We have a diverse multi-cultural population of around 5 million. The majority of New Zealanders are of British descent and the largest minority is New Zealand's indigenous Maori, who make up around 14 percent of the population. Both North and South islands are hilly and mountainous. The west coast of the South Island is backed by the high Southern Alps with Mount Cook, the highest peak, rising to over 3,700 metres. There are also extensive snowfields and glaciers.