Legend tells us that the North Island of New Zealand is actually the world’s largest fish. Maui, a Maori hero of ancient times, hooked the enormous fish during an expedition to prove his fishing prowess. If you look at a map of the North Island, you can see that Wellington is the head, Cape Taranaki & East Cape are the fins, and Northland is the tail of the fish – Te Hiku o Te Ika.
Kupe and his crew, in his waka Matahourua, voyaged deep into the Southern Ocean. He discovered Te Ika-a-Maui, and it was his wife Kuramarotini who called the land ‘Aotearoa’ (land of the long white cloud). The first landfall of the waka Matahourua was the shores of the Hokianga Harbour.
Many of the tribes-people of Northland trace their ancestry back to Kupe. Maori people lived throughout Northland in kainga (villages). As today, they felt an intense closeness to their kin. They lived within the whanau (immediate family) and then within their extended family, called the hapu. The largest group they called iwi (tribe). They did not think of themselves as one people, they belonged to their tribes – Ngati Whatua, Nga Puhi, Te Roroa, Ngati Wai, Ngati Kuri, Te Aupouri, Ngaitakoto, Ngatikahu and Te Rarawa.
Explorers, traders and missionaries
Europeans began living in Northland in the late eighteenth century. They came first on voyages of scientific exploration, soon to be followed by traders seeking deep sea whales and seal colonies. Missionaries headed the next wave of arrivals. On Christmas Day in 1814, on the northern shores of the Bay of Islands, Samuel Marsden preached the first Christian sermon in New Zealand. Soon mission stations were established throughout the region.
In the early 1850s, five ship-loads of Gaelic-speaking Highlanders settled at Waipu on the east coast to create their own slice of Scotland. On the west coast, emigrants from Dalmatia lived a down to earth life digging gum. And throughout the region, colonists from England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland arrived to mill the forests and establish farms.
History that can still be seen
Historically significant sites abound in Northland. From a Maori perspective, the pa sites of Kororipo and Ruapekapeka in the Bay of Islands are culturally and spiritually important. E uropean history can be appreciated with visits to the Stone Store and Kemp House in Kerikeri – respectively the oldest stone building and the oldest house in New Zealand. At Waitangi you can view a copy of the treaty that tied together the lives of European and Maori people when it was signed in 1840. Across the harbour from Waitangi lies Russell which was once a place of roughly spoken sailors, grog shops and bawdy houses. It was known as “the hell hole of the Pacific”.
Throughout your Northland travels, you’ll see that the history of the region gives character to the landscape. Quaint white churches, grand old homesteads, tiny wooden cottages, pa sites carved into mountain tops and peninsula headlands. Poignant reminders of a fascinating past. The magical essence of Northland’s colourful past is preserved in historic buildings and places waiting for you to explore. Much of Northland’s hundreds of miles of coastline remain unspoilt, an aquatic paradise, a truly amazing playground and experiential ecological classroom, encompassing ancient kauri forests, windswept harbours and a host of other natural experiences.