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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




In the course of his circumnavigation of the South Island Captain Cook sighted the peninsula on 16 February 1770. On the following day he concluded it was an island and named it in honour of Joseph Banks. On that day he also saw the entrance to Akaroa Harbour. In the early years of the nineteenth century sealers and whalers appeared on the scene and they found Maori (Ngai Tahu) settlements near where Lyttelton and Akaroa now stand. The natives, however, had been almost exterminated by the raids of Te Rauparaha. During the 1830s French, American, and British deep-sea whalers were frequent visitors and they all traded with the Maoris, particularly for flax and foodstuffs. In December 1839 the French, through an association called the Nanto-Bordelaise Company, planned a settlement at Akaroa. When, however, the advance guard of settlers arrived in August 1840 they found that British sovereignty had already been proclaimed over the whole of New Zealand, including the South Island. All hopes of a French colony taking shape were therefore destroyed. Meanwhile British settlers were increasing rapidly and numerous small settlements were founded, mostly at the bay heads of Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbours. Communication between these bay heads has never been very easy and for want of suitable roads the bay head settlers had to rely almost entirely on sea transport. A railway tunnel over 1½ miles long and linking Christchurch with the port of Lyttelton was opened on 9 November 1867. Nearly a hundred years later, on 28 February 1964, a two-lane road tunnel was also opened alongside it.