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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.




The discovery and exploration of New Zealand were accomplished, in the main, in the century that followed James Cook's first voyage of 1769. It is true that an earlier navigator, Abel Janszoon Tasman, sailed along part of the western coastline a century and a half before, and true that the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the continued exploration of the more remote areas, but these activities dwindle beside the immense achievements of the century following 1769.

Some general points may be made at the outset. First, though it is convenient to associate discovery with the coastline, and exploration with the interior, these categories constantly overlap in a single continuous process: discoverers explore and explorers discover. Secondly, as history depends upon documents, the role of those who set their feats down in writing is necessarily exaggerated: literate missionaries become more celebrated than less articulate whalers, sealers, traders, and wanderers. Thirdly, among those who left few or no documents, first place must be given to the Maori: the great majority of explorers depended upon them. No region of New Zealand, except the great peaks and glaciers of the Southern Alps, was explored without benefit either of Maori advice or of Maori guides. It is abundantly clear that the Maoris knew their country well before the “discoverer” and “explorer” arrived, but they had no written language and they made no maps.

Finally, though this does not belittle the men of science, we must note that scientific curiosity is not the dominant motive behind the whole process. Missionaries sought souls; whalers, sealers, and traders sought profits; administrators, pastoralists, and prospectors wanted farm land and goldfields. Especially after 1840, the stimulus behind the exploration of this country was the pressure of population upon resources, as settlements steadily multiplied and expanded.


William Hosking Oliver, M.A.(N.Z.), D.PHIL.(OXON.), Professor of History, Massey University of Manawatu.