Maori Performing a Haka in Christchurch

New Zealand is said to have the shortest history of human settlement of any country in the world, with the first residents arriving only in the 13th Century. Though this history is indeed quite short, there is more to the history of New Zealand than just the story of human settlement. In fact, that same remoteness that caused New Zealand to be the last major landmass on Earth to be inhabited also led to a unique set of flora and fauna, much of which still remains to this day, and that never fails to impress visitors.

The land itself is of course famously breathtaking, with countless vistas of beautiful mountains, green hills, and stunning seascapes. And because New Zealand is not densely populated, you can often feel as though you yourself are one of those early settlers, discovering this beautiful land that seems untouched by human hands. Throughout the country there are signs of the ancientness of the land, from fossils that were left when the landmass was still under the Pacific Ocean, to “living fossils” like the tuatara, the last living member of the dinosaur clan, with all its near relatives having died out 65 million years ago.

But not all of New Zealand’s history is of the prehistoric variety. The Maori who first populated the country have left a legacy in the form of their rock paintings and in their culture itself, which is still very much alive even after the incursions of Europeans in the 19th Century. Throughout the country, but especially on the North Island, there are Maori maraes (community centres, for lack of a better translation) that invite visitors to experience the Maori culture for themselves. Such a visit is an unforgettable introduction to the ways of the Maori, as it begins with a “powhiri” or formal welcome, which begins with a challenge by a warrior after which a group of woman will sing a welcome chant, signaling that you may enter.

The history of European settlement is also easily experienced, whether in the northern town of Russell, site of New Zealand’s first European settlement (and the first capital of colonial New Zealand), or in Wellington, the national capital (and for you trivia freaks, the southernmost capital in the world), with its incredible Te Papa museum, which covers every conceivable aspect of New Zealand’s history. On the South Island, you can visit the town of Oamaru, one of the country’s best-preserved historic towns, where the streetscape of intricately designed Greco-Roman banks and shops remain as they were in the town’s heyday in the late 19th Century, when the town’s population exceeded that of San Francisco. Back on the North End, the town of Napier is considered by many to be New Zealand’s Art Deco capital, as the town was completely rebuilt in the style of the day after the devastating earthquake of 1931.

Throughout New Zealand there are also gardens, museums, historic monuments and other cultural sights to capture the imagination, so why not add some of these stops on your next visit to our beautiful country? Here are some of our member properties that offer cultural and heritage sights nearby: