Lying 1,000 miles from its closest neighbour Australia, New Zealand, Māori Aotearoa is known for its stunning landscapes, warm hospitality, and fascinating history. Owing to it being so remote, it was only from 1280 and 1350 that the country was first settled in by Polynesians, who then developed a distinctive Māori culture. In 1840, the United Kingdom and members of the Māori population signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which gave the British sovereignty over the land. New Zealand won its full independence in 1947.
The result is a country which is rich in historical and cultural diversity, and home to a number of fascinating historic sites. Here’s our pick of 5 of the best.
The Edwin Fox was a Victorian sailing ship which is today partially preserved and displayed in a dry dock in the town of Picton. A museum has been built to explain and explore this ship’s long and varied history from its building in India in 1853 to the remaining hulk you can see and explore today.
The hull of the Edwin Fox is evocative as she lies now in dry dock, well signed and giving a feel of its history, which includes ferrying over 100,000 migrants from England to New Zealand in the 1800s, and transporting prisoners.
Onawe Peninsula is a narrow band of land which resembles an exclamation mark that sits in Akaroa Harbour. Akaroa Harbour is a beautiful flooded ancient volcanic crater located about 80km from Christchurch. It was the scene of a massacre in the intertribal wars of 1832.
This is sacred land to the Ngai Tahu tribe and visting permission must be arranged in advance. The Onawe Peninsula can be accessed at low tide only.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are considered to be the birthplace of the nation of New Zealand. It was in Treaty House at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on 6 February 1840 that the founding document of New Zealand was signed. This document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed between a large number of Maori chiefs and the British.
Visitors to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds can see Treaty House, where the document was first signed, the Maori Meeting House, which represents the different tribes, and the visitor centre.
Ruapekapeka Pa was the site of one of the last military confrontations between British forces and Maori tribes in the War of the North, a conflict which erupted over British policies seen as unfavourable to the Maoris. The local Maoris spent months preparing for the battle at Ruapekapeka Pa. Knowing that the British had far superior firepower, their leader, chief Te Ruki Kawiti, created a formidable defensive area (or “pa”) which consisted of a network of trenches and tunnels.
In December 1845, the British arrived at Ruapekapeka Pa. They were faced with a significant challenge from the Maori and, despite the fact that they eventually managed to break through the defences, the Maoris escaped. Eventually, after some time, a peace was forged between the two sides. Today, visitors can embark on a self-guided walk of the site, where the trenches dug by the Maoris are still visible.
Dating back to as early as the 1400s, the charcoal and ochre drawings of birds, animals, people, and abstract forms that adorn the limestone caves and overhangs of the valley of the Waitaki River make for a fascinating visit.
Though it is unclear who created the artworks, bones found from moa and other extinct birds suggest that they are very old, with later depictions of European sailing ships and animals suggesting that the tradition of painting was later revived in the same place.