Traveling in the steps of European discoverers of New Zealand

A travel route for New Zealand can be planned that follows locations first encountered by the first European discoverers.

For travelers interested in history, a travel route for New Zealand can be planned that follows locations first encountered by the first European discoverers. With much of the New Zealand landscape left untouched, travelers can easily imagine what it was like for the first adventurers to discover New Zealand.


The first European to discover New Zealand was Abel Tasman in 1642 when he and his crew went to Golden Bay in the Nelson region. Tasman and his crew were Dutch and wore green uniforms.  His ship never made it shore as the Maori tribes enacted war on his ship and he fled. Today there are many activities and historical information sites to visit in Golden Bay to relive the experience.  The Abel Tasman national park at the top point of the South Island was created in honor of the discoverer in 1942. The national park is 225 square kilometers offering some of the most beautiful scenery and beaches in New Zealand with the opportunity to discover by foot, mountain bike or boat. The greater Nelson region also offers vineyard wine tasting, a vast array of biking trails and is renowned for art and cultural events.


It wasn’t until 1769 that the English navigator James Cook discovered New Zealand and landed at Poverty Bay in the Hawkes Bay region mid-way up the east cost of the North Island. Cook and his men wore red uniforms and, in Maori culture, red represents mother earth and source of all living things. It is common belief that this simple coincidence helped Cook make peace with the Maori and help European settlement in New Zealand.  The Tairawhiti Museum in the closest town Gisborne showcases the discovery and subsequent history of James Cook and the colonization of New Zealand.  The Hawkes Bay region is also known for its wine growing and boasts an exceptional coastline for a variety of water and sea activities. Inland, one can explore native forest in same way as early explorers such as within the hiking tracks around Lake Waikaremoana in the Te Urewera region.


Soon after the Cook discovery, the French Marc Joseph Marion du Fresn navigated into the bay of Islands in the Northland region 1772. The French wore blue and were not were not welcomed by the Maori.  The French explorers were killed in a brutal war here but later in 1838 the French settled in Akaroa near Christchurch in the South Island where French street names remain today.  The first discovery in the Bay of Islands was at the top of the North Island which provides a moderate and warm climate for visiting with many sailing and fishing opportunities. While Marion du Fresne was the first of the French to anchor, it was Jules Sébastien César Dumont d'Urville that first navigated the coast in the Marlborough region around the same time as James Cook.  The precarious channel that d'Urville first navigated in the Marlborough Sounds is known today as the French Pass.


Traveling to these locations in chronological order would not constitute an optimal itinerary.  The best option is to arrive in Auckland and then head north to the Bay of Islands.  Traveling back down the east coast with possible stops in Rotorua and the Coromandel would arrive to Gisborne and Poverty Bay. Further south to Wellington, the interisland Ferry navigates through the Marlborough Sounds to access the Nelson region and the Abel Tasman national park with Golden Bay. The option then could be to travel back to Wellington for departure or continue down to Christchurch and visit Akaroa and before departing from Christchurch.  There are, of course, many other attractions and activities to see and do in between.

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