New Zealand is a relatively young country, but it’s rich in history and culture. North to south, its landscape is scattered with heritage landmarks and evidence of its native peoples, history-altering events, and historical natural disasters.
Exploring New Zealand’s historical sites is a great way to enrich your visiting experience, and take you back in time to some of the country’s most important events, places, and people. So whether you call New Zealand home or you’re thinking of visiting, these six historical experiences will let you experience everything you need to know about this history of this tiny island nation.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Bay of Islands
Starting at the top of New Zealand’s north island, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the beautiful Bay of Islands is home to where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. The Grounds are an interactive insight into one of the most important moments in Aotearoa history. Situated among the region’s lush native landscape, visitors can explore the treaty house and gain a better understanding of intertwining Māori and European history.
With two contemporary museums, powerful Māori cultural performances, and the largest waka (canoe) in the world, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a must-visit for anyone looking to broaden their knowledge of New Zealand history.
The Buried Village, Tarawera
The Buried Village is a protected archaeological site that showcases the dramatic effects of the 1886 Mount Tarawera and Lake Rotomahana eruption. Wander along the archaeological trail and see how the eruption transformed the landscape and buried Te Wairoa Village in a blanket of mud and ash. Eerily peaceful, the Buried Village showcases some of New Zealand’s stunning native bush and waterfalls.
Check out the on-site museum to see historical artefacts pulled from the disaster’s aftermath.
After a day of exploring, be sure to stop for a bite to eat at Smith and Co Café.
Koru Pa, Taranaki
Maori pa sites were defensive hillforts on raised ground, safeguarding iwi (tribe) settlements from enemies, and protecting food and water storage. The Koru Pa is one of New Zealand’s most prominent pa sites built around 1000AD by Ngā Mahanga a Tairi, a hapu (tribal subdivision) of the Taranaki iwi.
After many centuries of living at Koru Pa, Ngā Mahanga a Tairi was defeated by two local iwi, sparking a series of bloody battles. Koru was abandoned around 1820 but remains the most intact pa site in New Zealand today.
Discover the fascinating workmanship that created the pa, including extensive stone-lined terracing, defensive ditches, food storage pits, and visible housing sites.
Te Papa Museum, Wellington
No deep dive into New Zealand’s history is complete without a visit to Te Papa Museum in the heart of Wellington city. Te Papa Museum has showcased some of the best historical exhibitions, such as Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, and Ra Maumahara: New Zealand Wars.
Te Papa Museum champions New Zealand’s artistic, cultural, and natural history through interactive and impressive displays. There’s enough here to keep you busy for days, so grab a place to stay nearby if you’re planning to see it all.
With its exciting events programme, guided tours and family-friendly atmosphere, it’s no wonder visitors come from far and wide to see Te Papa Museum.
Built on the banks of the Arrowtown River, Arrowtown was once home to thousands of miners after gold was discovered in 1862. The gold rush transformed the tiny town into a vibrant community that has held onto its history.
The township looks almost exactly as it did when it was first created. Restored Chinese huts just outside the township show the contrasting lifestyle of wealthy merchants and Chinese settlers during the gold rush period.
Arrowtown is now a charming place to visit. Alive with music, art, culture, shopping and sporting attractions, Arrowtown has something for everyone to enjoy while showcasing a significant moment in New Zealand’s history.
Don’t forget to try gold panning while you’re here!
Nugget Point Lighthouse, Clutha
Built in 1870 from locally-quarried stone, Nugget Point Lighthouse stands 76 metres above the water and offers panoramic views of the Catlins Coast. This historical landmark overlooks the rocky islets (“nuggets”) where penguins, fur seals and a variety of birdlife frequent the area. While the walk to the lighthouse takes only 20 minutes, you’ll feel like you’ve reached the centre of the earth as you make your way along the ridge of a cliff. Nugget Point Lighthouse’s challenging location is an example of innovative early settler construction.
New Zealand’s historical attractions are a unique mix of Maori and European sites. New Zealanders embrace the country’s heritage, protecting historic locations and taonga (treasures) to ensure they’re around for generations to come.
If you'd like any of these experiences built into a custom New Zealand self drive itinerary, just get in contact with us or fill out our FREE Travel Planning Service form.