The sea, the vessel, the voyage, the arrival. New Zealand was born on the waves of two long migrations.
Between the same two oceans but well beyond the urban vibe of populous Auckland, Northland occupies a fertile sparsely populated coastal stretch that reaches to New Zealand's northern tip. This is New Zealand's spiritual home - the shores that first welcomed ancestral Maori navigators, then intrepid European explorers, are the soul of the nation of Aotearoa New Zealand and the sacred place where departing spirits leap into their own destiny.
In Maori mythology, long before the sea and land agreed on continents, Maui fished up the North Island. Before the time of Christ, the people of Maui visited the northern lands, called Te Tai Tokerau. Around 950 A.D., the leader Kupe landed with some of his people from the distant land of Hawaiki. In the Hokianga harbour, a labyrinth of inlets and estuaries on the west coast of Northland, he left his footprints. They were to be filled years later by his grandson, Nukutawhiti, who captained the great canoe Ngatokimatawhaorua to bring the land’s first immigrants. Other great waka, canoes, came and warriors and families filtered through Te Tai Tokerau.
In 1642, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sailed around New Zealand, but the land did not feel European footsteps until 127 years later when British captain James Cook came ashore. By the beginning of the 19th century, Northland’s bays were giving shelter to sealers and whaling boats from many nations, and the Bay of Islands town of Russell became infamous for its raucous shore leave. With traders came muskets, with settlers came missionaries, with property came bloodshed and the need for agreement.
In 1840, at a place called Waitangi - in the Bay of Islands - the Maori chief Hone Heke became the first of 46 to sign the founding document of bi-cultural New Zealand. More than 500 Maori leaders followed. The National Trust exhibition at Waitangi gives a compelling insight into the birth pains that still stir in New Zealand’s continuing formation.
Today Maori and non-Maori share the closeness of growing up together in the Birthplace of a Nation and it is remembered annually on February 6 - Waitangi Day.