New Zealand is the last major temperate region of the globe to be reached by humans. The indigenous people, the Maori, are believed to have arrived by about AD 800. Their language is Polynesian, relating to the dialects of Tahiti and Hawaii. Their own legends describe their arrival in a great fleet of canoes from a land called Hawaiki.
New Zealand is first visited by Europeans in 1642, when Abel Tasman makes a brief attempt to land – resulting in a clash with the Maori and several deaths. The first visitor to establish friendly relations with the Maori is Captain Cook in 1769.
Cook takes back to England an account of the intelligence of the native New Zealanders and of the temperate fertility of their land, eminently suitable for colonization.
Soon European traders begin to arrive, interested in seal skins, whale oil and timber. At first they are welcomed by the Maori, as an unthreatening minority who can provide a welcome supply of iron implements, firearms and alcohol. But the Maori way of life is soon disrupted by these new influences and, from the early 19th century, by the arrival of Christian missionaries and more permanent European settlements. In 1838 the government at Westminster decides that it is time to put the growing British presence in New Zealand on an official footing.