The Maori have many stories and legends about the shaping of New Zealand. Their history records that it was Maui who fished up the land. This fish was called Te Ika a Maui, Maui's fish. This was the North Island. Maui returned to Hawaiki to find a tohunga who would remove it's tapu but in his absence his brothers cut the fish up and their canoe became the South Island. This is now known as Te Waka o Maui, Maui's Canoe. The anchor stone became Stewart Island or Te Puka o te Waka o Maui, the Anchor Stone of Maui's Canoe.

For the legend of how the kiwi lost its wings click there.

Sometime between AD750 and AD900 the first wave of polynesians landed on the shores of New Zealand. They were not fisherman who had blown off course in a storm. They came in double-hulled voyaging canoes (pahi) stocked with the plants and animals on carefully planned voyages.

The first recorded European to sight New Zealand was the Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman who sighted the South Island's West Coast, on December 13, 1642. He mapped a part of the coastline and gave the country, which he believed was a continent, the name Staten land. When the mistake was discovered the country was given a new name, Nieuw Zeeland.

On October 7, 1769 Mr James Cook arrived to the country. With him onboard was the Swede Mr Daniel Solander.... "Archaeological proof suggests that there already were living people in New Zealand before the Maori came. They were a Polynesian people called the Moa hunters who gradually reached the Islands beginning in about A.D. 900. They were living on the South Island and they were hunting the Moabird. It was a big ostrich like bird. The Moa hunters were dark skinned."

When the Europeans arrived ( many would say invaded ) New Zealand the Maori people began to change. The Europeans were hunters and shopkeepers and they brought alcohol, European diseases and the worst of all, they also brought muskets with them and the Maoris started using them in fights against other Maori tribes. The enemies being killed, often landed on the Maori dinner table and the Maoris also used the heads as a trophy - moko mokai - to promote fertility. Many of these heads were sold as a curious fact for excessive prices in Europe and to this day they are being recvoered.

From the beginnings of European exploration of New Zealand, it was realised that here was a peculiarly unique country. As the natural history collections obtained by the various early explorers were examined and interpreted, the special character of much of the New Zealand fauna and flora became apparent. It is still hotly debated whether or not New Zealand was completely submerged between 60 - 30 million years ago (mya).

There are now two competing views as to NZ's biogeographic history:
(1) the traditional view, that our biology - especially the vegetation - is a living example of a 'Gondwanan' fragment that has a lineage directly traceable back to when NZ split off from Gondwana (maybe as early as 90 mya or as late as 75 mya, depending on who you believe).
(2) a more recent view, that actually almost none of our current plants and animals can be traced in a continuous lineage back to Gondwana, and instead have all arrived via long-distance dispersal from Australia and SE Asia, maybe even as recently as 20 - 10 mya. There is some compelling fossil evidence for this view.

In any case during its time of isolation, birds have continued to arrive and develop in NZ without large predators, making them vulnerable to recent arrivals. The predators that have really been widely destructive were the mustelids, cats and European rat species. The most important impact of pre-Europeans was the widespread burning used in moa-hunting especially in the drier areas of the South Island.

We have the worlds largest (and probably only flightless) parrot (kakapo), the only truly alpine parrot (kea), the oldest reptile (tuatara), the biggest earthworms, the heaviest insect (also the largest weta), the smallest bats, some of the oldest trees, and many of the rarest birds, insects, and plants in the world....

NZ is home to the world famous Tuatara, a lizard-like reptile which dates back to the dinosaurs and perhaps before (260 mill years?). The only member of its order (Rhynchocephalia) it is now restricted to protected offshore islands which you have to have special permission to visit. Specimens are kept at some zoos and the fantastic Invercargill museum.

Far too many species of bird have become extinct since humans arrived on NZ including the various species of Dinornis (moa) the largest of which stood up to 2.5 metres high. While the rare takahe (Notornis australis) can be seen in semi-wild conditions at Te Anau, the Kakapo is too endangered to be on display anywhere.

[ Home | The Riverton Rock Guesthouse | Kiwi Wilderness Walks | Coronet Peak Snow Cam ]

Copyright KiwiNewZ 1998. All rights reserved