Māori Culture / History
Wellington’s earliest name is Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui or ‘the head of Maui's fish’ which refers to the story of how Aotearoa New Zealand was created.
According to Māori legend, the Polynesian navigator Maui hooked a giant fish that, when pulled to the surface, turned into the land form now known as the North Island.
Kupe - a legendary Polynesian explorer - is credited with discovering Wellington harbour around the 10th century. Kupe named several places on the Wellington peninsula including Matiu (Somes) Island and Makaro (Ward) Island.
During the next thousand years, different iwi (tribes) settled in the area including Ngai Tara who gave their name to Wellington harbour - Te Whanganui a Tara means ‘great harbour of Tara’. Ngai Tara eventually merged with the Ngati Ira iwi, and other local tribal groups are Ngati Kahungunu, Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe.
European settlers arrived in the early 1840s. Petone, on the northern end of the harbour, was originally chosen as the site for the new town but the swampy land was unsuitable for development so the settlement was relocated across the harbour.
In 1865 Wellington became the capital of New Zealand, and has been the centre of New Zealand government since then.