Early European contact
The first recorded contact between Māori and Pākehā was in December 1642, when four crew members of Abel Tasman’s ships were killed by Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri near Separation Point, on the edge of Golden Bay. Captain James Cook’s ships spent more than 200 days in Queen Charlotte Sound and environs in the 1770s. Interaction was mainly with Ngāti Kuia and Rangitāne, although visits from groups from other regions were sometimes recorded. Some individuals named in Cook’s journals have been identified, and their whakapapa established. Relations between Cook’s crews and Māori from the Marlborough Sounds were generally amicable, but there was one unfortunate exchange. At Wharehunga Bay in December 1773, 10 men who were with Cook’s navigator Tobias Furneaux died at the hands of the Ngāti Kuia and Rangitāne chief, Kahura, and his warriors.
In Cook’s wake
In 1820 the Russian explorer Bellingshausen retraced Cook’s journeys in Queen Charlotte Sound and Cook Strait, and in 1827 the French explorer Dumont d'Urville spent time in Tasman Bay, where he met Māori, probably Ngāti Kuia and Ngāti Apa. The diaries, journals and log books of these expeditions record the way of life of the tangata whenua. The 1820s also brought an influx of sealers, whalers and associated traders to the Nelson–Marlborough region.
While modern technology (sailing ships and weaponry) assisted tribes who had access to European whalers and traders, the final assault on the northern South Island stemmed from long-standing tribal enmities.
In the early 1820s an alliance of Tainui tribes (Ngāti Toarangatira, Ngāti Koata and Ngāti Rārua), who were forced out of the Kāwhia district on the west coast of the North Island, moved south to Taranaki. Joined by Taranaki tribes Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama and Te Āti Awa, they migrated south to the Kāpiti Coast and Wellington. After many battles this alliance, led by the Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha, conquered and dominated that region.
Te Rauparaha in the south
The conquest coincided with burgeoning European interest in the Cook Strait region. The Kāwhia–Taranaki alliance gained recognition as the owners of lands and seaways; occupation rights had to be negotiated with them for whaling stations and trading posts, in return for goods and weapons.
An unsuccessful counter-attack against the Kāwhia–Taranaki tribes was mounted by South Island relatives of tribes displaced in the southern North Island, and there were threats from other South Island chiefs. Te Rauparaha then led a series of incursions into Nelson–Marlborough, which was also conquered and secured by the northern alliance. Allocations of the lands saw Ngāti Toarangatira, Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Tama and Te Āti Awa become the dominant tribes. Agricultural and horticultural produce was traded at whaling communities, where many Māori also served as builders and whaleboat crew. Within a few years of this final conquest a new group of Europeans arrived to establish the New Zealand Company’s second settlement.