Abel Tasman History

A History of the Abel Tasman

A Short History

There is limited knowledge of the early history and first settlement of the area before the first European contact, however, carbon dating suggests that humans entered the area in the 9th century AD.

The area around what is now Abel Tasman National Park, was much sought after and quickly settled as there was an abundance of bird and sea life, along with favourable gardening conditions for the growing of kūmara (sweet potato).

1642 – The First Europeans

Abel Janszoon Tasman, a Dutch seafarer, became the first European to sight New Zealand on December 13, 1642. Arriving off the coast of (what is now called) Golden Bay, he sent some of the ship’s boats to gather water, but one was attacked by Māori in a waka (canoe) and four of his men were killed. Following this and a further attack, Abel Tasman sailed further north, never in fact setting foot on New Zealand.

The first known European to land in New Zealand was Captain James Cook, who did so in 1769, mapping the New Zealand coast.

The Early European Settlers

Whalers and sealers established seasonal camps in the early 1800s. The first European settlers were brought to Nelson by the New Zealand Company in October 1841. They explored Riwaka, Moutere and areas around the Motueka and Waimea rivers.

Between 1854 and 1857, about 26 pioneering European families lived along the Abel Tasman coastline. The key activities for these families were farming, timber milling and ship-building. Many of these early pioneers’ descendants remain in the area.

By 1858, Nelson had 434 wooden buildings and 27 of brick or stone. The population was predominantly European, including a small settlement of Germans who were the first to introduce winemaking as well as specialising in growing fruit trees and hops.


Sources: www.tasman.govt.nz/tasman/iwi/maori-history & The Encyclopedia of New Zealand


Some 300 years after the arrival of Abel Tasman, the Abel Tasman National Park was officially opened in 1942. It is New Zealand’s smallest national park, but definitely one of its most enjoyable and interesting ones.

Covering an area of 237 sq km (59,000 acres), it is the smallest of New Zealand’s national parks. While continuing to be one of the most visited in New Zealand, due to its easy access and stunning scenery, it remains ‘relatively’ untouched by humans, especially in the winter months.

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