New Zealand’s remote location, about 1,200 miles southeast of Australia, keeps it off the beaten path for many travelers, and likewise this isolation affected its history. While the specifics are unclear, it is likely that the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, came to the islands roughly 1,000 years ago. One prevailing theory is that they traveled from the Society Islands, the archipelago that includes Tahiti. They settled villages and an agricultural society grew, yielding vegetables like taro, yams and kumara (sweet potato).

New Zealand was discovered by Europeans hundreds of years later. The first recorded sighting was by Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642. Another century passed before Capt. James Cook returned to investigate further and map the country’s coastline. This led to an influx of Europeans, mostly coming from Great Britain. Bringing new technologies and taking natural resources, the Europeans’ presence had a significant impact on the land and the Maori people. While their pigs, potatoes and agricultural methods were welcomed, their alcohol, smallpox and muskets proved troublesome.

Britain’s colonial relationship with New Zealand was a complicated one. As the British began to buy and settle the land, some Maori tribes happily accepted payment, while others resisted the intrusion. By the end of the 19th century, much of the Maori’s political control had eroded, though cultural ties in the region remain strong. The Europeans’ acquisition of land from the Maori is still a contentious issue today.

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