The Last Uninhabited Land

New Zealand is certainly an interesting case in the great Polynesian migration story. Settled last and so different from all the other islands in climate, flora, fauna, etc. that it must have come as a real surprise. I begin to see the significance of a detail in the stories of Kupe the explorer, who is said to have discovered Aotearoa — see the following plaque from the monument atop One Tree Hill.

plaque on one tree hill

Kupe returned from New Zealand to report that although he had sailed right round the islands he never met with another human being. The only inhabitants were birds.

If you think about how big New Zealand is, and how resource-rich compared with many of the Pacific islands, it really would have been remarkable to have come upon it, so late in human history, and find it completely unoccupied. Nor is it surprising to find a mention of the birds, which in the absence of competitive and/or predatory mammals, had evolved in some pretty spectacular ways. One species of moa was said to be 12 feet tall.

I’d really have liked to have made a pilgrimage to Wairau Bar, where they made the first major discovery of materials from the so-called Moa-hunter period; the earliest phase of Maori settlement of New Zealand. But I guess I’ll have to come back to do that because, you guessed it, we still have more family members to see.

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3 Comments

Filed under adventure, expedition, New Zealand, Oceania, Pacific Islands, Polynesia, South Pacific, travel

3 responses to “The Last Uninhabited Land

  1. If you have not already, I recommend Michael King’s “Pinguin History of New Zealand.” I was supposed to meet with him shortly after we moved here. However, sadley, he died in an auto accident a few days before; a real loss to NZ, if you ask me.

  2. Gail Cohen

    a beautiful, mystical monument to Kupe and all people of Maori ancestry … sad, too, about what happened in the 1800s

    Will you get to see a kakapo, C? You’d need to look for one at night because they are very shy I’ve read. Have you seen a kiwi yet? Kangaroos? A koala? (Do the last two animals live in NZ or only Australia?) Hope you are all well.

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