Visit DOC sites where you can learn more about the European explorers, sealers, whalers, missionaries and colonists who came to New Zealand.

For over 400 years Maori were undisturbed by other cultures until the arrival of the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642.

Next to arrive, 123 years later, was English explorer James Cook in 1769. Cook made three visits to New Zealand during his voyages of wider Pacific exploration and mapped New Zealand and recorded impressions of its biodiversity and culture. His visits triggered contact from sealers, whalers and missionaries which eventually led to the Treaty of Waitangi and the establishment of New Zealand society.

Early colonists, apart from an 1840 French settlement in Akaroa, came mainly from the United Kingdom, (loosely the English to Canterbury and the North Island, the Scots to Otago and Southland, the Irish to the West Coast). They sought to explore the country to discover it’s resources, particularly arable land, mineral resources, and communication routes.

There were many epic journeys, with extreme deprivations related to the rugged terrain, dense vegetation, numerous rivers and lack of indigenous food. Often Maori guides assisted these parties. The names of many of these explorers are recalled in geographical features.

The sites that DOC manages under this theme are:



East Coast/Hawke’s Bay




  • Astronomers Point, Dusky Sound, 1773
  • German Scientific Expedition Site (transit of Venus), Auckland Islands ,1874

Further reading

Lee, J., (1983). The Bay of Islands
Salmond, A., (2003). The Trial of The Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas
Salmond, A., (1991). Two Worlds: First Meetings Between Maori and Europeans 1642-1772

Related links

Back to top