We may be a rather young nation, but New Zealand has had a vibrant and fascinating past. Visiting the places where our greatest tales once unfolded allows visitors to gain a deeper insight into the kiwi culture and way of life.
The story of New Zealand is one of discovery, challenge and endeavour. Read on to learn more about a few of our favourite historical destinations and what makes them such a valuable link to our past. In addition to their colourful tales, all of the places below share another thing in common - they are all scenic and charming.
When it comes to historical significance, Waitangi is about as good as it gets. Located north of Paihia in the beautiful Bay of Islands, this is an important spot. The famous Waitangi Treaty House sits resplendent on its grand seaside property and it was here that New Zealand's founding document was signed. In 1840, prominent Maori Chiefs and Representatives of the Crown convened to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, making New Zealand a British colony. Today, the site is as stunning as ever and in addition to learning some kiwi history, visitors can stroll the grounds, check out the giant Maori war canoe or the ornately carved meeting house.
Wellington is New Zealand's present-day capital, although that title once belonged to Auckland. But, what most folks don't know is that before Auckland, the original capital of New Zealand was the charming seaside town of Russell in the Bay of Islands - a town that then harboured mostly whalers and sealers. During his famous expedition of the 1830’s, Charles Darwin visited our small capital and dubbed it the 'hellhole of the pacific' - on account of its (then) inhabitants being a fairly rough bunch! The friendly, colourful Russell of today must be a very different experience to that endured by Darwin, but it is still possible to get a taste of that bumpy past. In between strolling the waterfront and enjoying the seaside dining, it's worth wandering over to visit the towns original church from 1843. 'Christ Church' is a window into an interesting but somewhat turbulent past - old bullet holes can still be seen on its walls and the small cemetery bears victims of tragedy, including many from the Maori/European clashes that occurred there.
Lush green farmland, vineyards and mountains roll into the alluring city of Napier, located on the seaside in the sunny Hawke’s Bay region. Napier has a very different story to tell, and a glance at its magnificent Art Deco architecture offers a subtle clue. Amongst the pleasant streets, friendly faces, amazing art galleries and colourful culture, it is hard to imagine the devastation that occurred in there 1931. The great Napier Earthquake was among the most severe in New Zealand's history and the city was raised to the ground. Resilient, positive by nature and backed by the nation, the people of Napier bounced back and a stunning new city rose defiantly from the ashes - built in the popular style of the time. The resulting examples of Art Deco architecture have become a significant asset to the city. Combining a snapshot of our history with some of New Zealand's best wineries, bountiful artisanal foods, fine dining and the great outdoors, Napier is a real kiwi must-do.
To this day, Arrowtown has retained much of its 1860's character, from the gorgeous leafy streets to its character-rich village and buildings. In fact, you'll discover plenty of that original old gold rush nostalgia that captivated this charming South Island town. This is a place with great ambience, a colourful history and stunning surroundings. Flowing throw the heart of Arrowtown is the beautiful, crystal-clear Arrow River, which once carried the vast quantities of gold that fuelled the mining boom and established the settlement. Learn about the pioneer history of Arrowtown at the local museum and historic sites or enjoy the boutique cafés and craft stores in the vibrant streets. And for those looking to take an even more hands-on approach to experiencing history, there's still gold in them hills, so don't be shy to grab a pan and try your luck!
Here at MoaTrek, New Zealand is our passion and our history is every bit a part of what makes us unique as kiwis. The above destinations are included in many of our Small Group New Zealand tours - and they’re often real guest favourites. Inspired? Find out more about our tours here, or contact us directly.