New Zealand is one of the most recently settled major land masses. Polynesian settlers arrived in their waka some time between the 11th century and the 13th century to establish the indigenous Māori culture. New Zealand's Māori name, Aotearoa, is usually translated as "Land of the long white cloud", reputedly referring to the cloud the explorers saw on the horizon as they approached. Settlement of the Chatham Islands to the east of the mainland produced the Moriori people; linguistic evidence, in particular the innovations uniquely shared by the Moriori and Māori languages, indicates that they moved there from New Zealand. Most of New Zealand was divided into tribal territories called rohe, resources within which were controlled by hapū ('subtribes'). Māori adapted their tropically-based culture to eating the local marine resources, flora and fauna for food. They also hunted the giant flightless moa (which soon became extinct). They showed great ingenuity in adapting their tropical agricultural technology to a temperate climate, successfully cultivating taro, gourds, kumara (sweet potato), and other plants which they introduced from Polynesia; it is thought that kūmara were grown as far south as Banks Peninsula in the middle of the South Island. While it was fairly easy to grow these crops in the north, these warm-climate crops were impractical in the south of the South Island. However, inter-regional trade and the exploitation of the few food plants of the local flora made up the difference. They also introduced other plants such as the paper mulberry or 'aute', used to make barkcloth for kites and for personal adornment.
The first Europeans known to have reached New Zealand were led by Abel Janszoon Tasman, who sailed up the west coasts of the South and North Islands in 1642. He named it Staten Landt, believing it to be part of the land Jacob Le Maire had seen in 1616 off the coast of Chile. Staten Landt appeared on Tasman's first maps of New Zealand, but this was changed by Dutch cartographers to Nova Zeelandia, after the Dutch province of Zeeland, some time after Hendrik Brouwer proved the supposedly South American land to be an island in 1643. The Latin Nova Zeelandia became Nieuw Zeeland in Dutch. Captain James Cook subsequently called the archipelago New Zealand (a slight corruption, as Zealand is not an alternative spelling of Zeeland, a province in the Netherlands, but of Sjælland, the island in Denmark that includes Copenhagen), although the Māori names he recorded for the North and South Islands (as Aehei No Mouwe and Tovy Poenammu respectively) were rejected, and the main three islands became known as North, Middle and South, with the Middle Island being later called the South Island, and the earlier South Island becoming Stewart Island. Cook began extensive surveys of the islands in 1769, leading to European whaling expeditions and eventually significant European colonisation. From as early as the 1780s, Māori had encounters with European sealers and whalers. Acquisition of muskets by those iwi in close contact with European visitors destabilised the existing balance of power between Māori tribes and there was a temporary but intense period of bloody inter-tribal warfare, known as the Musket Wars, which ceased only when all iwi were so armed.
Signing of the Treaty of WaitangiConcerned about the exploitation of Māori by Europeans, the British Colonial Office appointed James Busby as British Resident to New Zealand in 1832. In 1834, Busby convened the United Tribes of New Zealand to select a flag and declare their independence, which led to the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand. This declaration did not allay the fears of the Church Missionary Society, who continued lobbying for British annexation. Increasing French interest in the region led the British to annex New Zealand by Royal Proclamation in January 1840. To legitimise the British annexation, Lieutenant Governor William Hobson had been dispatched in 1839; he hurriedly negotiated the Treaty of Waitangi with northern iwi on his arrival. The Treaty was signed in February, and in recent years it has come to be seen as the founding document of New Zealand. The Māori translation of the treaty promised the Māori tribes "tino rangatiratanga" would be preserved in return for ceding kawanatanga, which the English version translates as "chieftainship" and "sovereignty"; the real meanings are now disputed. Disputes over land sales and sovereignty caused the New Zealand land wars, which took place between 1845 and 1872. In 1975 the Treaty of Waitangi Act established the Waitangi Tribunal, charged with hearing claims of Crown violations of the Treaty of Waitangi. Some Māori tribes and the Moriori never signed the treaty.
A controversial incident during the land warsNew Zealand was initially administered as a part of the colony of New South Wales, and it became a separate colony in November 1840. The first capital was Okiato or old Russell in the Bay of Islands but it soon moved to Auckland. European settlement progressed more rapidly than anyone anticipated, and settlers soon outnumbered Māori. Self-government was granted to the settler population in 1852. There were political concerns following the discovery of gold in Central Otago in 1861 that the South Island would form a separate colony, so in 1865 the capital was moved to the more central Wellington. New Zealand was involved in a Constitutional Convention in March 1891 in Sydney, New South Wales, along with the Australian colonies. This was to consider a potential constitution for the proposed federation between all the Australasian colonies. New Zealand lost interest in joining Australia in a federation following this convention.
In 1893 New Zealand became the first nation to grant women the right to vote on the same basis as men; however, women were not eligible to stand for parliament until 1919.
New Zealand became an independent dominion on 26 September 1907, by Royal Proclamation. Full independence was granted by the United Kingdom Parliament with the Statute of Westminster in 1931; it was taken up upon the Statute's adoption by the New Zealand Parliament in 1947. Since then New Zealand has been a sovereign constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth of Nations.
New Zealand was one of the first to join the Allies when it declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, along with France, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada after the invasion of Poland. New Zealand troops fought in North Africa, Greece, Crete, Italy and in the Pacific. The navy and airforce were also involved.
In 1951, Australia, New Zealand and the United States formally became allies with the signing of the ANZUS Treaty. In 1985, New Zealand declared itself a nuclear-free zone. As a result, US warships could no longer enter New Zealand ports without declaring themselves to be free of nuclear weapons or power. As such a declaration would be against US Government policy, effectively the ships were banned from New Zealand. The United States suspended its obligations to New Zealand under the ANZUS Treaty.