History of Auckland

Mother Earth Travel > New Zealand > Auckland > History

"Long long ago, Maui, a mischievous demigod, went fishing one day with his brothers deep in the southern ocean. Using his grandmother's jawbone for a hook, he caught a huge fish and hauled it out of the sea. His brothers were jealous and fought over the fish for tasty pieces. The fish became the North Island of New Zealand, and the landforms were created by their actions, the sea flowing into the gaps left by the hungry brothers. The resulting narrow Auckland isthmus was surrounded by water, between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea."

The iwi or tribes of the Auckland area descend from the waka, original canoes that came to the region about 800 years ago from Hawaiki, bringing the dog, the native rat, and food plants such as taro, gourd, yam and kumara. Their descendents include the Tainui, Hauraki and Kawerau iwi; and the Ngati Whatua from the north, considered to be the official tangata whenua, or people of the land, of Auckland City today.

Auckland is built on an active field of 48 volcanoes, dating back 150,000 years. The youngest, Rangitoto Island, blew up just 600 years ago, and stands like a guardian over the city. The isthmus, Tamaki Makaurau, was fertile with plant, tree, fish and birdlife and blessed with a mild climate. Early coastal settlements show evidence of fishing and seasonal food gathering. Later, large scale agriculture was practised and archaeological sites frequently show seashell middens, or terraces for housing or gardens. Rectangular dugout storage pits for kumara (sweet potato) and taro are frequent. There are still many tapu (sacred) places, associated with important events, ancestors and graves of these early inhabitants. The volcanic cones offer the greatest visible evidence of old Maori settlements and were probably developed as fortified pa during the 17th century, when intertribal conflict increased. The volcanoes remain the most distinctive feature of Auckland's landscape, and like most landforms had great symbolic and spiritual importance to the Maori.

Early European visitors included Captain James Cook, missionary Reverend Samuel Marsden, British naval boats seeking kauri timber for masts and spars, and whalers and sealers provisioning their ships. They brought with them iron tools, alcohol and tobacco, serious diseases like influenza, and most significantly muskets! As well as Christianity, the missionaries also introduced farm animals, the plough, fruit trees, cereal and vegetable crops. Traditional Maori ways of life were changed forever.

In 1840 many local chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi with Britain. There have been problems in defining its true meaning ever since, and therefore land disputes. However, it is an important document to New Zealanders, embodying the ideal that "We are One People."

Auckland became the capital of the new colony in 1840 on land purchased from the Ngati Whatua. Farming developed along with copper mining and timber, and Maori communities participated widely in agriculture and trade. Relations between them and European settlers were friendly during the 1840s-50s; although military fencible settlements at Onehunga, Otahuhu, Panmure, Howick and Albert Barracks in the city were built then. The Land Wars of the 1860s decimated the South Auckland tribes, and much of their land and that of Tainui was confiscated.

In 1865 the country's capital was transferred to Wellington. Auckland grew to become the country's main industrial centre and port over the next 30 years. From 1870 immigration increased from Britain, and gum digging, brick making, flour milling, brewing, publishing and boatbuilding were added to the local trades. The introduction of refrigeration in the late 1880s had a major impact on the whole of New Zealand. Now it was possible to transport fresh food to Britain and much produce passed through the port of Auckland.

Through the 1880s Auckland had 8000 inhabitants and 20,000 people lived on the isthmus. Many large buildings were built, such as the Customhouse, City Library and Auckland Art Gallery. Fortifications at Takapuna, Bastion Point, North Head, and Mount Victoria were built to defend the city in case of attack.

By the 1890s Auckland was described as a "sophisticated cosmopolitan centre". Venues such as the Auckland Domain were developed for sport, and new leisure activities included steamer excursions to beaches like Devonport and the Gulf Islands, horse racing, walking, cycling and brass band concerts. After the hard early pioneering days, people could now discover and enjoy the attractions of the Auckland region.

During the early 1900s, the Ferry Building, the Chief Post Office, the Auckland Town Hall and the Parnell Baths were all examples of new building thought suitable for a sophisticated and civilised city. Grafton Bridge was built and internationally acclaimed as the first reinforced concrete arch in the Southern Hemisphere. The Maori population however was decreasing. It was thought they would die out!

The Auckland Museum honours the thousands of young New Zealanders killed and wounded in the First World War and other wars. During the Second World War, large coastal gun batteries, like those along Tamaki Drive, were installed around the city in case of attack.

Auckland's population reached 630,000 by 1970, due to both urban migration and immigration: mostly from Britain (and Holland) in the 1950s and the Pacific Islands in the 1960s. Motorways were begun in the 50s and the Harbour Bridge opened in 1959, drawing the North Shore into the growing metropolis.

Auckland has seen its share of debate and political action, from Flower Power and anti Vietnam War rallies, and Peace Squadron anti-nuclear flotillas on the Waitemata Harbour to enormous protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour. Bastion Point was the focus of a long Ngati Whatua occupation in the 1980s and national attempts to resolve Maori land issues continue today. In 1985 French secret agents sank the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior in the harbour.

Auckland's population reached one million in 1996. More and more people try to cram onto the narrow isthmus. A wave of new immigrants from all over the world have recently made Auckland their home. From the different languages spoken in the street, and the variety of ethnic food now available, you would never guess Auckland to be a small place, right down-under in the South Pacific. Tourism is vital, and an exciting variety of activities and experiences await visitors to this vibrant, multi-cultural city.